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How to Kitchen Garden
Published May 8, 2024 by Nicole Burke

The Complete Guide to Growing Jalapeño Peppers in an Organic Kitchen Garden

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jalapeno pepper
peppers
how to grow
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Grow Your Own Jalapeño Peppers

If you're a fan of Mexican cuisine or Tex-Mex, you've probably encountered your fair share of jalapeño peppers served fresh or pickled or even used as a garnish. Jalapeños are becoming increasingly popular around the world and are often easy to find at the grocery store. That being said, there's no beating the fresh flavor of homegrown peppers.

Jalapeño peppers are high on many beginner gardeners' to-grow list. And it's easy to see why. The plants themselves are attractive, they don't take up too much space in the garden, and because they're smaller, you don't have to wait as long to harvest them or face the same issues as you might growing a larger fruit like bell peppers. Plus, you can get a ton of peppers off of just one plant, and they're very forgiving about over- or under-watering. If you think you can take the heat, it's also fun to watch the peppers change colors over time.

jalapeno pepper growing tips

Jalapeño vs Serrano Pepper

Both the jalapeño pepper and the serrano pepper are similar in color and flavor, but the serrano tends to be a bit smaller and is definitely hotter. On the Scoville scale, a jalapeño pepper typically measures between 2,500 and 5,000 heat units, which places it between a poblano and a habanero, while a serrano can measure between 10,000 and 23,000 Scoville heat units.

jalapeno vs serrano pepper

If you're looking for something more mild in flavor, I recommend trying shishito peppers, which are also really fun to grow in the kitchen garden.

jalapeno vs serrano pepper on scoville scale

Is a jalapeño a fruit?

This pepper might be the very last thing you want to toss into a fruit salad, but a jalapeño pepper is a fruit, at least botanically speaking. It is, after all, the fleshy produce of a plant that contains seeds and can be eaten. Peppers grow from the flowers of a pepper plant and contain seeds all along the pith.

The fact that peppers are fruits is important for gardeners to know because fruiting plants tend to prefer similar conditions. Let's look at the preferred growing conditions of a jalapeño pepper plant.

jalapeno scoville

How to Grow Jalapeño Peppers

Jalapeño peppers are relatively easy fruiting plants for the home garden, but it's best to grow them under their ideal conditions if you'd like your plant to be as productive as possible.

SUN

Peppers need long days of sunshine to help them form and mature fruit, so make sure your plant receives a good eight to ten hours of sunlight each day.

Leaves, Roots & Fruit Teaches You the Step by Step to Grow as a Gardener

Do you dream of walking through your own kitchen garden with baskets full of delicious food you grew yourself?

Nicole Johnsey Burke—founder of Gardenary, Inc., and author of Kitchen Garden Revival—is your expert guide for growing your own fresh, organic food every day of the year, no matter where you grow. More than just providing the how-to, she gives you the know-how for a more practical and intuitive gardening system.

SPACE

Peppers are medium-size plants that will grow about two feet tall and span 15 to 18 inches across, so give them a bit of space in the garden (at least one square foot each).

The minimum depth of your raised bed or container should be 12 inches to give the roots plenty of room to dig down deep. If you're growing jalapeño peppers outside of a raised bed, look for a pot, planter, or grow bag that's at least 12 inches across and that has good drainage holes in the bottom. Peppers really don't want their roots sitting in water for too long. If your selected container doesn't already have holes, you'll need to drill some.

Plants in the nightshade family, like peppers, often grow too tall to hold themselves and need support to prevent falling over during a big storm or heavy wind. I like to either grow my plants close to my obelisk trellis or use garden stakes and twine to hold my plants upright (preferably starting before they get established so the stakes don't disrupt their roots). This protects the branches from breaking and ensures you’ll get as much production as possible.

Shop Gardenary's obelisk trellises

SEASON

Peppers grow best in the warm season and have zero frost tolerance. That means you can’t put them outside until all threat of frost has passed. Air on the side of caution and wait at least a week after the last expected freeze in the spring to plant seeds or move a transplant outdoors. If colder temps return, add a floating row cover or frost cloth over your pepper plants to give them some much-needed protection. Overall, though, peppers will germinate and grow better if you wait until the soil temps reach 65 degrees and nighttime temps are above 60 degrees.

You'll need to harvest all of your peppers before the first frost of your next cold season arrives.

For most of you, that makes peppers the perfect plant to grow in the summer. If you have a long warm season, you can start peppers by seed directly in the garden. If, however, you only have a couple months in between your frost dates, it's best to either start your pepper plants by seed indoors or buy a healthy plant from a local grower, farmer, or CSA. Pepper plants take a long time to grow from seed, and by the time you can sow the seeds in your garden after your last frost, you could already have a plant growing indoors, ready to take full advantage of the great outdoors as soon as the weather warms. (Learn more about indoor seed starting here.)

For those of you with hot summers, even hot peppers can use some afternoon shade. If temps are regularly over 95 degrees, consider using shade cloth over your peppers to protect them from the heat.

jalapeno growing

How to Plant Jalapeño Pepper Plants

If you're grabbing a young pepper plants from your local nursery, select the healthiest-looking plant. You want a sturdy stem, vibrant green leaves, and no signs of pests or disease. Avoid plants that appear wilted or leggy, as they may struggle to thrive once transplanted into your garden. I also like to pick plants that aren't yet flowering so that they have more time to settle into the garden before they worry about fruiting.

