When To Pick Habaneros | Grow And Harvest Ripe Peppers

Known for their lively character and a form that roughly resembles an inverted cone. Habaneros are rather reminiscent of their more wrinkled cousin the scotch bonnet pepper. Indeed, both chilies occupy the same level of heat on the Scoville scale: A rather impressive rating of between 100,000 and 350,000.

So now you’ve decided to grow them yourself. Chances are you know that a homemade hot sauce or spicy salsa from your very own habaneros provides a flavor sensation that knocks a shop-bought counterpart right out of the park. But just when to pick habaneros so you get hit that sweet spot for heat or flavor.

So what is the right time to harvest them? How do they grow and what do they need to thrive? Discover my tips and pitfalls learned from a walk on the spicy side so your own experience can be as smooth as can be.

When To Pick Habanero Peppers

Habanero peppers can be ready for harvest about 3 months after transplanting. But exact timings depend on whether you have planted them directly from seed yourself, as opposed to obtaining a seedling from your local garden center. 

From seed, the entire process will take anywhere between 120 to 180 days. Hotter varieties tend to take longer to mature as opposed to milder cultivars.

If you intend to let them ripen, you will need to leave them on the plant for longer until the fruits take on the specific color they are meant to be depending on the cultivar (usually scarlet or orange color). 

Fruits left to fully ripen will have a slightly sweeter taste and will also be hotter. Bear in mind that individual fruits may mature at different rates and should be harvested as and when they are ready rather than all at once.

What Month Do You Harvest Habaneros?

Assuming you have started your plants off indoors from seed at approximately 8-10 weeks before the last of the frost, you can expect to harvest them roughly about 3-4 months after you have transplanted them. So, let’s say you sowed your seeds in mid-March, you can expect the first chilies to be ready to harvest from mid-June onwards.

Habaneros tend to take longer to germinate than most other chili pepper seeds and so knowing when they will be ripe is never an exact science. A helpful tip for being able to tell when they are ready is by observing their length. Once they are between 1 – 2 inches long they will be ready. 

This variety of chili cannot tolerate extreme cold so make sure you remove all the fruits before any frost arrives to avoid shrunken fruits.

How To Know When Habanero Peppers Are Ripe

Habanero peppers are ripe when they are approximately 2 inches long and emerald green. Fully mature chiles will turn from green to usually turn orange or red. Or if you have grown them from seed, they will eventually turn the color specified on the seed packet. 

It is worth noting that red cultivars tend to progress from green to orange and then red. 

Green Habanero

Green habanero

After 75 days or 2½ months of planting, the first fruits on your habaneros will appear in emerald green.

Green habaneros are usually ready to pick after approximately 2.5 months. They are perfectly edible and will have a fresh, piquant flavor. A great way to serve them is in a wonderful salsa Verde with a splash of lime juice for an extra kick.

However, their heat, at this stage, is at its mildest, and if you prefer hotter stuff, you will have to exercise a bit of patience.

Yellow Or Orange Habanero

Yellow habaneros

If green habaneros are left on the plant, they should change color between 3.5 to 4 months after transplanting. 

Those orange cultivars will first turn yellow and then orange and will ripen further during this period. 

Red cultivars will turn from green to orange and then to red. However, there’s no reason why you can’t harvest them during their intermediate ripening phase if you prefer to.

While hotter than their unripe (green) incarnations, orange chilies are slightly milder than red habaneros and are ideal for moderately hot chutneys and curries.

Red Habanero

Ripening habaneros

Red cultivars will attain their final scarlet color after about 4 months of transplanting.

Chilies in this category contain the most potent heat and can be used in the same way you would yellow or orange chilies. 

They are also ideal for chili oil which lends an alluring red hue and a powerful spicy heat.

Which Is Hotter Red Or Orange Habanero?

Red habaneros cultivators are hotter than orange chilies. This holds true in terms of all of the different colored Habanero varieties. 

It is also true in terms of the different stages of ripeness for red cultivars. I.e. Red cultivators that are orange or yellow and have not yet fully matured to their scarlet red color will be hotter than a fully matured orange habanero.

