Banana peppers are crunchy and delicious, but they’re definitely at their best when you pick them at just the right time. I’ve had my own bad experience with an underripe banana pepper before, but once I learned the signs of ripeness, it’s pretty easy to time my picking just right.
Hot and sweet banana pepper varieties are ready for picking when they develop a full yellow color, reach their full size of 4-8 inches in length and have smooth, shiny skin. Depending on the variety and environmental conditions, most banana peppers turn yellow around 60-75 days after planting and turn fully red at about 90 days.
This article will cover everything you need to know about how to tell if your banana peppers are ripe, how to pick them and ideas for storing your homegrown peppers. Let’s get started!
How to Know When to Pick Banana Peppers
There are three key clues as to when your banana peppers are ripe for harvest:
- The pepper’s color
- The pepper’s length
- The pepper’s skin texture
Here are the details about what to look for:
The Banana Pepper’s Color
The color is your biggest tip-off for whether your banana pepper is ready for picking or not.
Banana peppers all start out green and progress to yellow, orange and finally to red. According to Oberon Copeland, founder of Very Informed, the color stage at harvest depends on the variety you’re growing:
- Sweet banana peppers. “Early-maturing varieties are typically harvested when they’re still green. However, if you wait until they turn yellow or red, they’ll be sweeter and milder in flavor,” Oberon says.
- Hot banana peppers. The flavor of hot banana peppers is softer at the yellow stage, and the heat of the peppers increases as they mature and turn red. So Oberon advises, “wait until they turn red so that they’re at their spiciest.” If you intend to dry the peppers after harvesting, pick them when they are bright red.
Here’s a photo timeline of how some of my sweet banana peppers ripened over the course of a couple of weeks.
In this first photo, the primary fruit is a bright green- not ready for picking yet. And see the baby banana pepper growing in the background?
In this next photo, the color has deepened from green into yellow. Many people would consider this to be a nicely ripe banana pepper, especially for pickling:
This one is definitely ready to be picked- it’s beautifully yellow and is starting to take on a bit of orange:
You can get a good look at that in this last photo, where the sweet banana pepper on the left is quite overripe. Still edible, but the flavor may be a bit more of a wildcard:
The Banana Pepper’s Length
Banana peppers start out small, like a cherry tomato, and continue growing larger throughout the season. Banana peppers are usually 4 to 8 inches long when ready for harvesting. Once the fruit reaches its mature color, it will not get any longer.
In this photo, my ripe pepper is about 6 inches long:
The Banana Pepper’s Skin Texture
A perfectly ripe banana pepper has a smooth, firm skin texture with a shiny surface. If the sheen starts to dull or the skin wrinkles, your pepper is getting past its prime-pick it right away!
Harvesting Banana Peppers Correctly
All pepper plants produce multiple fruits over several weeks, so it’s important to be gentle when harvesting to avoid damaging the plant and halting further pepper production.
Try giving your ripe banana pepper a gentle tug- it may snap off the plant easily. But if it doesn’t, reach for the garden pruners. Coming off from the main stem are the plant’s mini stems for each fruit- cut these during the harvest.
Here’s where to make your cut to avoid damage to the plant:
What Happens if You Harvest a Banana Pepper Too Early or Late?
If picked too early, banana peppers will often taste bitter because they haven’t had enough time to develop their flavor. But if you’re overeager and pick your banana pepper a little too soon, don’t worry- they can ripen off the vine if you place them on a sunny windowsill.
On the other hand, if picked too late, the peppers will have a more intense flavor but may be soft and mushy. If you happen to forget about a pepper and find it when it’s severely overripe, you could try saving the seeds for next year. In a separate post, I cover the process of growing bell peppers from saved seed, and it’s exactly the same for banana peppers!
How Long Does It Take for a Banana Pepper to Ripen?
Sweet yellow banana peppers should be ripe for harvest between 60-75 days after planting. Their flavor will be a bit more intense than the green ones.
Hot banana peppers take a little longer to reach their fully-developed color and intense flavor. It will take about 80-90 days till they turn from yellow to orange and finally to red.
How to Store Banana Peppers
You can eat banana peppers as soon as you harvest them. But if you’ve had a big harvest and want to keep them for later, here are a few things to help maintain their shelf life:
In the refrigerator. To increase the shelf life of raw banana peppers, store them in the vegetable crisper in a paper bag. They should last 1-2 weeks in the fridge.
Pickling. Pickling is a fantastic way to preserve banana peppers- just like the ones you buy in the store! If you have the right equipment and enough spare peppers, you could can pickled peppers. If you don’t have quite so many or you don’t want to go through the canning process, this video from Art of Creation Homestead demonstrates how to make refrigerator pickled peppers:
Freezing. I find freezing to be a great, easy way to preserve peppers of all kinds. Here’s how I do it:
- Wash the peppers and dry thoroughly.
- Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet or other large surface, then cut the peppers into strips or rings and lay them on the sheet in a single layer.
- Put them in the freezer for at least 2 hours to flash freeze, then transfer the peppers into a freezer bag or other long-term freezer storage containers.
Dehydrating. You can easily preserve fresh banana peppers by dehydration. Wash the peppers well, then lay thinly-sliced strips or rounds on a dehydrator tray. Dry the peppers are about 125 degrees F for at least 8 hours, giving more time if the peppers are still moist. Once dried, store the peppers in airtight containers on a pantry shelf until ready to use.
Frequently Asked Questions about When to Pick Banana Peppers
I hope this article has given you the confidence you need to pick your banana peppers at the exact ripeness you want them at. There’s no better way to learn than by doing, so don’t sweat it if you pick a pepper before or after the ideal time. I had to learn by trial and error too, but don’t worry- you’ll get it right next time!
I’d love to hear your thoughts! At what color do you prefer your banana peppers, and what are your favorite ways to enjoy your harvest? We learn best as a gardening community, so please let share your experiences and questions in the comments!