So you wanna put some heat in your garden. Serrano peppers are a good choice!
These peppers are spicier than the infamous jalapeno, but they don’t require a ton of work to grow.
They’re hotter than other nightshades, but are surprisingly easier to care for.
You can easily start a plot of serrano peppers with ease.
They just require warm weather, plenty of light, and some basic TLC.
Once you get them going, they require very little care.
Plus, when grown in the right zone, they’re a perennial so they can produce your hot peppers every single season.
How nice is that?
Tasty, easy to grow, and pretty darn hardy overall. So they’re tolerable for rookie mistakes.
Let’s dive in and learn about how to grow and care for serrano plants!
Quick care guide: Serrano peppers
|Plant type||Perennial (zones 9-12), annual (lower zones)|
|Scientific name||Capsicum annuum
|Other names||Fresno peppers|
|Soil type||Fertile, loamy, well-draining, nutrient-dense|
|Soil pH||5.0-7.0 (slightly acidic)|
|Sunlight requirement||Full sun, 6 hours daily|
|Bloom season||Spring to summer depending on variety|
|Colors||Green, pink, purple, white, yellow, red, orange|
|Max height||5 feet|
|Max width||2 feet|
|Low temperature tolerance||60F|
|High temperature tolerance||85F|
|Ideal temperature range||70-75F|
|Humidity||Moderate (40% or higher)|
|Watering requirements||2-3 inches per week, 3 times per week|
|Fertilizer requirements||High, use full dosage in spring/summer|
|Plant food NPK||5-10-10|
|Days until germination||1-2 weeks|
|Days until harvest||70-90 days|
|Bloom time||Spring to summer|
|Speed of growth||Moderate|
|Hardiness zones||9, 10, 11, 12|
|Plant depth||0.25 inches for seeds, plant same depth as original container if from cutting|
|Plant spacing||12 inches|
|Don't plant with||Similar plants in the same family (Nightshade), beans, Brassicas, fennel, or kohlrabi|
|Propagation method||From seed, cuttings|
|Common pests||Cutworms, whiteflies, caterpillars, flea beetles, thrips, spider mites, snails, slugs, aphids, or other sapsuckers.|
|Common diseases||Verticillium wilt, root rot, southern blight, mosaic virus, leaf spot, powdery mildew, or other related pathogens|
|Indoor plant||Yes, but not optimal for pepper production|
|Grown in container||Yes|
|Care level||Low (very easy for beginners)|
|Best uses||Culinary, tacos, burritos, stuffed serrano, spice, taste, soups, hot sauce, salsas, wings, eggs, pickled peppers|
What’s a serrano pepper?
Serrano (Capsicum annuum Serrano) is in the same family as jalapenos, bell peppers, and cayenne peppers.
They’re a bit spicier compared to their cousins, so they’re good for those that want something that wants some more heat on the taste buds.
They’re a bit harder than other garden crops to propagate, but if you want to grow peppers, serrano is one of the easiest crops available.
Each fruit grows up to 3” in length on average and comes in different colors (yellow, brown, red, orange, or even purple). There are multiple varieties of serrano that you can grow.
If you want a versatile pepper because you’ve been looking to add something spicy to your garden, but aren’t sure which pepper to plant, serrano is a good choice for beginners and experts alike.
Serrano is generally ready to eat within 90 days of planting.
Serrano vs. jalapeno
For those that are unfair with serrano, you’re probably asking yourself what’s the difference between serrano vs. jalapeno.
People know what jalapeno tastes like, but have no idea what serrano even looks like! They’re both cultivars of peppers within the same genus.
Since they’re similar in shape, size, and color, they’re often confused or used interchangeably with each other- by mistake, of course.
Serranos are a bit smaller when you put them side by side. They’re also a bit spicier compared to jalapeno peppers.
So people don’t expect to bite into a serrano or slice one up, but wonder why that dang pepper is so hot! But in reality, it’s not jalapeno. It’s serrano, buddy.
Serrano pepper types
When you’re shopping for the perfect serrano to grow at home, you’ll see a dozen or so repeating species on the market. There are lots of varieties, but the most popular ones are the easiest to grow:
- Serrano Fire (bright red, spicy)
- Serrano Purple (elongated peppers, purple fruit)
- Serrano Tampiqueno (spicer)
- Serrano Del Sol (large serrano peppers, easy to propagate, extremely popular for beginners)
How to propagate serrano peppers
Serrano should be planted in the springtime when there’s no chance of dips in temperature.
