A jalapeno pepper is a mildly hot chili that is used in many cuisines and is commonly enjoyed in salsas, salads and guacamole.
This popular hot pepper is grown across much of the United States. The fruit of the jalapeno grows green but can turn to red as it matures. You can grow the pepper plants in containers or pots as well as in the garden. Its care requirements are similar to other hot and sweet peppers and fall within the capabilities of most home gardens.
The pepper seeds are typically started indoors and grow into three-foot tall plants when they mature. If you grow your own jalapenos, you’ll have the benefit of saving money on your grocery bill and enjoying healthier produce that is not tainted with pesticides.
The Jalapeno Plant
The jalapeno pepper is a chili pepper plant. Each plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall and produces chili peppers 2 to 4 inches long. Jalapeno peppers are generally picked for best flavor while green. A native plant of Mexico, jalapeno varieties are grown around the world. They mature in 2 to 3 months. The pepper flavor varies from mild to hot with a hot aftertaste. Jalapeno peppers grow from seed and from potting plants.
Jalapenos grow best in warm, dry climates with little water. In cool climates, seeds may be started indoors in potting soil and then transplanted to the garden after weather warms. In mild climates, sow jalapeno seeds directly into the ground after frost has passed. Fresh seed is critical for top germination results. Many gardeners prefer to get starter plants from nurseries or garden centers. These plants, generally about 6 inches tall, grow quickly and produce mature peppers within 2 months. Peppers grow best in well-drained soil rich in organic matter. In hot climates, a light mulch around the plants helps keep ground cooler on hot days.
Transplants will begin to bear ripe fruit in 70 to 85 days, depending on cultivar. Most gardeners start pepper plants indoors six to eight weeks before the anticipated set-out date, since jalapenos started from seed outdoors won’t have harvestable fruit for about four months.
Harvest jalapeno pepper pods when they are full smooth pods about 2 to 4 inches long. Depending on the variety, one plant may produce 2 to 3 dozen peppers. The pepper pods grow continuously through the warm weather season. As pods mature, they are picked when green or purple-green in color before they turn red. Green pods are used for cooking and salsas. Red pods are used for seed harvest or smoked for chipotle. Jalapeno peppers have a natural compound called capsaicin that irritates skin and mucous membranes. Capsaicin is concentrated in the jalapeno seeds and veins. Wear rubber or latex gloves when cutting or chopping jalapenos to reduce skin burning. The seeds and veins are often removed from harvested jalapenos to produce a milder taste.
Identifying Ripe Jalapenos
Ripe jalapenos don’t look very different than unripe ones, making it hard to tell when to pick them. The skin on ripe jalapenos should be dark green, smooth and shiny. Small cracks or lines that form on the shoulder of the fruit near the stem is an indication that the fruit is ripe. Darkened areas are also a sign that the fruit is ripe and is about to turn color. You can let jalapenos turn red on the vine, but their texture is softer and they won’t keep as long as green ones. Red jalapenos are no hotter than ripe green fruit.
Over watering jalapeno plants causes fungus to develop and the plants die. The plants need sun, hot weather and intermittent watering to prevent black spot and other diseases. Jalapenos do not like wet feet, meaning water standing around the roots. Birds peck at developing jalapeno pods and destroy the peppers. Put bird netting over the plants to keep feathered pests away. Slugs eat jalapeno leaves. The first sign may be small holes in the leaves. A non-poison bait scattered near the plant is usually effective. The plants are sometimes infested with aphids and mites. An organic or food crop insect control should be used. Be sure that any chemical or insecticide used on jalapeno plants is safe for vegetables or other food crops.
Growing Jalapenos At Home
Things You’ll Need
- Jalapeno seeds
- Growing container
- Seed starting soil
- Plastic wrap, optional
- Garden heat mat, optional
- Fluorescent light
- Large pots, with depth of 8″
- 5-gallon pots
Start jalapeno seeds indoors at least six to eight weeks before temperatures for your location stay above 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night on a regular basis — typically in late May to early June.
- Place your jalapeno seeds on a plate and inspect them for quality. Remove any specimens that are discolored or smaller than the rest because these seeds have less chance of germinating.
- Fill your growing container with seed-starting soil about 3/4 full. Push your finger in the dirt about 1/8 of an inch down in each individual cell. Drop a seed in each indentation and then cover the seeds with a light layer of soil. Your jalapeno seeds should never be more than 1/4 inch down from the surface because they do not have the ability to push past a thicker layer of soil.
- Water your seeds so that the soil is moist but not drenched. Continue to monitor this water level to keep it the same throughout the growth process.
- Place the growing container’s lid over the seeds to keep them warm. If your container does not have a lid, stretch plastic wrap over the top and poke a few holes on the top for air circulation. Place a garden heat mat underneath your container or position your container on top of a warm spot such as the refrigerator. Jalapeno seeds thrive in humid, warm conditions.
- Watch for your jalapeno plants to emerge from the soil in three to five weeks, depending on the variety. Remove the container’s lid or the plastic wrap and then position a fluorescent light about two inches over the top of the tallest seedlings so that they continue to grow.
- Wait for your jalapenos to develop at least four leaves and then transfer to large pots that have a depth of at least eight inches. Fill each pot about 3/4 full of soil. Remove each young seedling from the cells and plant it in the pot at the depth it was growing in the cell. Water the soil to get it moist.
- Take the jalapeno pepper pots outside for about an hour each day about two weeks prior to moving them permanently outdoors. Make sure that your area’s last potential frost has passed before moving your plants.
- Move the pots outdoors in full sun.
- Transplant each pepper plant into a 5-gallon size pot when they have developed a good root system and achieved about one foot in height.
- Fertilize with a formulation made for peppers at half-strength every two weeks.
Jalapeno peppers, like most peppers, do need warmer temperatures. The soil needs to be at least 70 to 72 degrees in Fahrenheit, and they like full sun. And, do make sure that you water them regularly.
How Often to Water a Jalapeno Plant?
Water requirements for hot and sweet peppers are similar at about 2 inches per week. This is a combination of natural rain and irrigation. Growers should curtail watering if rain has occurred.
Water once or twice a week with enough water to soak the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches. The root system of the jalapeno pepper is deep enough to utilize deep water. Drip irrigation provides continuous water to the plant through a system of hoses and emitters that provide a drip of water for several hours per day as controlled by the gardener.
Placing mulch around the jalapeno pepper plant reduces the water requirements of the plant. Organic mulch covers the soil and reduces evaporation. Black plastic mulch covers the soil to reduce evaporation but also increases the temperature of the soil and air around the plant. Jalapenos prefer temperatures of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit for optimum growth.
Signs of Water Stress
Either overwatering or underwatering causes stress in jalapeno plants. Plants that drop blossoms without setting fruit may be suffering from water stress. Other signs include dry rot at the end of the jalapeno pepper.
Tips & Warnings
- Peppers grow best in a soil that contains peat and perlite because these materials allow for good air circulation and water drainage.
- It is best to plant jalapeno peppers indoors six to eight weeks before you plan to move them outside.
Photo by Phillip Larking on Unsplash