When to Pick Peppers

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately on when is the best time to pick peppers.  At first I thought “isn’t it obvious?”, then I remembered something that happened at the grocery store a few years back.  So I retract the thought, and here’s why.

Shopping for Peppers

One day David (hubby) and I were grocery shopping and were looking at the peppers.  I was putting some green peppers in my cart, and was debating some red and some yellow peppers.  Then David mentioned to get the red peppers, because they were a different variety from the green.

I looked at him funny and said, “The red and the yellow peppers are just the ripe version of the green peppers .”  He hadn’t realized that the green ones were just not ripened, not a different kind altogether.

When to Pick Peppers

Peppers are great because you can pick them at any point of the growing process.  Now I do like them to be pretty much fully grown (i.e. as large as I think they are going to get), but I pick them green, partially ripened and then fully ripe — it all depends on what’s for dinner!  (And what kind of pepper, as you’ll read below.)

What’s also neat about peppers is that you can pick them green and they will ripen on the kitchen counter (or wherever you put your tomatoes to ripen).  However, if I am picking them to ripen, I like to wait until they are just starting to turn color before I pluck ’em from the plant.

Ocassionally, I do leave my peppers on the plant until ripe, but usually those are my non-bell-type peppers.  For my bell peppers, I like to pick them earlier.  The heat and humidity of where I live can sometimes let mold into the bell pepper’s interior, and when I cut open the pepper — yuck!

However, I don’t usually have that problem with other pepper types — banana, horn-shaped or hot.  It’s just the bells that seem to want to mold on me.  So I either pick them green or when they are just starting to ripen.  That might not hold true for everyone, for for you folks in less humid climates, you’ll have to experiment.

Hmmm, I think I hear some peppers calling me from the vine!  I’ll make like Peter Piper and pick some peppers.  Catch you later!

23 Responses to When to Pick Peppers

  • Bilko says:

    Hi, i am growing peppers in containers on my garage roof in southern England, the plants are doing well, bearing plenty of fruit, but the fruit is small, about 1/2 the size of a tennis ball. I wanted to leave them on the plant to turn red, but they grow no larger & the bottom of the fruit is turning brown & appears to be starting to rot.
    Any ideas what i am doing wrong please.

  • Gail says:

    Hi Bilko,

    You might not be doing anything wrong, and here are some thoughts.

    First, you might have some peppers that naturally are smaller than the peppers you see in the grocery stores — there are lots of varieties, and they have a wide range of sizes.

    Two, your climate is a bit cooler than is usual for peppers, who like lots of warmth. That may contribute somewhat to a smaller fruit size than someone growing in a warmer climate or in a greenhouse.

    If your plants have a lot of fruit, that could be an issue when it comes to fruit size. The more fruits on the plants, the smaller each fruit will grow; it’s just a matter of how much the plant can handle, as far as nutriational resources.

    Finally, are your plants getting enough phosphorus? It’s the middle number when you look at fertilizer. If the phosphorus number is smaller than the first number (nitrogen), then that is also contributing to a smaller fruit size. Peppers, along with their relatives tomatoes and eggplants, need extra phosphorus for good fruits.

    So, you may as well bring in the fruits to ripen indoors, since they seem to be only 1/2 a tennis ball in size. That will also help prevent the bottom rotting.

    Best wishes, and hope this helps!

  • Sheree says:

    I have grow some sweet chocolate peppers for the first time. Do i have to wait for them to ripen on the plant or will they change colour once picked.
    Thanks Sheree

  • Gail says:

    Hi Sheree,

    You can do either — wait til they ripen on the plant, or pick them green and let them ripen to the chocolate color on the kitchen counter (like you would a tomato).

    Best wishes!

  • Walter says:

    I know this thread is old. Bilko, in addition to what was discussed, it sounds like you might be suffering from Blossom End Rot. Keep the nitrogen down once flowering begins, especially the ammonium type (NH4) in favor of a (little) nitrate (NO3), make sure calcium is available (calcium nitrate does both here), and of course phosphorus is so important when flowering and fruiting. BER often has lots to do with too much water and the inability of the plant to mobilize calcium in the right places in the plant since calcium is immobile once fixed in plant tissues.

  • michael says:


  • Gail says:

    Hi Michael,

    You’re almost there! Once the flowers start falling off, you should start seeing tiny peppers where the flowers were. Not all of the flowers will have peppers, but most probably will.

    As to when you will actually have peppers that you can pick and eat, that depends entirely on the kind of pepper you planted — some take a long time, and others are fairly quick.

    Best wishes with your peppers!


  • Kevin says:

    I’m growing “peter peppers”. My neighbor gave them to me and told me that that’s their name. They are quite hot. Will the seeds that are inside these peppers germinate? I guess that’s a question that pertains to all peppers. Do the seeds in various peppers germinate if put in soil the way you describe it.
    thank, Kevin

  • Gail says:

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for the question! I do know about Peter Peppers (and they are rather interesting), and have grown them myself.

    In answer to your question, yes – you can save seeds from ripe peppers and then plant them. Just make sure that the seeds are clean and dry before you plant them (no membranes sticking on them, etc.)

