Who doesn’t like a little spice in their lives? Add some zesty heat to your backyard, balcony, or patio gardens with the wonderfully flavorful jalapeño pepper. A prolific and attractive plant, jalapeños are an easy option for the home gardener, and a must-have pepper for fans of salsa, tacos, nachos, poppers, and more. These expert tips will help you learn how to grow jalapeño peppers for a beautiful harvest.
Jalapeños are probably my favorite pepper to grow. The plants are compact — I can always find space for them in the garden, although I usually grow just one plant in a big pot — they’re leafy and green, and reliably produce an abundance of peppers throughout the season.
They’re also the least fussy of vegetables, rarely attracting pests, and generally just do their thing without a lot of fanfare.
And once my tomatoes start ripening, they’re an indispensable part of fresh homemade salsa!
Starting from seed vs. buying a starter plant
Which should you do? Either! Both! Peppers are easy to start from seed in late spring. You can use my tomato seed-starting guide for growing peppers from seed, as the specifications are very similar.
Jalapeño plants are usually easy to find at garden centers and home improvement stores. I even found a purple variety one year!
Container or Garden Bed?
Either. Both! Jalapeños are wonderfully adaptable and are suitable for garden beds and containers.
If growing in the ground, make sure the soil is nice and loamy, amended with plenty of peat and compost. It’s important to ensure a well-draining area. You can test this at planting time by digging the hole and then half-filling it with water. The water should drain away at a good clip and not halt and puddle.
These days, though, I always grow my chile peppers in 14″ pots, with this soil mix:
1 part potting soil
1 part compost
1 part peat moss
1 part perlite
Handful of Plant-tone
Choose a sturdy container with drainage holes, and if you have them on hand, add a layer of pebbles to the bottom of the pot before adding soil. This will not only help with drainage, but more importantly anchors the pot a little, as jalapeño plants can grow two feet or more and become top-heavy later in the season when full of peppers.
Pepper plants have a sturdy central stem, but always benefit from staked support or cages. A single stake supporting the center stem is sufficient, but I personally prefer cages so that pepper-heavy branches have someplace to rest.
How Many Plants Do You Need?
Jalapeño peppers are nightshades, in the same family as tomatoes and potatoes. One interesting fact about nightshades is that they are all self-pollinating plants. Meaning, their flowers contain both male and female parts, so they don’t rely on external forces, such as insects, to carry pollen from one flower to another to create fruit.
You can easily grow just one jalapeño plant and still have an abundant harvest.
Sunlight, Watering and Fertilizing
Like all chile peppers, jalapeños are sun-loving plants, so be sure to plant or place them in a spot where they’ll receive at least 6 hours of full sun — preferably midday sun, from 10am to 4pm.
Jalapeños prefer consistently even moisture. Generally, you should water your jalapeños when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch (whether in the ground or in a container). In super hot weather, this might mean daily watering.
Jalapeños growing in containers generally dry out faster and will need more frequent watering. Avoid overwatering as this could lead to waterlogged soil and root rot.
I know that this can be annoyingly vague advice — water often but not too much! — but you’ll get a feel for how quickly the soil dries out.
Make sure your container has drainage holes to allow excess water to flow out. If you live in a hot climate, you can use ollas — even in pots! — to help with water management.
As for feeding your plants, an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer should suffice. Apply as per the package instructions, usually every 2-3 weeks. Fertilizing is especially important during the flowering and fruiting stage as the plants need plenty of nutrients to produce a good crop.
Note that peppers are magnesium-loving plants, and one of my secrets for a lush jalapeño harvest is Epsom salts. Sprinkle a tablespoon of the salts around the base of the established plant once a month, and water it in.
Are Jalapeños Annuals or Perennials?
In hardiness zones 2-9, jalapenos are annuals, as winters get too cold to support the plant. In zones 10-11, jalapenos can grow just about year-round.
How Hot is a Jalapeño?
The Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) is a measure of the pungency or heat of chili peppers. For jalapeno peppers, the heat level varies based on growing conditions and jalapeno pepper varieties, but they generally fall within the range of 2,500 to 8,000 SHU.
This places jalapeños at a medium level of heat compared to other chili peppers: Not enough to cry uncle, but still zesty enough to let you know you’re alive.
For reference, bell peppers have a Scoville rating of zero (no heat), while habanero peppers can range from 100,000 to 350,000 SHU. Jalapeños might not match the heat drama of a Carolina Reaper or ghost pepper, but you still don’t want to scratch your eyes with fingers that have just been slicing jalapenos!
How to Tell When a Jalapeño is Ripe
Jalapeño peppers are edible at all stages of growth. Early on jalapeños are green and are often picked at this level of ripeness. You’ll mostly find green jalapeños at the grocery store.
A fully ripened jalapeño pepper is bright red. Do note that a red jalapeño is going to be hotter than a green jalapeño from the same plant. But, it’s also a little sweeter (similar to the difference between a red bell pepper and a green bell pepper).
Green jalapenos are verdant and astringent, with slightly bitter notes beneath the heat. Red jalapeños have a robust pepper flavor that’s tempered by that lovely sweetness. You can also pick them in the transition stage from green to red for the best of both worlds.
Fun fact: Chipotle peppers are simply red jalapeños that have been smoked and dried. They’re usually preserved in a zesty adobo sauce for commercial sale, but by themselves, they’ll have the same heat as red jalapeños (the smoking process doesn’t add spiciness, only flavor).
Pro tip: The flavor of jalapeño peppers are extra bright when the plant has undergone some stress, such as a surprise cold night early in the growing season. This stress often shows itself later in the peppers in the form of thin white lines, which occur when then there’s a sudden stretching of the outer layer of the pepper’s skin.
Don’t discard peppers with these white striations! They’re perfectly safe to eat, and the reward is a more flavorful pepper.
Now, I wouldn’t try to stress the plants in order to achieve the striations — you might accidentally kill the plant or stunt its production — but I did want to point out the striations so that you don’t throw away excellent peppers.
How to Harvest Jalapeños
Jalapeno peppers hang from long, narrow stems, and it can tempting to just pull on the pepper until it breaks away. While thin, the stems are still firmly attached and it’s easy to tear away part of the stem.
Instead, use scissors or shears to snip the stem. A jalapeño pepper plant will live and produce all season long, and you don’t want to risk damaging the plant.
Don’t forget, if you’re sensitive to capsaicin — the compound that gives peppers their heat — be sure to wear gloves when handling the peppers.
Troubleshooting Common Problems
Even with the best care, you might run into a few hiccups when growing jalapeños. But don’t worry, it’s all part of the gardening process, and there’s almost always a solution!
If your jalapeno leaves are yellowing or falling off, this could be a sign of overwatering, underwatering, or a nutrient deficiency. Check your watering routine and adjust as necessary. Apply a balanced fertilizer to address possible nutrient issues.
If your plants are looking a little weak or leggy, they might need more sun. Remember, these sun-lovers need about 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day to thrive.
And finally, if you’re noticing holes in your jalapeno fruits or leaves, this could be a sign of pests. Aphids, cutworms, and, less commonly, pepper maggots are known culprits. In this case, organic pest control methods such as neem oil, insecticidal soaps, or introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs can be very effective.
Jalapeños are not only tasty in salsas, but they’re wonderful additions to chilis and soups, as toppings for tacos and burritos. And they’re absolutely delightful when pickled.
Adding jalapeños to your vegetable gardening plan is always a great idea. These spicy beauties add not only pops of color to your garden, but also an exciting zing to your kitchen creations. They’re also great gateway peppers to the zesty world of hot chiles. Let the spicy, gardening adventures begin!