When to Pick Cayenne Peppers | Crop Harvest

One of the most important varieties of hot peppers is used in the production of famous hot sauce brands like Tabasco and Frank’s Red Hot. Cayenne Chili Peppers, Capsicum annuum, are very pungent, spicy, and versatile. But the heat level of these peppers is very dependent on harvest timing and technique, and it can be tricky to master. 

The following article provides the answers to questions including when to pick cayenne peppers when they are the spiciest, and what to do with them after harvest!

Harvesting Cayenne Peppers Outdoor Vs Greenhouse

In cooler climates, greenhouses allow you to start your season earlier, prolonging your growing season past what you could if only growing outdoors. Cayenne peppers that are grown inside a greenhouse can be harvested in early summer and well into the late fall. If left to survive solely in the elements, a cayenne pepper plant would only be able to live and be harvested a few short months out of the year. Once the first frost sets in, these cold-sensitive pepper plants will begin to die. 

If growing a small field of cayenne peppers without a greenhouse, then the harvest season will be shorter, from only late summer to early fall. In small fields, handpicking continuously as the peppers ripen throughout the season should net you the most produce compared to one single mechanical harvest at the end of the season.

By the way, our site is supported by visitors like you. Some links on this page may be affiliate links which means if you choose to make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support! You can find out more here.

When Are Cayenne Peppers in Season

Like all chili pepper varieties, cayenne pepper plants are perennials in their native tropical climates. So, in warmer climates cayenne peppers can remain in season all year long. But in colder climates cayenne pepper plants are considered annuals and must be planted every spring after the threat of the last frost. Cayenne pepper harvest season begins by mid-summer and lasts into the fall or until the first frost. 

How Long Do Cayenne Peppers Take to Grow 

Cayenne peppers take longer to ripen than many other pepper varieties. You can begin harvesting your cayenne peppers after about 100 days of plant growth. This can pose a problem if you don’t get the plants started or transplanted in enough time to have a successful harvest. Once the frost sets in, the growing and harvesting season is over, which is why it is very important to start this variety at least 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost in the spring. 

How Long for Cayenne Peppers to Turn Red

Once the cayenne pepper plants have been transplanted, they will have ripe red peppers within 90 days. In ideal growing conditions usually only available in tropical areas, harvesting can begin as early as 75 days after transplanting. It takes 42-48 days for cayenne pepper to turn red once the pepper fruit has been formed.

Pepper Ripening Studies have shown that capsaicinoids, which are responsible for the heat level of a pepper, gradually accumulate from the beginning of fruit ripening until around day 40 at which time the pepper’s capsaicin content will drastically decrease. This decrease in capsaicinoid compounds continues until around day 80 and then plateaus. 

Are Green Cayenne Peppers Safe to Eat

Yes, when cayenne peppers are close to being ripe yet still immature and green, they are safe to be picked and eaten fresh. Some use fresh green cayenne peppers raw in Pico salsas, relishes, and salads, while others prefer them cooked in stir-fries, soups, and taco meat. 

Harvest green cayenne peppers once the skin is waxy and has a slight give when gently squeezed. Green cayenne peppers are immature and lack the heat of a fully ripened chili pepper. 

Varieties of Cayenne Pepper

The cayenne pepper plant is shrub-like, growing up to 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. It is one of the largest-growing pepper plant varieties. Its multiple stems stand strong and hold bountiful long and slender peppers. Ripe Cayenne peppers can be often found wrinkled and irregular in shape but are a popular variety to grind for dried spice mixes and hot sauces. 

Cayenne peppers can get up to 10 inches long and an inch wide. The most common cayenne pepper is red, but they also come in yellow, purple, and shades of orange. Cayenne peppers are pungent with a Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) rating of between 30,000-50,000. 

Before harvesting your cayenne peppers, check their ripeness by ensuring it is firm to the touch, waxy yet shiny, and nicely fragrant. 