Before you plant a pepper plant, add a 2- to 3-inch layer of fresh compost to the surface of the planting area. Dig a hole that's slightly larger than the nursery pot and then gently ease the plant from its pot. Make sure to bury the seedling slightly deeper than its neck (where the roots meet the main stem) to help your plant establish a strong root system.

young pepper plants

How to Care for Growing Jalapeño Plants

Your three main tasks while you're waiting for fruits to form will be feeding your hungry pepper plant, maintaining consistent watering, and protecting from pests.

Fertilizer

Give your peppers food by adding a little bit of extra compost around the base of your plants every couple of weeks while they’re starting to grow. This also supports their root system and gives them a nice, strong foundation.

When you notice the first flowers appear, you can either continue feeding with compost or add an organic fertilizer high in potassium and phosphorus to help the plant form and ripen fruits.

pepper flower

Water

You'll need to water your pepper plants at least every other day or so for the first six to eight weeks after they're transplanted to the garden, unless the weather has been wet. Once they're established, you can switch to one deep watering per week. That's about one inch of water per week. If you're growing in a container, you'll most likely need to water more frequently, as the soil will dry out faster. Water when the soil one inch down feels dry.

When you're watering, aim at the roots, not the leaves. Overhead watering can increase the risk of disease. The best time to water is early in the morning to give them a good drink before the heat of the day sets in.

watering pepper plants

Protection

Seedlings are particularly vulnerable to pest pressure. Cover your pepper plants with garden mesh draped over hoops for the first couple of weeks after they're transplanted to the garden space. Remove this cover once the plants are established to give pollinators access to the flowers.

Prune your plants regularly to prevent disease, remove pest-affected leaves, and promote more fruit growth.

jalapeno when to pick

When to Harvest Jalapeño Peppers

Jalapeño peppers typically take about 80 days from planting to mature. Once the first fruits develop, your plant will continue producing fruits for another 30 to 45 days if conditions stay optimal.

Beginner gardeners might be unsure when to pick jalapeño peppers. You really can't go wrong as long as the fruit has had time to fully mature; after that, the only difference will be in the color of the fruit and the amount of capsaicin inside, depending on how ripe the fruit is. Leaving fruits to ripen for longer on the plant and turn almost black and then red has advantages and disadvantages.

Red peppers that have been given more time to ripen will be a bit sweeter than green jalapeños. Those red peppers will also have more vitamins and antioxidants, though, of course, green peppers are still good for you.

Most gardeners prefer to harvest their jalapeños when they're still green, typically once they've turned from light to dark green and grown about 3 to 4 inches long. By harvesting fruits at the first sign of ripeness, you free up the plant's energy to form new peppers. You'll reduce your overall fruit yield if you leave peppers growing for too long since they drain resources from the plant.

I like to wait about a week or two after my jalapeños have grown to their full size to harvest them.

jalapeno fruit

Why Are the Sides of My Jalapeño Peppers Cracking?

If you see lines that look like scars or stretch marks running down the sides of your jalapeños, that's actually a great sign that your peppers are ready to be harvested. The marks are called "corking", and they form when conditions like a lot of rain and sunshine spur rapid growth—so much growth the peppers are literally bursting at the seams!

Harvest your jalapeños before they split open, and you can feel confident you picked your peppers at the peak of their ripeness.

How to Harvest Jalapeño Peppers

Use a clean pair of pruners or scissors to clip the stem above the jalapeño fruit, leaving about one inch of stem attached. Avoid pulling fruit from the plants, which can damage the branches.

Continue harvesting peppers weekly to encourage more fruit production.

Each jalapeño plant will likely produce around 25 to 35 peppers. Eat as many peppers fresh or cooked as you can. Store remaining peppers unwashed in a loosely covered container in the fridge for up to a week. To store peppers from your garden long-term, freeze them or dry them.

How to Harvest Pepper Seeds

Once you've harvested the fresh fruits, you can save your own seeds if you'd like. Wear a pair of gloves or wash your hands immediately after handling the seeds so that you don't touch your eye or broken skin with the oil from the seeds on your hands, unless you really like to feel the burn!

To harvest jalapeño seeds, cut lengthwise down the pepper and use a butter knife to gently scrape the seeds from the pith. Spread the seeds out on a clean towel or plate and let them dry out for a couple of weeks. They're ready to store inside a seed envelope or paper bag once you can pinch the seeds with your nails without leaving an indentation. Keep seeds in a cool, dark place for your next growing season.

jalapeno how to grow

Grow Your Own Jalapeños

That’s about all there is to growing tons and tons of jalapeño peppers right in your own garden.

I hope you find delicious culinary uses for this flavorful pepper that packs a spicy punch because you’re about to be harvesting your own bushel!

Thanks for helping me bring back the kitchen garden, one pepper plant at a time!

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How to Grow Jalapeño Peppers in Your Kitchen Garden