These are warm weather, full sun plants that grow ideally in temperate zones.
You can start from seed, as most people do. Or you can buy pre-grown serrano seedlings from your local nursery if you want a head start.
Cost-wise, it’s much cheaper to just buy a packet of serrano seeds and then propagate them yourself.
We’ll go over both ways in this guide.
Starting from seeds
Seeds should be started indoors in a starter medium 6-8 weeks before the last frost date in your zone. You can easily find out online if you don’t know it yet.
Get organic seeds online (see Amazon) or from your local garden center.
Use a basic seed starter kit with at least a dozen compartments. Get high-quality, well-draining potting mix and fill the compartments ¾ full. Place 2-3 seeds in each one, ¼ inch deep.
Cover with soil. Water generously, then cover with a plastic wrap or humidity dome.
If you don’t have that many seeds, you can plant serrano in a container. Choose a pot that is at least 3 gallons. Place 2-3 seeds evenly spaced.
Put the starter kit in a sunny area with no drafts. It should receive partial, filtered sunlight. Temperatures should remain above 55F during germination.
You can alternatively use biodegradable containers so you don’t need to move them later.
Each seed should be lightly covered with soil. Temperatures should be between 80-90F with plenty of sunlight. Use a heat mat if necessary. The growing medium should be well-draining.
Keep the soil moist by regularly spritzing it with water. Use distilled water if available. Don’t let the soil dry out between watering.
Seeds will germinate in 14 days.
As the seedlings sprout, thin each plant to the strongest one. When they grow their second pair of true leaves out, they’re ready to transplant to your garden.
Moving to the garden
Choose a warm, full sun location with rich soil. It should be free of winds or obstructing plants or objects that may block the sun. The location should get at least 6 hours of full sun daily.
Gently uproot your strongest seedlings by digging out the dirt surrounding them until it becomes loose. You can also just pop out the entire formation of dirt and then place it in your garden if you prefer.
The seedling roots are extremely easy to rip, so be careful. Dig out a space in the garden that fits the seedling roots completely. Space each plant 12 inches apart.
If container planting, simply relocate the container to the garden for a few hours each day before you go all out. This is called acclimating or hardening off. It’ll help get your serrano seedlings used to the outdoor elements slowly, rather than a sudden shock.
To save your precious garden space, you can plant them in rows to maximize yield with the least space occupation. If you have a tiny garden, this is ideal. Space each row 18 inches from each other, with each plant 12 inches apart.
You should leave some space between each one for stakes as it’s common for serrano to tip over when it gets heavy with pepper fruit.
But that’s a good problem, no?
Starting from cuttings
Starting from cuttings is also possible.
If you buy them from a nursery, you can easily propagate them by cutting them.
You end up with the exact same plant as the original- including the fruit production, taste, and texture.
Here’s how to propagate by cuttings:
- Find a virulent, green, and strong seedling free of pests.
- There should be no yellowing or browning leaves.
- Cut a 5-inch piece of the stem using sterilized pruners right under a leaf node
- Cut off the foliage on the bottom ⅔ of the cutting, including flowers if present (this is the cut end)
- Allow the leaves on the top ⅓ to remain in place (don’t prune them unless they’re damaged)
- Gently apply some rooting powder or rooting gel to the cut end (get organic if possible- check Amazon)
- Get your soil ready. It should be moist, well-draining, and loose. You can use biodegradable peat pots or other peat moss pots for cuttings
- You can also plant directly in the garden if you want, but it may not root as successfully as container grown
- Place the cut end of the stem in the potting mix. Gently shove it in the dirt to keep it firmly in place
- Put the container in a warm spot with dappled sunlight.
- Water to make it moist, but not soggy
- Allow it to root over 2-3 weeks
- Check for bugs or fungus during this period- if you see some, restart it
To test for successful rooting, gently tug on the stem. Resistance means rooting!
How to grow serrano peppers
This section covers the basics of how to grow and care for serrano peppers.
Depending on your local conditions and type of pepper, your care needs will vary.
However, you can use this as general guidelines for serrano pepper care. If you have questions, post them at the end of this page.