Red Cayenne Peppers

Red cayenne peppers are the most common variety of cayenne peppers grown throughout the world. They are heavily grown in Mexico and in the southwestern United States. Mostly used for hot sauce production, these small peppers pack a lot of spice and flavor.  

Varieties like the Carolina Cayenne, Long Slim Cayenne, and the Charleston Hot are cultivars of the United States, while varieties like the Cobra Cayenne, Dragon’s Claw, and Elephant Trunk are red cayenne peppers that have been perfected in India. The popular, Hot Portugal, from the Mediterranean region, is commonly used in canning and roasting, while many others are simply ground into chili powders and spice mixes. 

Red Ember

The Red Ember pepper is a very popular variety of red cayenne peppers. It is known to be flavourful and thick enough to be enjoyed raw while being spicy enough to satisfy a pepper aficionado. Red Ember peppers ripen to 4 ½ inches long and 1 inch thick and produce a brilliant red hue. They are earlier to mature than other Cayenne pepper varieties, making them an ideal choice for colder climates with shorter growing seasons. 

Purple Cayenne

The gorgeous and unique purple cayenne pepper is a popular culinary cultivar that was perfected in the United States. It’s commonly used dried, ground for chili powder, or displayed fresh in salsas and entrees. Purple Cayenne peppers should be 3.5-4.5 inches long and no more than ½ inch wide. These pendant-style peppers will begin green, progress to purple, and finish red. 

Yellow Cayenne 

Yellow Cayenne pepper varieties are typically longer and wider than most cayenne varieties with average lengths between 4 – 5 inches and widths over an inch. The most popular varieties of yellow cayenne peppers include the Cayenne Buist’s Yellow and the Cayenne Golden which were designed in the United States.

How to Harvest Ripe Cayenne Peppers 

Cayenne pepper plants tend to be more robust than other pepper plants such as ghost peppers, but you still should use caution not to pull heavily on the plant while trying to pick the pepper. Instead, grab the fruit with one hand and secure the plant in the other. If the pepper is ripe enough, then it should easily snap off the stem with one easy motion.

Cayenne pepper plants produce a lot of peppers, so it may be quicker and easier to use scissors to carefully cut the pepper off the plant. This is particularly useful when harvesting green cayenne peppers that aren’t completely ripe yet. It is important to clean your cutting implements to ensure you don’t expose your plants to pathogens or diseases that could halt further fruit production. 

It is beneficial to leave a small portion of the stem and the cap on the pepper to protect the vulnerable flesh inside. This will help to make the pepper last longer after harvest. This also gives you a spot to tie onto if you are hanging your cayenne peppers to air dry.

Harvesting cayenne peppers is best done during the late morning hours after the morning dew has dried but before the hottest part of the day begins. 

Leaving a ripe pepper on the plant will trigger the plant to senesce and produce a few new pepper pods. Continuously harvesting peppers as they ripen will encourage the plant to produce new peppers. 

Will Green Cayenne Peppers Turn Red Once Picked

Cayenne peppers will continue to ripen after picking. Unlike bell pepper species, which must be allowed to ripen on the plant before harvesting, chili pepper varieties such as cayenne peppers can be harvested green. This is useful in large production or shipping, but the peppers that are allowed to ripen on the plant and picked fresh are always the spiciest! 

FAQs When to Pick Cayenne Peppers

How long do cayenne peppers last after being picked?

Cayenne peppers will last several weeks after being harvested. At room temperature, the peppers will last a week, but if stored in the fridge, they can easily last 3 weeks. Waiting to wash your peppers until right before you use them will help them last longer. 

Why are my green cayenne peppers not turning red?

If the growing conditions are incorrect, then the peppers might not fully mature to red. Cayenne pepper plants need at least 6 hours of sunlight, continuous 70 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit days, lots of water, and consistent fertilization. If this long-growing variety is planted too late in the season, then it may not have time to fully mature before the first frost arrives, leaving peppers green.