Jalapeño peppers are by the far some of the most popular peppers in every cuisine. Those fleshy green peppers pack a punch both in flavors and heat. It has its uses in every meal or snack you prepare. From soups and pasta to sauce and even lemonade, jalapeño peppers just make every dish hotter and tastier.
While in their native land, Mexico, jalapeños are considered a snack in their own right. If the mental image doesn’t make your eyes water, congratulations – you just passed the jalapeño macho test. That means you’re more than ready to start growing these peppers in your garden and enjoy the spicy pods fresh and steaming hot. Here’s what you need to know about jalapeños before you embark on this thrilling gardening adventure.
Jalapeño Peppers at a Glance
Even though the jalapeño peppers (Capsicum annuum Jalapeño) are not the spiciest peppers, they are the top choice in many kitchens. The peppers have made the journey from Mexico to every farm and garden across the globe. And the reason is that these chili peppers are more than just spicy. They are full of flavors and can even be sweet too.
The average chili pod measures about 3 inches long and starts green before it turns red. You can eat it when it’s still bright green. That’s when it’s most spicy. They measure 5,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). If you consider that the hottest chili, Carolina Reaper scores 2,200,000 SHU, then it’s obvious that jalapeños are on the mild side. Furthermore, as the jalapeño pod turns red on the plant, it becomes even less hot and a little bit sweeter.
The plant has an annual with USDA hardiness zones of 11 and above. When fully grown it can reach 3 feet in height. You can get as many as 40 jalapeño peppers from each plant in the right conditions. A key to a productive chili plant is to harvest the pods regularly. This encourages the plant to keep producing more chilis throughout the season.
Health Benefits of Jalapeño Peppers
It might be amusing to listen to someone passionate about jalapeño peppers as they go on and on about how great they are in tacos and chili bowls. But the truth is, there’s more to these peppers than just flavors and sweetness. Here are some of the benefits of jalapeño peppers.
- In its original culture, Mexicans have been recommending jalapeños as a cure for migraines, headaches, and sinus problems.
- The peppers are effective against sinusitis and help relieve congestion.
- In traditional medicine, jalapeños have been touted as a preventive measure against many types of cancer. These claims are yet to be backed by science though.
- Many people eat this chili to lower their blood pressure.
- Jalapeño peppers are known to prevent inflammation although that’s a common benefit of the whole capsicum family in general.
- If you’re looking for a good way to burn calories and lose weight, a handful of jalapeños every day will speed up your metabolism.
- These peppers are rich in vitamin C which can protect you against the common cold.
- The hot chilis are a good defense against cold weather. A spicy meal gets your hands and feet warm in the winter.
Jalapeño Peppers Varieties
Horticulturalists are perfectionists. That’s just a fact of life. They take a natural species and breed it to get a cultivar that is an improvement on the original work of nature. We are grateful for their work and the cultivars they keep churning out to make gardening such a great experience for us. With that out of the way, let’s see what jalapeño peppers varieties you can grow in your garden.
- Seniorita: A colorful variety in every meaning of the word. The pod starts bright green on the plant before it darkens then turns purple and then ends bright red. The mature plant is only 2 feet tall so it doesn’t need a lot of space. It takes about 3 months for the pods to mature from the day you plant the seeds.
- Sierra Fuego: A mildly hot variety with pods about three and a half inches long. It also takes about 80 days to ripen on the plant.
- Fresno Chile: This cultivar was designed to be as mild as possible. It averages between 300 and 400 SHU making it the mildest jalapeños you can grow.
- Mucho Nacho: A fast-growing variety that only takes a little over two months to ripen. It’s not as hot as the Seniorita with the mature pod averaging about 4 inches long.
If you’re looking for a hot jalapeño that is packed with flavors and colors I recommend the Seniorita. It takes longer to mature but it’s a delight to look at as the pods change color over time. If you prefer something mild that grows fast, then Mucho Nacho is the jalapeño cultivar for you.
