Growing serrano peppers from seeds can be a rewarding experience, and it allows you to enjoy the process from the very beginning. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you grow serrano peppers from seeds or plants.
What are serrano peppers
Serrano peppers (Capsicum annuum) are a type of chili pepper that originated in the mountains of Mexico. They are named after the Sierra Madre mountains, where they were traditionally cultivated. So it’s no surprise that these tropical plants enjoy hot summers. Serrano peppers are a popular choice and widely used ingredient in Mexican cuisine and are known for their moderate to high level of spiciness and vibrant flavor.
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In Scoville heat units (heat scale), serrano peppers range from 10,000 to 25,000 and are a good substitution for jalapeno peppers in salsas and other dishes and condiments where jalapenos are commonly used. Just be warned that serranos are generally twice as hot as jalapenos, so plan accordingly if you’re going to substitute.
Serrano peppers are similar to green bell peppers in color and the fact that they do have a touch of sweetness, this is really where the similarity ends. Serranos are much more compact with a long, narrow shape, perfect for spicing up just about any dish.
These plants love well-drained soil and full sun, so let’s find out the proper care for growing this delicious peppers!
Why Grow Serrano Peppers in the Home Garden
Growing serrano peppers in your vegetable garden can offer a range of benefits, both culinary and practical. These hot peppers can provide a bountiful harvest for any garden, but there are many other benefits to these particular peppers. Here are some advantages to consider:
- Freshness and Flavor: Homegrown serrano peppers are incredibly fresh and flavorful. The taste of freshly picked peppers is often superior to store-bought ones, as they don’t undergo long transit times or storage.
- Variety Selection: When you grow your own serrano peppers, you can choose from a variety of cultivars and colors to suit your preferences. There are green and red varieties, each with their own distinct flavor profiles and levels of heat.
- Growth: Serrano pepper plants are relatively compact and bushy. They can be grown in various climates, but they thrive in warm conditions. Serrano peppers are often grown as annuals, as they do not tolerate frost well.
- Harvest: The peppers can be harvested when they reach their full size and desired color. Green serrano peppers are less ripe and slightly milder, while red ones are fully mature and have a stronger flavor and heat. A single plant can also produce around 50 peppers, so that’s an abundant harvest of peppers for one plant.
Serrano peppers are a staple in many kitchens due to their versatility and the unique depth of flavor and heat they bring to dishes. Their popularity extends beyond Mexican dishes, as they can be used to add a spicy kick to a wide range of international dishes. Whether you’re a fan of spicy foods or simply want to experiment with adding heat to your cooking, serrano peppers are a great option to consider.
Supplies to Grow Serrano Peppers at Home
If you’re planning to start growing serrano peppers from seed, you’ll get the best results if you use high quality materials to start with. While some of these materials are optional, like a grow light, some will be essential for success in beginning your seeds indoors. Here’s what you’ll need:
Materials You’ll Need:
- Serrano seeds (try Serrano Tampiqueno from True Leaf Market)
- Seed starting trays, peat pots, or soil blocker
- Seed starting mix or potting soil
- Watering can or spray bottle
- Transparent plastic wrap or a clear plastic dome (optional)
- Grow lights or a sunny window sill
- Fertilizer (balanced, water-soluble)
Many of these supplies can be found at your local garden center, but if you need another source, be sure to check the links above or visit my Amazon Shop for a full list of seed starting materials. With soil and seeds as an exception, many seed starting materials can be washed and reused year after year. Now, let’s get started on how to grow these hot peppers at home.
How to Grow Serrano Peppers from Seeds
If starting serrano pepper plants from seeds, be sure to check your areas last frost date, or the best estimated date. This will give you a chance to determine when you should begin your seeds. Start them too early and you may be dealing with leggy serrano plants, and no one wants that. Follow these steps for getting those pepper seeds up and growing!
Steps to Grow Serrano Peppers:
- Choose Quality Seeds: Purchase high-quality serrano pepper seeds from a reputable source. You can find these at garden centers, online stores, or by saving seeds from mature serrano peppers you’ve already enjoyed. See my full post on great Garden Seed Companies that sell many heirloom, non-GMO, and organic seeds.
- Start Seeds on Time: Serrano peppers are typically grown as annuals, and they require a longer growing season to produce fruit. Start seeds indoors about 8-10 weeks before the last expected frost in your area. This will give them enough time to grow into sturdy seedlings before transplanting.
- Prepare Seed Trays or Pots: Choose a seed starting tray or pots that has good drainage. Fill seed starting trays or small pots with seed-starting mix. (I like these Burpee soil starting mix blocks. Very easy to store.) Make sure the mix is well-draining and sterile. Moisten the mix before planting.
- Plant Seeds: Plant 2-3 seeds per pot or cell, as not all seeds will germinate. Plant the seeds about 1/4 inch deep. Gently cover them with a thin layer of the seed starting mix.
- Provide Warmth: Soil temperature for staring seeds is important, and serrano pepper seeds germinate best in warm conditions. You can also cover the trays or pots with transparent plastic wrap or a clear plastic dome to create a mini greenhouse effect; this will also help maintain moisture in the soil. Place them in a warm location, ideally around 75-85°F (24-29°C). (I have used a seedling heat mat before just until the seeds germinate, but this is more of a preference and not a requirement.)
- Keep Moist but Not Soggy: Mist the soil surface with water using a spray bottle or water gently from below using a tray. Make sure the soil remains consistently moist but not waterlogged. Wet soil is a breeding ground for fungal diseases, and we want these pepper plants to thrive.
