Chili peppers are an exciting addition to any kitchen garden and can be grown relatively easily, even in temperate climates. But what do you do if your chilies aren’t ripening properly? Do you feel you’re missing out on spice and taste, and want to know what’s causing it?
If your chilies are not ripening the most common causes are a lack of consistently warm weather or a lack of consistent sunlight. Poor soil nutrients can also be a contributing factor.
You’ll notice that consistency is the key here! Chilies require stable conditions and time in order to ripen fully. If temperatures and light levels are fluctuating too much, this can delay or even prevent their full development.
In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of these potential causes of chilies failing to ripen. We’ll also be exploring how you can ensure conditions are right to help your chilies reach their full, colorful, spicy potential!
Causes of Chilies Not Ripening Properly
Chilies do best within a 70-90 °F (21-32 °C) temperature range. In fact, despite them being rightly associated with warmer climates, you don’t need baking hot conditions for chili peppers to thrive.
What they do need, however, is consistency. Particularly when the chilies are maturing.
In temperate climates, sudden alterations in temperature can disrupt and delay the chili ripening process. This is particularly the case if temperatures drop suddenly or are unpredictable in their range.
Frosts and other significant drops in temperature can be particularly damaging for chilies and their ripening potential. An oncoming cold snap will often have gardeners scrambling to relocate their chili pepper plants in order to save them.
Although this can be a necessary measure, it can also mean the plant doesn’t get enough time in healthy outdoor conditions in order for the chilies to thrive.
Lack of Sunlight
Chilies love the sun and need plenty of it in order to bloom, fruit, and ripen. If they’re not receiving a healthy, regular dose each day (at least 8 hours) then the ripening process is going to suffer.
Just as with temperature fluctuations, changes in light levels due to inclement weather can be disruptive. Particularly if you are getting an unseasonable cloud cover.
Similarly, rearrangements of the garden can lead to chili peppers suddenly being stuck in the shade. Make sure if you’re putting up new structures or planting new arrivals that they don’t upstage your precious peppers.
Lack of Soil Nutrients, or Nutrient Imbalance
Peppers shouldn’t be too heavily fertilized, but a decent balance of phosphorus and potash will help them produce and ripen their fruit. If your chili plant is soaking up too much nitrogen, it may end up prioritizing green, leafy growth over pepper production.
Of course, if the soil your chili plant is planted in is deficient in nutrients across the board, it may struggle to grow and ripen the chilies you’re looking for.
Methods for Ripening Chilies and How to Help Your Plant
Chilies need consistently warm temperatures and plenty of natural light. Consistency is the key here. Having a few blazing hot afternoons followed by chilly mornings, even if the chili peppers can survive and continue to grow, is likely to slow down the ripening process.
Therefore, when you are trying to artificially speed up, extend or regain ‘ripening’ time, what you’re trying to do is create consistent, dry, warm, and bright conditions for the chilies. There are a number of ways you can go about this.
It’s also important to note that, whilst chili peppers can and do continue to ripen for a short period after they’ve been removed from the plant, it’s always best to leave them attached for as long as possible.
Creating consistent conditions for a healthy plant whilst leaving it intact is always going to be preferable to pruning chili peppers prematurely.
Move the Whole Chili Plant Indoors
If autumn weather has really started to kick in, even a sturdy greenhouse isn’t necessarily going to provide the best environment for your chilies to continue ripening. It may be time to move the entire plant indoors so that it gets some predictable warmth.
To move your chili plants in this way, you’ll need to have been growing them in pots large enough for them to thrive but small enough for you to move!
When choosing a planting vessel, its worth thinking ahead if you think there’s a good chance you’ll need to move your chili plants indoors for some additional ripening.
If you do move your chilies indoors, make sure they’re in a place they’ll get plenty of sun. A large, south-facing window is ideal if you have one.
Place Unripe Chilies on a Windowsill, or Make a Chili Ristra
If you find that you only have one or two unripe chilies at the end of your harvest, you can try leaving them on a windowsill in a warm room. Make sure they’re getting plenty of sun.
If you have a handful of unripe chili peppers, but it’s not possible or practical to bring the whole plant inside, why not make a chili ristra? This is a handmade string of chilies that can be a great way of bunching up the ones you need to ripen further. It also looks great strung up in your kitchen or on the door of the pantry.
The best method for making a chili ristra is to thread a fishing line or similarly tough, thin, transparent material through the stems of each chili pepper. Once you have a full string, hang it up on a porch or in a sunny kitchen window.
Place Unripe Chilies in a Paper Bag with Some Ripe Apples
Although this isn’t a sunny option, you can try storing unripe chilies in a paper bag along with a few apples. You can actually do this with a number of different fruits and pepper types!
The ripe fruit in the bag can speed up the process of your chilies’ ripening. This is due to the ethylene that’s given off by already ripe fruit. You’ll want to loosely seal the bag and tuck it away somewhere dry.
Fertilize Your Chili Plants Properly and Prune Fully Ripened Chilies Regularly
Try opting for a 5-10-10 organic fertilizer, or similar balance like this fertilizer, to help give a gentle boost to your chili plants. This should help them produce fruit rather than focusing overly on green leafy growth.
It can be particularly helpful to introduce this to the soil once the plant has started to show the first signs of chili production.
Similarly, ensuring that you pick any fully mature chilies will help the plant focus its energy on ripening the remaining fruit. If you have too many peppers on a plant at once, it can struggle to direct sufficient nutrients to each chili which can result in delayed ripening.
What To Do with Unripe Chilies
If despite all your best efforts you still find yourself with a bunch of unripe chilies, don’t despair! As long as they haven’t rotted, they’ll still be edible, and probably still tasty.
Unripened chilies tend to have a milder, less complex, but still, exciting flavor compared to their mature cousins. This can be great if you or your loved ones aren’t huge fans of heat anyway.
There are loads of great recipes out there for unripe or mild chili peppers. Why not have a go at making chutneys, garnishing salads, frying with garlic and spices, or pickling them for later use? You can even blend with cilantro, basil, and mint to create a gorgeous, refreshing, and lightly spiced green dip.
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