It’s still too early for most of us to start planting jalapeño peppers, but thinking about them makes spring and warmer weather feel that much closer. [And knowing they are heavy feeders is a good reminder to incorporate some aged compost into your pepper planting bed now will help them grow better this summer!]
Jalapeño peppers are members of the nightshade family, making them cousins to tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and groundcherries. Most commonly seen in stores while green, jalapeños are a type of chili pepper that can mature to yellow, orange, or red, given the opportunity. A favorite of the Aztecs for thousands of years and frequently sliced into Pho, jalapeños can be used raw in salsa, stuffed, smoked, scorched, canned, and baked into countless dishes for added flavor and bite.
Jalapeño pepper heat
Pepper potency is measured using Scoville heat units. Using this tool, jalapeño peppers are relatively mild, ranging from 2,500 to 10,000 heat units. Usually. There have been exceptions. There is also a sweet, heatless jalapeño cultivar. For comparison, bell peppers have zero Scoville heat units, while the Carolina Reaper can incinerate your taste buds with 1.5 to 3 million heat units.
How to grow jalapeño peppers
Being native to southern North American and northern South America, peppers (Capsicum annuum) need lots of heat and sunshine to grow. Optimal germination generally doesn’t occur until temperatures have reached 80°F–85°F, though it can occur as low as 64°F, so there’s no point in starting too early. If you simply can’t wait, you can always invest in or make a seed heating mat. Like other peppers, jalapeños are slow starters. You can plant them indoors as much as 2 months before your last frost date as long as there is sufficient light.
Jalapeño plants are perennials grown as annuals that can reach 2–3’ in height. They grow best in well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8, though they will tolerate 4.5 to 7.0. They need lots of organic matter and they grow well in containers. Seeds should be planted ¼” to ½” deep. Plants should be spaced 12” to 16” apart.
Remember what I said about being heavy feeders? Early in their development, your jalapeños will benefit from a top-dressing of nitrogen (N). As flowers and fruit begin to develop, cut back on the nitrogen and give them potassium (K) and phosphorus (P). Given the right care, each jalapeño plant will produce an average of 25–35 pods, ripening at different times throughout the summer.
Jalapeños need consistent moisture, up to one water-inch a week, but you’ll want to avoid over-watering your jalapeños to prevent fungal disease.
Jalapeño pepper problems
Jalapeños are susceptible to bacterial spot, beet curly top, cucumber mosaic, foliar blight, Fusarium wilt, pepper mottle, phytophthora blight, powdery mildew, ripe rot, root rot, soft rot, southern blight, tobacco mosaic, tomato spotted wilt, and Verticillium wilt. Most of these disease can be avoided with crop rotation and by controlling moisture levels in the surrounding soil. Soaker hoses work well.
Aphids, armyworms, corn earworms, flea beetles, leafrollers, leaf miners, pepper weevils, root-knot nematodes, spider mites, and thrips will all want to take a bite out of your jalapeños, so be on the lookout.
These plants are highly productive and they look lovely in a landscape.
Which types of peppers will you be planting this summer?
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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