- Provide Light: Once the seeds germinate and the pepper seedlings emerge, remove the plastic cover. Place the trays or pots under grow lights or on a sunny window sill. If using artificial lights, keep them on for about 14-16 hours a day, maintaining a distance of 6-12 inches from the seedlings. (Note: if you have newer windows, they may not be as effective for seedling growth. We have found that our replacement windows actually block out more light and our seedlings don’t grow nearly as well as they did with the old ones.)
Transplanting Serrano Plants to the Garden
Once your seedlings have developed true leaves, and all danger of frost has passed, it will be time to move them to the vegetable garden, patio container, or larger container. These are also the steps to take if you have purchased serrano pepper plants from a local garden center and are looking to plant them in the home vegetable garden.
- Transplanting: When the seedlings have developed at least two sets of true leaves, they’re ready for transplanting. This is usually around 6-8 weeks after germination. Harden off the seedlings by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions over the course of a week. (See my full post on How to Harden Off Seedlings.)
- Choose a Suitable Location: Pick a sunny location in your garden with well-draining soil. Serrano peppers thrive in full sunlight.
- Plant Outdoors: Plant the seedlings in the prepared soil mix rich with organic matter, spacing them about 18-24 inches apart. Gently tamp down the soil around each plant.
- Water in: As with many transplanted plants, water these peppers in well. Giving a good soaking after planting will help them get established well in their new home.
How to Care for Serrano Pepper Plants
- Watering and Care: Watering requirements for serrano peppers are similar to those of tomatoes. They prefer slightly dry conditions between good, deep waterings. The best time to water is morning if possible, and avoid wetting the leaves by watering near the base of the plants.Mulching around the plants can help retain soil moisture as well, especially in the very warm weather of summer.
- Fertilization: Feed your serrano pepper plants with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer according to the package instructions. Begin fertilizing a few weeks after transplanting and continue every 4-6 weeks throughout the growing season.I personally like to use Espoma’s Garden Tone as a good-quality organic fertilizer.
- Pruning: Pinch off any flowers that appear before the plants are about 8-10 inches tall, even though it may kill you a little on the inside. This encourages the plant to focus its energy on growing strong roots and foliage before fruiting, which should give you more fruit production in the long run.
- Support and Pruning: As the young peppers grow, they may benefit from staking or cages to support their weight as the peppers develop. You can also prune the plants by removing any dead or overcrowded growth. Pruning back will also reduce crowding leaves and promotes good airflow.
When to Harvest Serrano Peppers
Serrano peppers can be harvested once they reach the desired size and color. The timing of the harvest depends on whether you prefer to use green or red serrano peppers and the level of spiciness you’re aiming for. The seed package you originally planted from or the plant tag will also give you the number of days to harvest. Here’s when to harvest serrano peppers based on their color and use:
- Green Serrano Peppers:
- Green serrano peppers are less ripe and milder in flavor compared to red ones.
- You can start harvesting green serrano peppers once they have reached a length of about 2 to 4 inches. The skin should be smooth and firm.
- Harvesting green serrano peppers earlier in their development will result in a milder heat level and a slightly grassy flavor.
- Green serrano peppers are often used in salsas, sauces, and dishes where a moderate level of heat is desired without overwhelming spiciness.
- Red Serrano Peppers:
- Red serrano peppers are fully ripe and have a more intense flavor and spiciness compared to green ones.
- You can leave the peppers on the plant longer to allow them to turn red. This indicates that they are fully mature.
- Red serrano peppers are usually harvested when they are about 2 to 4 inches in length, just like their green counterparts.
- These peppers are hotter and have a slightly sweeter, fruitier flavor profile than green serrano peppers.
- Red serrano peppers are ideal for dishes where you want a higher level of spiciness and a richer flavor.
How to Store Serrano Peppers
Once you’ve harvested serrano peppers, how do you store them if you’re not using them immediately? I try to keep them on the plant for as long as possible if I don’t need them, but there are ways to store these serrano chili peppers for use later.
- Place the serrano peppers in a plastic or paper bag and store them in the vegetable crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
- Make sure the peppers are dry before storing them to prevent moisture buildup, which can lead to spoilage.
- Refrigerated serrano peppers can stay fresh for up to 1 to 2 weeks.
- Wash and dry the serrano peppers thoroughly.
- You can freeze whole serrano peppers or slice them before freezing, depending on how you plan to use them later.
- Place the peppers in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until they are firm.
- Transfer the frozen peppers to an airtight container or resealable plastic bag, and store them in the freezer.
- Frozen serrano peppers can be used directly in cooked dishes, but note their texture may change after freezing, so they won’t be great for salsas and other non-cooked foods.
- Drying serrano peppers is an effective way to preserve them for long periods and intensify their flavor.
- String the peppers together using a needle and thread, creating a pepper garland.
- Hang the garland in a well-ventilated, dry area away from direct sunlight. Alternatively, you can use a food dehydrator or an oven set to a low temperature.
- Once the peppers are completely dried and brittle, store them in an airtight container or crush them into flakes or powder for use as a seasoning.
- They can be rehydrated using water, and many recipes call for dried chili peppers.
- Pickling serrano peppers is another preservation method that can add flavor to your dishes. My husband personally loves putting pickled hot peppers on just about anything.
- Slice the serrano peppers and pack them into clean glass jars.
- Create a pickling brine using vinegar, water, salt, and optional flavorings like garlic, herbs, and spices. Bring the brine to a boil and then let it cool slightly. (See my Pickled Red Onions recipe for a quick brine combo.)
- Pour the brine over the sliced peppers in the jars, making sure the peppers are fully submerged.
- Seal the jars tightly and store them in the refrigerator. The pickled serrano peppers can last for several months in the fridge.
Remember that serrano peppers are quite spicy, so be cautious when handling them, especially if you’re removing seeds or chopping them.
By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to successfully growing serrano peppers in your home garden! They are such a good choice for beginner and experienced gardeners alike, so give them a try this year!