How to Grow Jalapeño Peppers
There’s always a sense of fulfillment when you start a plant from seed. It’s the process of transforming a seemingly lifeless seed into a living and growing plant that makes you part of nature. It’s not always easy to start jalapeño peppers from seeds so I’ll walk you through this process. Here’s what you need to do in simple steps.
- Since they are slow growers, it’s recommended that you start your jalapeño peppers indoors first about 6 weeks before the last frost.
- Pick a small terracotta pot or even a simple plastic container and make sure it has drainage holes at the bottom.
- Fill each container with a potting mix and water it immediately. Allow the excess water to flow out of the drainage holes.
- Give your seeds the water test. Drop them in a bowl full of water and wait for them to settle at the bottom. Skim any seeds that float and get rid of them.
- Plant two to three seeds in each container. Keep them at a quarter-inch depth and don’t pack the soil when you cover the seeds. It’s always good to plant more seeds than you need to select the healthy ones to keep.
- Place the pots in a warm room with a temperature around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the lights down and cover the pots with plastic.
- Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate. Don’t overwater the pots.
- It will take between 2 to 3 weeks for the seeds to germinate.
- Move the seeds to a well-lit room and remove the plastic covers.
- When the seedlings are a few inches tall, you can thin them out removing the sickly or unhealthy seedlings from each container.
Jalapeño Peppers Care
Before you move your jalapeño peppers outdoors permanently you need to harden them off. You can do this gradually, taking the pots outside for a few hours every day when it gets warm. Once the soil is warm enough to work it, you can transport the peppers to their permanent place in the garden.
Jalapeño peppers thrive in neutral to slightly acidic soil. But first and foremost, the soil has to be well-drained. The roots of the peppers are sensitive to water and this is not the kind of plant that likes to get its feet wet. Check the soil before you plant or transplant the peppers and make sure the pH levels are between 5.8 and 6.8. Mix a lot of organic matter to loosen the soil and improve drainage. If the soil is too alkaline you can add sand or perlite. Peat moss also increases the acidity of the soil just the way the peppers like it.
Since they are annuals with a USDA hardiness zone of 11, your jalapeño peppers need and expect plenty of sunlight. In the early stages, both the seeds and seedlings shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight. But as the plant matures, it will need up to 10 hours of sun every day. This means you should plant or transplant it in a south- or west-facing spot in your garden. Your peppers will get enough light and warmth from the afternoon sun as opposed to the morning sun. Partial shade harms the plants and reduces the pepper crop.
As heavy feeders, jalapeño peppers need a lot of water. If you’re growing them from seeds, you’ll need to keep the soil moist. But once the plants are growing outside, they require plenty of watering. Aim the water to the roots of the plants so that it reaches the roots quickly. Make sure to water them early in the morning so that the hot sun doesn’t dry out the soil too soon. However, don’t let the soil get soaked. If your soil is dense and tends to get waterlogged, plant the peppers in mounds or raised beds to improve drainage.
Pests and Diseases
Spicy as they are, jalapeño peppers can’t seem to deter pests and diseases. It’s not just your average bugs such as aphids and mites. Other more destructive pests such as pepper hornworms munch large holes into the leaves which impact the plant’s growth and crop production. But it’s actually cucumber beetle larvae that inflict the most damage as they target the roots of the peppers. You can’t see them since they are hidden in the soil and only when the plant starts to wilt that you realize something is wrong. You should remove weeds and debris around the plants to prevent the spread of these beetles.
The most common diseases you’ll encounter are Fusarium wilt and Anthracnose. They’re both fungal diseases spread by insects and high levels of humidity around the plants. Get rid of infected plants to prevent the spread of the fungal infection and make sure the plants are well spaced out to improve air circulation.
Harvesting Jalapeño Peppers
On average, jalapeño peppers take anything between 3 to 4 months from seeds to maturity. It varies depending on the variety you grow. But usually, after 90 days, the green peppers are ready to harvest. If you want them to turn red on the plant, you can leave them for another month or so. Red jalapeño peppers are usually sweeter and less hot than the green ones. Experts recommend picking the green peppers as soon as they’re ripe to encourage the plant to produce more pods.