    If you grow your Peter Pepper close to another variety of pepper, you might get a cross between the two varieties, although that could make things very interesting.

    Best wishes with your peppers!


  • Carly says:

    Hi Gail,
    When is the best point to pick my Hinklehatz peppers?

  • Gail says:

    Hi Carly,

    The Hinkelhatz hot pepper isn’t one I’ve every grown, so it really depends on how hot you want the peppers — if you let them get ripe (turn to red) they will be the hottest.

    It sounds like an interesting pepper! I see that traditionally it’s used to make pepper vinegar and pickling. If that is how you want to use them, I’d suggest picking them before they turn red.

    Hope this helps!


  • Joan says:

    Hi Gail,

    I purchased a “Mohawk” Pepper plant and it has produced little orange peppers. However, they say that they are supposed to be sweet. Instead these peppers are hot (comparable to a Jalapeno).
    Wondering if you could help be out.

    Thanks Joan

  • Gail says:

    Hi Joan,

    It’s possible that either the Mohawk peppers got crossed with a hotter variety, or you have seeds for something else entirely.

    I have had times when I’ve bought seeds for one pepper or tomato and got something totally different in the pack. It’s happened only rarely (and with various seed suppliers), but it does happen.

    My guess is that peppers got accidentally crossed with something hotter.


  • chad says:

    I have a ghost pepper plant and It has 5 peppers on it. They are a nice light green color. I was wondering if you knew when is the best time to pick a ghost pepper?

  • Gail says:

    Hi Chad,

    It depends on how hot you want it. 🙂 In general, though, I like to wait until they are ripening before picking — I find the flavor is best then.



  • Terry says:

    This is my first year growing cayenne pepper plant. I just put one in just to see the results. I live near the beach and the soil is sandy , which is great for drainage but lousy for nutrients and I have to feed often. The cayenne plant exceeded my expectations with peppers but my problem seems to be getting them to turn red. I read that as they progress through their change of colors the hotter they become. Mine seem to stay green then begin to brown and shrivel before they get to turn…any ideas ??

  • Gail says:

    Hi Terry,

    When they turn brown — if it’s a reddish brown, then they made it to the ripe stage. They are just drying out fast on the plant. That sometimes happens, so try to pick a few and sample their heat.

    I personally like to have my cayenne dry — once they are dry on the plant, I bring them inside and then crush the peppers as needed to put into my cooking.

    If you’re wanting to use the cayenne “fresh” (i.e. not dried), then you may need to grab them just as they start to brown.

    Best wishes!


  • Marjorie says:

    Ipeppers that are not hot varieties that I have planted are getting hot now that they are vhanging color…someone told me they pickup,characteristics of ther peppers (hotter ones nearby) this makes no sends to me. But they are getting hot, why?

  • Gail says:

    Hi Marjorie,

    If there are hot peppers growing right next to it, then it’s possible that the oils from the hot plant are getting on the not-hot ones. However, it’s more likely that you got seeds or a plant that was accidentally crossed with a hot variety.

    If you don’t want the hotness, then eat them green, as they will just get hotter as they ripen.

  • liz says:

    My 91 year old Mother planted seeds from red peppers in her yard and they are a nice size green peppers! When or how long till they turn red? Should she pick them now (since the evenings are getting cooler here in Staten island, NY) and let them turn color in the kitchen, or leave them out to turn red? 9/21/14

  • Gail says:

    Hi Liz,

    It’s wonderful that your mother is still gardening (not to mention she has some nice peppers)!

    Peppers tend to like heat to ripen, so getting cooler will start sending your plants towards dormancy (and stop the ripening). Here is what I would do — pick a few peppers. You can eat some green, and then leave some out on the counter. The rest leave on the plant to see how much more they will ripen on the plant. With fewer peppers on the plants, the plants have more energy to ripen the peppers still on them.

    But when the nights get really chilly, pick all the peppers. Enjoy some green and leave some on the counter.

    Enjoy your peppers!!!!!!!! 🙂


  • Ryan says:

    So I got two 5 gallon buckets with two small pepper plants in them. A friend had given them to me a day or two ago. It appears all he did was dump miracle grow potting soil in them and then planted the peppers.

    Are my peppers are in nothing but potting soil or do I need to do a 50% native soil split. I was going to add small amount of mulch at the top just to retain moisture.

    Your thread has helped me alot so far, looking forward to your response.

  • Gail says:

    hi Ryan,

    Congratulations on your new pepper plants! It’s good of you to start thinking about what is best for them.

    While MiracleGro potting soil isn’t my favorite, it’s not necessarily bad for your plants. I happen to think that the MiracleGro potting soil doesn’t have quite enough aeration, but that’s me being picky. 😉

    You probably don’t need to worry about re-potting them, unless you had planned to put them in a bigger pot — no point in disturbing the root systems. But a small amount of mulch on top is a good idea. That being said, a 5-gallon pot is usually big enough to grow most peppers well, so a little mulch on top is about all you will need.

    Hope your plants do well! 🙂