How To Harvest Habanero Peppers

Habanero peppers should be harvested by hand. Alternatively, you can use pruning shears. The latter option will enable you to snip the fruit off neatly reducing the likelihood of damage.

Simply hold the stem directly above the chili between your thumb and forefinger and pull gently but with conviction. If you find that the stem is breaking off either where it is connected to the chili or it’s pulling off too much of the connecting branch, I recommend using sanitized pruning shears instead.

Will Habanero Ripen Off The Vine

It is possible to ripen habanero off the vine and this largely depends on the cultivar and on the weather.

You can help them by placing them in a brown paper bag along with an apple. This will speed up the ripening process due to the hormone ethylene that is released by the apple.

You could also place them in a warm spot with loads of sunlight. However, you will need to monitor them carefully and they may need to be quickly transferred to your fridge to prevent them from beginning to shrivel and soften.

Harvesting Habanero Peppers For Seeds

If you are planning to harvest some seeds from your current crop for future use, you’ll need to extract seeds from fully ripe chilies, i.e., those which are either red or orange. 

Fully mature seeds provide the best chance of germinating and remain viable for longer.

Growing Habanero – Plant Stages

Getting the timing right is crucial to growing habanero plants capable of producing green, orange, red, or even chocolate-colored fruits bursting with flavor and freshness.

The best moment to get started is 8-10 weeks before the last frost. For the best chance of sprouting success, you’ll need slightly acidic soil with a pH ranging from 5 – 6 and the ideal outdoor climate is in hardiness zones 10 -12. Outside of these zones, you’ll need to grow them indoors.

From Seed to Seedling

To get started, soak the seeds in water. Doing so will soften them and provide them with the moisture they need to kickstart the process of morphing into brand new plants.

If you have access to fresh habaneros, you’ll be able to skip this step. All you’d have to do is slip on a pair of gloves to protect your hands from the heat and using a knife, cut out the seeds from the fruit.

You’ll need to give due consideration to how far apart to plant your peppers. They can grow as tall as 4ft high and spacing them adequately means they will get the air circulation and light they need during this process. The ideal spacing for habanero seeds is 14-18 inches apart, with around 24-36 inches between rows.

Since they need a good deal of spacing, plant them in large containers. The key here is ensuring they have well-drained soil to prevent sogginess.

The seeds themselves should be planted an inch deep and watered. They don’t need any fertilizer at this point. Those pips are little nutritious parcels and will be able to sprout within a week although 2 weeks is not uncommon for habaneros seeds to germinate. So you’ll need to exercise a little patience.

Expose to at least 8 hours of sunlight and when they sprout between 8 – 10 leaves, it will be time to take them outside. 

Transplanted Seedlings

Choose a cool, cloudy day for transplanting seeds outdoors. At this stage, your pepper plants will still be vulnerable to the harshness of the elements.

Dig holes that are slightly larger than the containers used for each plant. You’ll need to carefully extricate the growing habanero seedlings and plant them in the prepared holes. This process comes with a risk of stress to the plants due to the possibility of root damage. 

Water immediately after transplanting and regularly thereafter to keep the soil slightly moist but not soggy. This will help to reduce the risk of transplant stress and the yellowing of leaves.

On the flip side, excessive watering can result in your habaneros producing a bitter-tasting fruit as opposed to possessing a piquant fragrance.

Once the transplanted seedlings become established start using fertilizer for peppers that are nitrogen-rich such as Miracle-Gro Performance Organics.

Flowering and Harvest

Once your habanero plants begin flowering, you will need to switch to a fertilizer that contains a higher ratio of phosphorus. My habaneros and bell peppers seem to love Dr. Earth Organic Vegetable & Herb Fertilizer. It’s not only great for encouraging increased quantities and size of fruits, but it’s also a great soil conditioner thanks to Dr. Earth’s patented TruBiotic formula.  

The exciting part is always watching them grow as you continue to care for them. You’ll be able to start harvesting the milder green habaneros when they are 1-2 inches long.

For a hotter kick, leave them on the plant and watch their colors transform from green to yellow, to orange, and then to red or even a deeper chocolate brown. 

What you do next with your bounty is up to you: pickle them, roast them, dry them and blend them to create your very own homemade chili powder. The possibilities are endless.

FAQ When To Harvest Habaneros