Fresno Chili

  • Sun: Full sun
  • Harvest Size: 2 inches long, 1 inch wide
  • Days to Harvest: 70 to 80
  • Plant size: 24 to 30 inches tall, 18 inches wide
  • Scoville heat units: 5,500 to 20,000 (medium)

Introduced in 1952, this jalapeño-style hot pepper is a chili for fresh eating, not drying. The short, cone shaped peppers cover vigorous, disease-resistant plants in the heat of summer. If allowed to ripen fully, Fresno Chili (named for Fresno, California) peppers are beautiful in the garden, turning from green to orange to red. Most often, however, these peppers are picked green and frequently sold pickled, labeled as “hot chili peppers.” Fresno Chili peppers are hotter than jalapeños.

Peppers are very cold-sensitive. Plant in spring to early summer starting anytime about two weeks after the last spring frost. If you like to plant a little early to start harvesting earlier, be prepared to protect plants from possible frost and keep them a little warmer with a row cover.

Plant spacing: 18-24 inches apart in rows 30 inches apart; 12 to 18 inches in intensive gardens. One plant per 18-inch container. Plants per person: 2 for fresh use; 4 for freezing or canning.

Secrets to Success »

Water regularly. Peppers need water to develop to full size. To help soil retain moisture, mix compost into planting holes, and mulch soil around plants. Pepper branches are brittle. Stake plants as the branches get heavy with fruit tying branches to stakes, or use large tomato cages to support this tall plant (put cages in place when you plant). Fertilize when planting and during the growing season with Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food.

Harvest and Use »

Cut peppers from the plant with a sharp knife or clippers, leaving a short stem on the fruit. Rinse and let peppers dry; store in the refrigerator. The more peppers you pick, the more you’ll get. Pick at any stage—from green to red—until you determine the stage and heat your family enjoys. The thick-walled fruits aren’t suitable for drying.

Handle hot peppers with care; wear disposable rubber or plastic gloves when handling. To avoid burning sensations, don’t touch your eyes, mouth, or nose while working with hot peppers. Wash your hands before using the bathroom, even if you’ve been wearing gloves.

Capsaicin, the compound that produces the heat in a hot pepper, is primarily concentrated in the veins, ribs, and seeds, but sensitivity to it varies. Use caution until you know how you’ll react. If pepper juice gets in your eye or nose, flush immediately with cold water. When the fire is in your mouth, eat ice cream, yogurt, or milk to counteract the burn. Do not re-use wash cloths or towels that may have capsaicin on them; launder them to avoid spreading the chemical.

Peppers are packed with Vitamins A and C—twice the vitamin C of an orange. Use Fresno Chili pepper to season chili sauce, dips, or relishes. Harvest green for pickling or creating spicy hot pepper vinegar. Chop fresh peppers into salsa or use to spice soups and casseroles.

Try These Garden Companions »

  • Habanero, Tabasco, Chili Red, Serrano, Anaheim, or Poblano/Ancho peppers, onions, and tomatoes to blend a signature hot pepper sauce.
  • Cilantro, tomatoes, and onions—all the ingredients you need for creating hot and spicy salsa.
  • Sweet onion, Thai basil, crookneck squash, and cherry tomatoes to put spicy stir-fry on the family menu.
  • Low growing flowers such as petunias and marigolds—colorful-fruited peppers look great tucked into flower beds.

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