Jalapeno peppers are my go-to hot pepper offering mildly hot fruits that are super versatile. I use them in salsas and stir-fries, as well as on nachos and in hot sauce. The plants are prolific, yielding dozens of glossy green fruits, and are easy to grow in containers and garden beds. The big question is when to harvest jalapenos for optimum flavor, heat, and quality. Below you’ll learn more about when and how to pick jalapeno peppers.
What is a jalapeno pepper?
A jalapeno pepper is a medium-sized chili pepper with glossy, bright green skin that eventually turns red when fully ripe. The fruits range from 2500 to 8000 on the Scoville scale and are considered mildly-hot. Capsaicin is the compound that gives chili peppers their heat and fully ripe red jalapenos, which have spent more time on the plants, contain higher capsaicin levels than green fruits.
Like bell peppers, hot peppers are best started from seeds sown indoors in early spring. I start my jalapeno plants under grow lights and use a heat mat to speed up sprouting and increase germination rates. Before moving the hardened off seedlings outside to garden beds or containers, I amend the soil with organic matter like compost and add an organic vegetable fertilizer to further support healthy growth.
When to harvest jalapenos
A pepper plant is transplanted into the garden in late spring, once the last frost date has passed. The small seedlings grow quickly when given plenty of sunlight, nutrients, and moisture. Soon the flowers appear and then small fruits begin to develop. So how do you know when to harvest jalapenos? There are two signs that a jalapeno pepper is ready to pick:
- It has reached its mature size. There are many varieties of jalapeno peppers you can plant, but most yield fruits about 3 to 4 inches long. There are varieties with smaller fruits, like Early Jalapeno which has 2 to 2 1/2 inch fruits and varieties with larger fruits. Jedi is a jalapeno with peppers that grow 4 1/2 to 5 inches long. It’s therefore a good idea to read the seed packet or description in the seed catalog to find out the mature size of your selected variety.
- Harvest jalapeños when they’re the right color. I pick jalapeno peppers when they’re deep green in color either using them fresh or freezing them for future meals. Mature jalapeno peppers turn red. Most gardeners start to pick their peppers when the fruits are dark green, but you can also wait until they ripen fully to red. Red jalapenos are typically spicier than green fruits.
Harvest jalapeno peppers as soon as they size up and reach the desired color. If you leave the fruits on the plants, the production of new flowers and fruits can slow and reduce overall yield.
How to harvest jalapeno peppers
Resist the urge to pull or tug peppers from the jalapeño plants. Don’t try twisting them off either. Pepper stems and branches are easily damaged and trying to harvest the fruits by hand can knock unripe fruits from the plants or result in broken branches. Instead, use garden shears, hand pruners, or garden snips to harvest jalapenos.
Use one hand to hold the branch or stem and the other hand to snip the fruits from the plant. Gather the just-picked peppers in a harvest basket or container and bring them indoors. They can be eaten right away, stored in paper bags in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, or washed and frozen whole for winter use. You can even chop or cut the peppers into slices before placing them in labelled freezer bags to make portioning out small amounts easy.
When to harvest jalapenos that turn red
Most gardeners harvest jalapeno peppers when the fruits are dark green. If you leave the fruits on the plant to continue maturing, you’ll end up with bright red jalapeños. A red jalapeno pepper is simply a ripe pepper that has reached full maturity. Green jalapenos are younger and less mature, but typically that is the preferred stage for harvesting. I find a red jalapeno to be more spicy than a green fruit and closer to the high end of the Scoville scale for jalapenos (2500 – 8000). It’s probably not going to knock your socks off, but be aware it packs more heat than a green jalapeno. It also has a slight sweetness and fruity flavor versus the fresh, green bell pepper flavor of dark green jalapeño fruits.
Why do jalapenos turn black?
As we just learned, jalapeno peppers can turn red, but did you know they can also turn black? When harvesting your homegrown jalapenos you may spot black coloration on the peppers and wonder what’s happening. Depending on the reason, it can be a normal part of the maturation process or it may indicate a potential issue. Here are four reasons jalapeno fruits can turn black:
- Sunscald – If a black color develops on young fruits, particularly those high up on the plant where there is less leaf cover, it’s likely caused by sunscald. Fruits can also turn black from sunscald if the plants were recently pruned and leaves were removed exposing developing fruits to increased light levels. The good news is that sunscald is generally harmless, but in serious cases, it can also cause the skin of both hot and sweet peppers to turn white and start to rot.
- Ripening – Jalapeno fruits turning black can be the result of natural ripening. Jalapeno peppers often turn from green to black to red as they mature from unripe to fully ripe. The fruits typically don’t turn completely black, but may have some dark coloration or streaking. They’re perfectly edible and can be harvested at this stage, or at the green or red stage.
- Disease – Unfortunately, there are several fungal and bacterial diseases and issues that can also cause pepper fruits to turn black and rot. Keep an eye for problems like phytophthora blight, blossom end rot, verticillium wilt, fusarium rot, and gray mold. Also damage from insects or pests can introduce rot and cause the fruits to turn soft and black.
- Cultivar selection – Finally, perhaps you’re growing a variety that produces naturally dark colored peppers. Purple jalapeno and black jalapeno are two examples, and if left to mature fully, the ripe pepper fruits will be red.
What is corking and does it affect when to harvest jalapenos?
When trying to determine when to harvest jalapenos you may notice tan or brown streaks stretching from the top to the bottom of the peppers. This is called corking and the small cracks are the result of the fruits growing quickly. Jalapeno peppers with corking may look a little odd, but they’re absolutely fine to eat so go ahead and harvest them as soon as they fruits have reached the ideal size and color.
Want to learn more about harvesting jalapenos and check them out in my garden? Watch this video:
How to ripen green jalapeno peppers
If you want green jalapeno peppers to ripen to red, place them in a sunny site, like a windowsill. Within a few days, they’ll start to turn red. Once fully ripe, eat the peppers or store them in the refrigerator.
For more information on growing peppers, be sure to check out these in-depth articles:
- Pepper plant spacing – how far apart to plant peppers
- Shishito peppers: Learn how to grow this gourmet vegetable
- How to grow hot peppers in garden beds and containers
- Learn how to grow heirloom fish peppers