When to Pick Peppers for the Best Possible Taste

harvesting a red pepper

Growing peppers can be tricky for many gardeners, and if you do succeed, when exactly to pick peppers can be confusing.

Here’s my first recommendation – you should not pick the majority of peppers when they’re green.

Green peppers are the tasteless cousins of red, orange and yellow peppers. In reality, they’re just an unripe pepper, similar to a green tomato. I don’t waste my time with them. If possible, I wait for every single one of my peppers to ripen before I harvest it. 

In the book Ripe, Cheryl Sternman Rule, perfectly expresses my opinion of the difference between red and green peppers:

“If a green pepper rang my doorbell, I might look through the peep hole and then pretend I’m not home, easing back from the door so it doesn’t see my shadow. But, a red bell pepper? That’s a different situation…

If a red pepper came to the door? I’d let it in, pull out a chair, and invite it to stay. Then I’d tackle it from behind and eat it. 

You ring my bell, you take your chances.” 

You can eat peppers when they’re still green, but the flavor and vitamin content increases as they ripen to yellow, orange and red. I try to practice patience and wait until the entire pepper has turned its intended ripe color. 

During the height of the late summer harvest season, I can often be found out in my garden harvesting bowls and bowls full of red, orange and yellow peppers. 

Join me and learn how to know when to pick peppers in your garden.

basket full of ripe peppers

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An Easy Guide For When to Pick Peppers in Your Garden

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I’m amazingly successful at growing sweet and hot peppers in my garden. If you’re struggling, you can read my essential guide to growing sweet peppers for all of my tips and tricks.

The first step to knowing when to pick peppers is to be clear on what color they are when fully ripe. As you’ve probably noticed at the farmers market, peppers come in a rainbow of colors – yellow, orange, red, purple, black and even white.

If you started your own seeds you can look at the photo on the front of the seed packet or look the variety up online on the seed company’s website.

The second step is to familiarize yourself with the number of days the variety takes to ripen. This also depends upon the type and variety of pepper you’re growing. In general, I’ve found that sweet peppers tend to ripen more quickly than hot peppers. 

The best way to become familiar with how many days it will take your peppers to ripen is to take a look at your seed packets. Every seed packet lists the “Days to Harvest” or “Days to Maturity” on the front or back. If you didn’t start your own seeds, look up the variety you bought online.

If you don’t know what variety you’re growing, that’s a problem! I’ve found that what sweet pepper varieties you grow make a big difference in your success. Next season you’ll definitely want to keep better track by saving the plant tags or better yet, writing them down on your garden map.

You’ll have the best access to amazing varieties if you commit to starting peppers indoors in the winter.

yellow peppers ripening

Waiting, waiting until they turn completely yellow!

When to Pick Sweet Peppers

There are several different types of sweet peppers: bell, banana, pimiento, and cherry. Most of these sweet pepper varieties take between 70-85 to ripen to full color (not green).

If you love green peppers (what?!) you can pick them whenever they grow to full size. But, and I repeat, I highly recommend you wait until your peppers are fully red, orange or yellow. In the middle of summer, I don’t even like to pick my peppers when they still have even a little green on them.

When to Pick Hot Peppers

I’ve tried growing lots of different hot pepper varieties and in the process I’ve learned that the number of days to harvest vary widely. Let’s talk about some of the most common hot peppers you may be growing in your garden. These are listed from least hot to most hot.

Ancho/Poblano: The are an exception to the “don’t harvest when green” rule. If you’ve ever had chile rellenos, you know that poblano peppers are usually harvested when they’re green. But, you could let some ripen to red and compare the taste. Approx. 65 days green, 85 days to red.

thai peppers ready to harvest

Thai peppers in various stages of ripening.

Jalapenos: It’s true, most jalapenos you see in the store are green. Just like with sweet peppers, it means they’re not fully ripe. You can pick your jalapenos when they’re green, but if you wait until they’re red they’ll be hotter and sweeter. Approx. 70 days green, 90 days red.

Cayenne Chile: Cayenne peppers are best harvested when they’re red, which takes approximately 75 days, which is on the earlier side for hot peppers.

Serrano: These are often harvested green, but you can allow them to ripen to red. They’re a more quickly ripening type of pepper, around 55-65 days to green and 75-85 to ripe, depending on which variety you planted.

Habanero: These babies aren’t the hottest pepper out there, but they sure pack some heat. Especially if you’re a Midwesterner 😉 They also take the longest to ripen at 90 or even over 100 days. They’re always the last peppers I harvest in my own garden. Habanero peppers can be red, orange or yellow depending upon what variety you planted.

colorful peppers after picking

How to Expertly Pick Peppers

Figuring out when to pick your peppers is the hardest part. Now that you’re feeling more confident, you can go out and harvest at the optimal time.

Try not to pull the peppers from the plants because this can break branches and leaves. I recommend using garden clippers or harvest scissors to gently cut each pepper from the plant.

Each morning or evening during pepper ripening season (mid-August through early October in my zone 5 garden) I go out and check on my peppers. I wait until the entire pepper is ripe until I harvest it. 

pepper harvest

What to Do at the End of the Season

Pepper plants are not on the list of frost tolerant vegetables, which means that if the nighttime temperatures are predicted to go near or below freezing (32 degrees F), they’re in danger of getting killed by frost.

In the fall, when the gardening season is coming to a close and a frost is predicted, I harvest all of my partially ripe peppers and store them in the fridge. I have to admit, I usually leave the green ones out to die.

Some people have had success with ripping the plants out of the ground and hanging them upside down to try to get the peppers to ripen more. 

By the end of the season, I’ve usually  harvested plenty of peppers, so I’m not as concerned with trying to get more to ripen. Or maybe I’m just lazy!

hot peppers after harvesting

Preserving Your Pepper Harvest

Once you’ve mastered the art of growing amazing peppers and learned the best time to pick them, it’s possible you may end up with more than you can eat fresh. That’s always what I’m hoping for because I want to be able to continue to eat my delicious peppers all winter long.

My favorite super easy way to preserve them is to freeze peppers. There are only nine steps involved!

I love fermenting a portion of my pepper harvest each season as well. One of my favorite fermented food recipes is Red Pepper Salsa. I’ve also mixed sweet and hot peppers along with other ingredients when following Homestead and Chill’s fermented hot sauce recipe.

Growing peppers can be tricky in northern climates, but once you master the process, you will be rewarded with delicious ripe peppers in a rainbow of colors!




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