Serrano peppers are hardy in USDA zones 9-12. They’re a warm-weather pepper just like other nightshade plants.
If you’re within these zone boundaries, you should be good to go.
It’ll grow as a perennial in hotter areas, but you’ll need to replant it every year if you’re in a lower zone because they don’t tolerate temperature dips!
Choose a rich, loamy, well-draining garden soil. It should be chock full of nutrients.
Opt for organic soil if possible. Some soils are amended with nutrients made just for crops. Look into this if you want to maximize your yield.
Serrano peppers like their soil to be slightly acidic. Aim for a pH of 5.5-7.0.
If you don’t know your soil’s pH, you can find out using soil pH testing kits.
If it’s too high, lower it by using limestone or other soil amendments. Choose natural or organic if possible.
This will help create the rich, fertile soil they crave.
Consider adding 1-2 inches of compost during the time you plant the seedlings to get the most out of your peppers. This increases the soil nutrient column which gives your pepper plants that loamy, rich soil they love.
Organic compost is cheap. You can even make your own using leaf litter, bark, or other organic materials to do it.
Space each plant at least 12 inches from each other.
If possible, give them more space. This prevents competition between the plants and gives them the space they need to thrive.
Serrano grows some extensive roots, so you should give them the space they need before they bump into each other.
When starting out, planting together in close prolixity is fine. But as they grow, you should space them accordingly. Doing so helps maximize your pepper yield, volume, texture, taste, and size.
Seeds should be planted 0.25″ deep. If growing from cuttings, plant them to the original depth they were in the original container. This gives you the depth they were growing at so you can minimize plant shock significantly.
Plant food (fertilizer)
Serrano plants love to eat! They need a high-quality fertilizer to help them get more peppers going.
Fertilize when you plant to help minimize disturbance throughout the growing period.
Use a vegetable fertilizer with balanced NPK ratios (look for 5-10-10). Get organic if possible. Use as directed.
Here are some popular fertilizer choices for serrano peppers (links to Amazon):
- Dr. Earth Organic Plant Food
- Liqui-Dirt Nano Powder All-Purpose Organic Complete Plant Food
- Osmocote Smart-Release Plant Food
You’ll need to provide some kind of plant support as your serrano pepper bears fruit.
These peppers are heavy and they’ll make your plant lean to one side, which can be stressful for the plant’s stems. You can use tomato cages, trellises, or traditional wooden stakes to do it.
Serrano is a warm-weather plant. They love humidity, and sunlight, and hate the cold. While hard to heat, they’re not as resilient to the cold.
They grow as annuals if you plant them outside their hardiness zone (9-12). If you’re in the right USDA zone, they can be grown as perennials.
Keep the humidity up by regularly watering. Temperatures should be between 70-85F for ideal fruiting. If the temperature dips below 60F, you may want to put some mulch to insulate the root system.
If temperatures remain above 90F, the plant will be OK, but pepper production may be halted. Water extra on hot days, but none on rainy days.
As mentioned above, they love the humidity. Keep it moist by regularly watering the base. Humidity is often hard to get perfect as it fluctuates, so it’s nothing to obsess over since it’s very difficult to do something about.
Serrano peppers need full sun to produce the utmost yield. They don’t grow well in partial shade or dappled light.
They’re producing a lot of fruit, so they need the energy to do so (which they get from photosynthesis from the sun). Aim for at least 6 hours of full sun per day.
Water your plants to keep them moist, but never overwater to the point of waterlogging them!
You can allow the plants to dry out before you water them again. Aim for 1-2 inches per week.
Use your finger to feel the top 2 inches of soil. If it’s dry, water! If not, let it sit. Water at the base of the serrano plant, not the leaves.
This helps prevent it from getting fungus or rot. The substrate you’re using should be well-draining so it never pools, clogs, or backs up the drainage.
If you notice that it takes time for the soil to fully drain the water, you should consider mulching it. It helps retain moisture so you water less.
Serrano needs no special care when it comes to pollinating itself. It’s self-pollinating, so you only need a single plant to fruit.
No need to plant nearby plants or deal with male/female combo plants! Just give them a gentle shake by hand to help increase the pollution rate.
Otherwise, the wind, birds, bees, and other creatures will do the work for you. Serrano plants have both male/and female parts on single plants.
