Serrano peppers, Capsicum annuum, are the most cultivated chili pepper species in both backyard gardens and commercially across the globe. This is because of their abundant harvests, great flavor, and low maintenance growing requirements.
Harvesting serrano peppers can be tricky since they must be harvested at the correct time to achieve that perfect balance of heat and flavor.
This article dives into the spicy world of serrano peppers, including how long they take to mature, what they look like when ripe, and when to pick serrano peppers.
Harvesting Serrano Peppers Outdoors Vs Greenhouse
Whether in a greenhouse or outside in a garden, you can begin harvesting your serrano peppers after at least 65 days of plant maturity, depending on your regional climate.
In colder climates, greenhouses allow you to start your growing season earlier and prolong your growing season past what you could do if only growing outdoors.
That means serrano peppers that are grown inside a greenhouse can be harvested in the early summer months and into the late fall, compared to the few months that an outdoor crop can survive.
In warmer climates, greenhouses can help keep serrano pepper plants perennials that keep producing all year long. This creates a need for continuous picking instead of just one seasonal harvest.
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When Are Serrano Peppers in Season?
Serrano chili pepper plants are perennials in tropical climates, meaning they come back every year and can be in season all year long.
In cooler climates, serrano peppers are treated as annuals and must be planted every spring after the threat of the last frost. Harvesting serrano peppers begins in summer and last into the fall or until the first frost. However, this season can be extended by using a greenhouse.
How Long Do Serrano Peppers Take to Mature?
You should begin harvesting serrano peppers after 65 – 80 days of plant growth. Once the plant has reached that stage, existing peppers will continue to mature while the plant grows more new pepper pods for up to 150 days after planting.
As serrano peppers age they turn red and increase in capsaicin, so if you prefer milder peppers, then pick your peppers after 65 days and while they are still green.
How Long Does It Take for Serrano Chilies to Turn Red?
Red serrano peppers are ready to be harvested within 80 – 150 days. They can be harvested when they are red with a little green remaining or when they are completely bright red. The redder the serrano pepper is allowed to get, the more capsaicin and spice it will produce.
If you intend to dry your serrano peppers, then the best time to pick them is just as they start to turn red.
What Does a Ripe Serrano Pepper Look Like
Ripe serrano peppers are long, glossy, and smooth, and can vary from bright green to solid red. Mature serrano peppers are 1 – 4 inches long and around ½ inch wide.
The perfect specimen will be firm, unblemished, and will smell fresh.
‘Corking’, which is the development of small brown lines that create a slightly cracked appearance on the skin of the pepper, is an absolute indicator that your peppers are ready to be harvested.
Green Serrano Peppers
The first peppers ready to be harvested will be small and green. These are typically used in fresh salsas.
Often mistaken for a jalapeno pepper, these green serrano peppers are simply younger and less ripened serrano peppers. Green serrano peppers are ready to be harvested after 65 – 80 days and will be firm to the touch and appear bright green.
Red Serrano Peppers
Red serrano peppers are chili peppers that have been allowed to reach full maturity, which usually takes between 80 – 150 days. They can have bits of green remaining on them, or be solid red.
The longer they are allowed to ripen on the plant, the redder and spicier they will be. The smaller a ripe red serrano pepper is, the spicier it will be.
How to Harvest Serrano Chili Peppers
Whether in a greenhouse or outside in a garden, using the staggered harvesting technique will allow your plants to continuously produce peppers all season long.
This means picking peppers as they become ripe in order to stimulate the plant to produce more pods. Don’t leave a ripe pod on the plant because it will trigger the plant to senesce and produce few to no new pods.
When your red serrano chili peppers are ripe, you will easily be able to pick peppers off the plant by hand. Simply grasp the pepper and carefully bend the stem near the top of the pepper upwards until the pepper snaps off the stem. If done correctly, the cap and some stems should remain intact.
When harvesting less ripe green serrano peppers, use a knife or scissors to carefully cut the pepper off the plant, making sure not to break the fragile main stem in the process. Cut the pepper off just above where the plant connects to the flesh of the pepper. Leaving the green cap and small stem still attached to preserve the pepper longer after harvest.
Will Serrano Peppers Turn Red After Picking?
Yes, serrano peppers will turn red after picking, but it will take longer than if left to ripen on the plant.
Green serrano peppers that are picked and left in the sun will eventually age and turn red, but they will not develop more capsaicin.
Verdict: When To Pick Serrano Peppers
Harvest Green Serrano Peppers within 60-85 days from germination just before they begin to turn. For red serrano peppers wait until 85 days up to 150 days after germination. Plants grown outdoors will be at the longer end of this time frame, depending on your geographic region.
Look closely at the pepper and check for a slightly crackled appearance on the skin. Or press the pepper between your fingers. If it feels very firm, wait until there is a slight give to its feel. Then it will be ripe and ready to harvest.