Jalapeño peppers are a medium-hot cultivar known for their use and cultural significance in Mexican cuisine. They register between 2,500 and 8,000 Scoville units, falling between poblanos and habaneros — and chances are, you’ve seen them at the grocery store. They aren’t uncommon around the world, being grown and used fresh or pickled and added as a garnish to a dish. And since they aren’t terribly expensive, what’s the point of growing them at home? Jalapeños are one of the most popular peppers you can grow in a summer garden, perhaps due to their versatility.
Even though you can buy them at the store in a semi-fresh state, they still aren’t as fresh as ones straight from the plant — and any home gardener or farmer will tell you that nothing beats fresh produce. There’s something to be said for being able to walk down to your garden or a hanging basket on a patio, pick a couple peppers, and chop them up for that night’s dinner. Plus, growing from seed is more cost-effective and yields more than buying one or two peppers from the grocery store.
When you’re growing fresh produce, the risk of it wasting in your fridge goes down, too! Most of the time, you’ll be able to pick them as-needed (unless they’ve hit their fully mature size) and leave the rest to grow a little longer and stay healthy on the plant. They’ll continue getting energy, nutrients, and sunlight, and won’t succumb to being forgotten in the back of a veggie drawer.
Things to do with fresh jalapeños
Fresh jalapeños are used on an array of dishes, from tacos to salsas and even margaritas! A Couple Cooks has a breakdown of different types of salsas you can make (from salsa roja to salsa verde to pico de gallo) using fresh jalapeños. Salsas are a great option for sharing, too, because you can jar it and give it as just-because gifts to family for a little taste of your garden.
If you have more jalapeños than you know what to do with but don’t want to waste your harvest, you can give them away to friends and family or pickle them at home for future use! A Couple Cooks also has a jalapeño pickling recipe that only takes 10 minutes of active prep work. They can store in your fridge for up to a month, available for you to use on any dish you want!
Check out this fuller list of fresh jalapeño recipes from A Couple Cooks.
Growing jalapeños from seed isn’t that complicated. The most important thing to keep in mind is that they can’t be planted until soil temperatures reach at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit. For that reason, a lot of gardeners will start their seedlings indoors before the growing season — about eight to ten weeks before the last frost — so that by the time the soil is ready, the seedlings can be transplanted to their growing site. You shouldn’t transplant young plants outdoors until the nighttime temperatures are consistently around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
The seeds (or seedlings, depending on which you plant) should be spaced around 14 to 16 inches apart and have two to three feet of space between rows. Jalapeño plants need a lot of room to grow and establish their roots, so you want to take care not to crowd them. If you’re starting from seed, be sure to thin the plants out once they start growing so that your strongest seedling has space and room to thrive.
Light needs: At least six hours of direct sunlight per day
Water needs: Water regularly when the soil is dry about an inch down; be wary of overwatering
Soil needs: Moist, well-draining soil
What’s the fastest way to germinate jalapeño seeds?
Because jalapeños can’t be planted outdoors until the soil is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, the fastest way to germinate jalapeño seeds indoors is to keep them in a warm area free of drafts. Most likely, if you’re trying to germinate seeds in pods or a tray, you’ll be doing so while it’s still cold. Having a small space heater on hand is a great idea for the room where you’re starting the seeds, and you’ll want to keep them away from cold windows or doors that open outside regularly.
Jalapeños are actually harvested prematurely in most cases before they reach their red/orange color. This is because jalapeños are actually at their maximum heat level before they start changing from green to red — but it’s at a specific shade of green. Jalapeños should be harvested when they reach their full size, about four inches, and change from a light green to a dark green. You can let them ripen to a red or orange color, but keep in mind that the peppers will be sweeter instead of spicy.
To harvest your jalapeños, simply take a sterilized pair of shears or pruners and cut them so that there’s still some stem on each pepper. You may even find that some jalapeños, when ripe, will come off easily if you gently lift them. If they don’t separate, though, take care to use shears to avoid damaging your plant.
Can you plant the seeds from a jalapeño?
Yes! Jalapeño seeds are one of the most common ways these plants are propagated. To harvest your jalapeño seeds, simply cut the long way down the center of the pepper and gently scrape the seeds out with a butter knife. (Make sure you wear protective gloves or wash your hands immediately after handling the peppers and seeds to keep oils from getting in your eyes and to protect cuts!)
Once you have the seeds scraped out, spread them out and leave them on the counter for a couple of weeks to dry. You’ll know they’re ready to be stored when you pinch them gently and your nails don’t leave an indentation. Store your dried seeds in an airtight seed envelope or ziplock bag and keep them in a cool, dark place for use next season.
Jalapeños are unfortunately susceptible to quite a few pest and disease problems, which is why it’s even more important to provide proper care and ensure that you’re growing healthy, strong plants. These problems include:
- Anthracnose, identified by dark sunken spots on the pepper
- Aphids, tiny green or white insects that suck sap from the leaves
- Cucumber beetle larvae, yellow-green beetle that eat holes in the leaves and damage the roots of younger plants
- Fusarium wilt, a fungal disease resulting in weakened, yellow plants
- Mites, near-invisible insects that cause visible distortion and discoloration in leaves
- Pepper hornworms, green caterpillars that chew large holes in the leaves
The problem you’re dealing with will determine what method you choose to solve it. In general, plants suffering from fungal diseases should have the affected foliage removed and properly disposed of immediately to prevent spreading. Pests can usually be taken care of with insecticidal soaps, though you should make sure to follow the directions for the individual kind you’re using to make sure it’s done properly.
Jalapeños are one of the most versatile crops you can grow in your garden since they can be used for a variety of dishes and even preserved to help avoid any waste. If you’re looking to grow jalapeños, you can always start with a young plant from a local nursery before trying your hand at seeds.
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