There’s no need to prune your serrano plant other than by harvesting the peppers. If you notice suckers around the base of the plant, cut them back so it doesn’t waste energy on the suckers.
Keep the plant focused on growing the main stems for propagating the most fruit.
Prune off foliage that’s been damaged or flowers that have been spent. Remove blossoms that come out in the spring so they can continue to grow before it starts fruiting.
If growing in pots, serrano will need to be repotted as it gets bigger. Use a slightly bigger container.
Replant the soil every season to ensure that it’s got enough nutrients. The roots are sensitive, so you don’t want to be rough with them.
Water well after repotting to build water runways. Check moisture level often.
If you’re in the right zone, there’s no need to worry.
Zones 9-12 should be OK for the winter as they don’t get too cold for serrano.
But if you’re in a lower zone, you can add mulch, use greenhouses, or bring them indoors if grown in containers. Otherwise, you need to re-sow the seeds next season.
Keep the plants near the warmer windows. This will help winterize them.
Don’t put them near drafts or HVAC units. Keep them away from cool areas in your house.
Serrano peppers take about 70-90 days until they’re ready for harvesting (ripe).
This will vary depending on how you care for it, temperature, humidity, plant food, sunlight, and the type of serrano pepper cultivar.
Single plants can hold up to 50 peppers with each chili being around 2 inches in length. But your results will vary.
When they’re at the full size, that’s when their taste is ideal. Here’s how to harvest serrano:
First, get a pair of garden gloves and goggles. The pepper can fling its juice or seeds into your eyes. It can also irritate the skin.
Use a sterilized pair of garden shears to cut them off the vine. Don’t pull or twist them off. This will damage the vine and may stop future ones from regrowing.
Harvest when they’re still green for optimal flavor. But you can allow them to fully ripen for peak color if that’s important for presentation.
Frequent harvesting will help encourage more flowers, which encourages more peppers.
Don’t touch your skin or face when harvesting. Use common sense. Serranos are pretty HOT.
Plant in succession for multiple harvests throughout the growing season
Serrano will store in the fridge for up to 7 days.
You can use them dried or fresh. If you’re drying serrano, keep it in a mason jar with a tight seal to prevent spoilage of dried fruit.
You can easily grow serrano in pots if you want to have the ability to move it around later on. For those with small gardens, container growing is an excellent alternative.
Portability matters for ensuring the plant gets the most sunlight it can. You can also move it indoors to shield it from the element if needed. Use a 3-gallon or 5-gallon container.
Put a layer of pebbles at the base to help improve drainage and prevent clogging. The container should have at least 3 drainage holes. Don’t get plastic.
Choose something like terra cotta, clay, stone, or ceramic materials instead. This helps insulate the plant roots from sudden temperature changes. Fertilize regularly.
Note that container serrano will need more watering compared to garden-planted ones. Serrano will generally produce fewer peppers when grown in containers. Smaller containers will make it produce even fewer peppers.
While serrano can be grown indoors, it should be only temporary. This pepper needs the power of the sun to grow those gorgeous dark green peppers.
So you can move it inside when it’s too cold or hot outside but move it back out when the storm is gone. The only time serrano should remain inside for extended periods is during overwintering or when sowing from seed.
You want the biggest, tastiest serrano peppers you can get. So give it the warmth it needs for it to thrive.
If you want to maximize your pepper yield, choose companion plants that help benefit your serrano symbiotically.
Some plants that pair well with serrano peppers include the following:
- Swiss chard
- Other peppers
Don’t plant with
Avoid planting with kohlrabi, Brassicas, beans or fennel.
Don’t plant peppers in the same location that other members of the same genus were planted before.
This is because if you replant serrano in the same spot where some other pepper was there last season, that pepper probably used up the necessary nutrients it needs which happens to be similar to that of serrano.
So the nutrient profile in the soil column is depleted from prior.
Insects that inhabit the soil will likely infest the serrano as well, so don’t plant it with another nightshade!
Pepper plants in general are resilient to most bugs because of the, well, spicy nature they inherit. Similar to other nightshade plants, serrano has the same insect hardiness.
However, you may still get some infestations that stem from overwatering or over-fertilizing.
