by Matt Gibson
The serrano pepper (Capsicum annuum ‘Serrano’) is basically a smaller version of the jalapeno. Clocking in between 5,000 and 23,000 Scoville units, serranos are typically a bit hotter than the jalapeno and are always a wonderful addition to salsas, sauces, relishes, or any recipe that could use a spicy kick. A longtime staple of Mexican cooking, the serrano pepper gets its origin, and its name, from the mountainous region of the Mexican states of Hidalgo and Puebla (the name serrano being a reference to the spanish word for mountains, sierra).
In addition to the intense heat and delicious flavor of the serrano pepper, it is also a very healthy addition to any diet. Low in fat and calories and high in vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, it’s no wonder that the serrano pepper is rising in popularity all over the world.
Serranos have only 0.4 grams of fat and 34 calories in every 100-gram serving. In that same serving size, you get 74 percent of your recommended daily vitamin C intake and 20 percent of your daily vitamin A, as well as a significant amount of vitamin B6, iron, and magnesium. Serranos also contain 3.7 grams of dietary fiber in every 100-gram serving. Dietary fiber helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels as well as slowing the rate of your body’s absorption of sugar.
Capsaicin, the compound that is responsible for the heat level of hot peppers, has many health benefits as well. Capsaicin’s cholesterol-lowering power makes serranos a heart-healthy addition to your diet. Hot peppers also work to prevent the contraction of arteries, which ensures healthy blood flow to the heart. Capsaicin is used to treat inflammatory bowel disease, and research has shown that hot peppers kill bacteria in the stomach that contribute to stomach ulcers.
Studies has also demonstrated that capsaicin has the ability to induce apoptosis in cancer cells, causing them to self-destruct. With all the health benefits serranos bring to the table, it’s no wonder that they are growing in popularity. Though the serrano is still far less popular than the jalapeno, more grocery stores in the United States are starting to carry serranos, and sales of this versatile pepper are up worldwide.
Growing Conditions for Serrano Peppers
Peppers enjoy sunny garden areas with good drainage and rich, deep, loamy soil. If your garden’s soil isn’t rich, deep and loamy, add about an inch of compost to the top six inches of soil. If you have planted hot peppers in your garden before, alternate the growing areas each year, as peppers tend to underperform when planted in the same spot season after season. Peppers require full sun, which means at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day.
Peppers prefer lots of organic matter in the soil, but be careful not to add too much nitrogen to the garden in preparation for growing peppers, as excess nitrogen will make your pepper plants grow too quickly for their own good, making them less productive and more susceptible to pests and disease.
How to Plant Serrano Peppers
Wait for a cloudy day (if possible), after all threat of frost has passed, to plant your serrano seedlings. Space them out about 18 inches apart to give each plant plenty of room to grow. After planting, water the seedlings thoroughly.
Care of Serrano Peppers
Peppers are heavy feeders, so be sure to fertilize the soil with a balanced vegetable fertilizer. As serranos like to feed voraciously, fertilizer will need to be reapplied once a month. Water the soil well after each feeding.
Throughout the growing season, make sure to water your pepper plants frequently. Deep watering once every three to four days is preferable to light watering daily. Check the soil often, especially during extremely hot days. The top layer of soil will often be dry, but if the soil is moist about an inch and a half down, it’s not quite time for another deep watering.
Adding a nice thick layer of mulch will help with water retention and soil temperature. However, do this only after your soil has warmed, as mulching cool soil can stunt the growth of your precious peppers.
When your pepper plants are lush with fruit, the stems may be holding too much weight to support themselves without bowing or sagging heavily. To avoid this extra strain on the stems when you notice slight bowing, tie the stems to stakes using old pairs of nylons, also known as pantyhose.
Don’t use twine or twist ties, as they tend to choke the stems even when tied loosely, and the stems can grow into the ties, sometimes to the point of snapping the stems altogether. There is no need to pre-stake each stem, because some branches will not need support. Just keep an eye on your plants, and stake them when needed.
Harvesting Serrano Peppers
Pinch off any early blossoms so that your plants can focus their energy on producing large fruit later in the season. You can harvest your peppers early in the growing period when they are immature and green or purple, but the flavor will improve as they mature.
When the serranos are red, yellow, or orange, or when they are full-sized but still green in color, the time is perfect for harvesting. Be sure to use hand pruning to remove the fruit from the stem, as just yanking them off can severely hurt the plant and might even stop it from producing another round of peppers.
Serrano Pepper Pests and Diseases
Luckily, peppers are generally considered to be a problem-free, worry-free plant, but there are, of course, exceptions to the norm. The same diseases and pests that plague other members of the nightshade family can target peppers, too, though infestations are much rarer in pepper gardens than in their nightshade siblings, such as tomatoes.
Plant disease-resistant varieties if possible, and use organic pesticides to target common pests when necessary. BT, or thuricide, will eliminate caterpillars, cutworms, hornworms, and borers, while pyrethrum and rotenone will take care of aphids, maggots, weevils, miners, and flea beetles. Weed your garden as often as possible, as weeds can harbor pests and help spread disease and fungal infections. Avoid working in the garden directly after heavy rains.
Companion Planting Tips
Serranos enjoy the company of tomatoes, basil, carrots, beets, garlic, onions, radishes, parsnips, and parsley. Do not grow serrano peppers anywhere near fennel or kohlrabi. Serranos also enjoy the company of other hot pepper plants. Just be sure to alter the location of your peppers each growing season for the best possible production.
Check out these helpful videos to learn about growing serrano peppers.
Growing in containers:
How to make your pepper plants produce all year long:
How to properly prune your serrano pepper plants:
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