Common bugs you might find on your serrano include cutworms, whiteflies, caterpillars, flea beetles, thrips, spider mites, snails, slugs, aphids, or other sapsuckers.
Thankfully, most of these can be manually removed or sprayed with a pressurized nozzle on a garden hose to remove them. If the infestation requires it, use organic horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Make sure it’s vegetable safe. Use as directed.
Other things you can do include watering the right amount, not overfeeding plant food, practicing crop rotation, pruning, keeping peppers off the soil, and harvesting on time. Peppers are hardy, but negligence will challenge that trait.
Some common issues serrano may face include verticillium wilt, root rot, southern blight, mosaic virus, leaf spot, powdery mildew, or other related pathogens. These generally come from poor soil quality, overwatering, or lack of sun.
If you notice yellowing leaves or wilting foliage, it’s likely verticillium wilt. Prune off infected foliage and treat it with some natural products at your local hardware store.
You know serrano is versatile. There’s no end to the number of delicious recipes you can use it in. Everything from soups, salads, and salsas can be spiced up with a bit of serrano. Some popular dishes include serrano hot sauce, pickled serrano, spicy serrano salsa, etc.
Commonly asked questions
You may find these questions asked by readers handy in growing and caring for your serrano peppers.
How long does it take for serrano peppers to grow?
Serrano peppers take about 70-100 days to grow, depending on the cultivar.
Some will be ready to pick earlier than others. You should grow whatever is known to grow in your hardiness zone rather than picking from a giant list of pepper types.
Start by finding out your zone, then choose the right peppers.
Are serrano peppers easy to grow?
Serrano is one of the easiest peppers to grow in the garden.
If you’re looking to add some peppers to your garden but not sure which, this is a good pick for beginners. They’re extremely versatile and need basic TLC to thrive.
How do I know when to pick my serrano peppers?
Pick them when they’re at peak flavor. You can tell when to pick by judging their size.
Generally, you’ll pick when they hit 3” or so. They should be dark green at this point and ready to be used. This varies though. Some serrano types will be bigger at peak ripeness. It’s a learning process.
Can you grow serrano peppers from store-bought peppers?
Generally, serrano seeds from store-bought peppers make poor starter seeds compared to those you buy in packets. They may be sterilized or hybridized, which can result in some unexpected pepper flavor or texture.
Starting from seed packets has a higher germination rate and saves you time. It’s also about the same price.
How long does it take for serrano peppers to turn red?
Serrano will change from multiple colors during its ripening: you may notice it starts as lime green, dark green, purple, orange, yellow, brown, etc. It’ll slowly transition over to a bright red. But it depends.
Generally, if you leave it alone and let it ripen on the vine, it’ll turn red within 60-90 days. If you prefer to eat it later, be sure that you watch for bugs. With such a lengthy period for it to ripen, it makes it vulnerable to bugs
What is the best fertilizer for hot pepper plants?
Just get any organic or natural plant food that has an NPK of 5-10-10.
Serrano doesn’t need fancy fertilizer, but it does require some regular feeding before the peak season. This will net you bigger peppers with more of them each growing period.
Do pepper plants grow back every year?
Serrano will come back every season if grown as a perennial. This depends on what hardiness zone you’re in.
If you’re in a cooler zone, you can either winterize it by mulching or bringing it indoors if it’s potted. If not, you’ll have to replant it every season as an annual pepper only.
Why are my serrano peppers not hot?
If your peppers aren’t hot enough, you’re probably picking them too early or too late.
Pick at peak flavor when they reach full size and are dark green in coloration. If you wait until they turn red, this changes the flavor profile.
You can also check your plant’s basic needs. Plant food and sunlight will change the pepper flavor significantly.
Grow your serrano!
You now know everything you need to know about how to grow, propagate, and care for serrano peppers. These versatile peppers are perfect for those looking for a bit more heat compared to jalapenos or poblano.
They’re super easy to grow and will require very little care once you get them settled.
Do you have any questions about your specific serrano situation? Drop a comment in the form below and let me know!
If you have tips to share with other readers, please let us know as well. Thanks.
I’ve always been interested in gardening, but I never took it seriously until I was forcefully gifted an orchid. This was what got me into the hobby and I’ve never looked back. I enjoy writing about it, but not nearly as much as getting into the dirt and sculpting the perfect decorative ornamental to enjoy for the times.