How to Grow Salsa

Salsa ingredients1

salsa ingredientsTomato, pepper, onion, garlic, and cilantro, basil, or parsley: the basic ingredients of salsa crudas, fresh salsa.

How to Make Fresh Salsa

  1. Core and cut two medium ripe tomatoes.
  2. Add one clove of garlic minced.
  3. Add half a white or red onion diced.
  4. Add a jalapeno, Serrano, or green or red bell pepper chopped fine.
  5. Add leaves of cilantro, basil or parsley chopped.
  6. Add the juice of half a lime.
  7. Mix the ingredients gently, and salt to taste.
slicing tomatoes
Preparing sliced ripe red tomatoes on a rustic wooden kitchen counter with a paring knife overhead view of sliced and whole tomatoes on the vine

How to Grow Fresh Salsa

Tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and basil require warm soil and air temperatures for the best growth. Plant these when night temperatures average 60°F/15°C or warmer.

Tomatoes. For classic fresh salsa, choose red tomatoes that grow plump and meaty, not too watery. Good tomato choices for salsa are ‘Big Boy’, ‘Stupice’, ‘Druzba’, and ‘Mule Team’—these are sweet or sweet and tangy globe tomatoes. Meaty plum tomatoes are also a good choice for salsa: ‘San Marzano’, ‘Juliet’, and ‘Long Tom’ are red and flavorful.

Tomatoes want full sun, compost-rich well-drained soil, and soil evenly moist from flower set through fruit development.

Peppers. Peppers are the pivotal ingredient in fresh salsa. Choose chilies for their heat or choose sweet peppers for their earthy richness or combine the two for a blend of flavors.

Jalapeño and Serrano are two common hot pepper choices for fresh salsa. De-seed and mince hot peppers before adding to salsa; both Jalapeño and Serrano would be considered hot by most. Other chilies for salsa are Poblano and Anaheim peppers: Poblano is considered slightly hot by most pepper lovers, and Anaheim is considered the mildest of the hot peppers.

Sweet bell peppers can be used in salsa for those who are heat adverse. Green, red, and yellow bell peppers add color and crunch to salsa. Cubanelle is another good choice–a tapered yellow or red pepper that is thick, meaty, and more flavorful than the bell pepper.

Peppers demand a soil temperature of 65°F/18°C or warmer for optimal growth. They will linger if started when nighttime temperatures are not averaging 62°F or warmer. Peppers, like tomatoes, grow best in full sun; they want compost-rich well-drained soil, and soil evenly moist from flower set through fruit development

Cilantro, basil, and parsley. Cilantro is sharp and tangy; basil is pungent and peppery; parsley is tangy fresh. Choose one of these flavors to add to fresh salsa. It will add a defining undertone.

Cilantro and basil grow best in soil temperature of 65°F or warmer–just like peppers. Both will be slowed by night temperatures below 60°F. Parsley can withstand temperatures 5 to 10 degrees cooler but thrives in warm temperatures. Moderately rich, well-drained soil and full to partial sun are required to grow these herb complements to salsa.

Onions and garlic. Onions can bring a relatively sweet to strongly pungent flavor to salsa. Most often sweet globe onions such as Walla Walla, Vidalia, Granex, or Maui are diced and added to fresh salsa. If you don’t grow globe onions, green onions or scallions can be added to salsa.

Just a clove or two of garlic minced is added to salsa. Garlic brings its pungent aroma and flavor as a seasoning to salsa–and raw it adds a bit of savor.

Onion and garlic get their best start in soil 55°F/13°C or warmer. These bulb crops like to begin growth when days are cooler and finish when daytime temperatures are warm to hot. Onions and garlic grow best in well-drained, humus-rich, sandy to loam soil. Both want medium and even watering through flowering and bulb development; back off the watering in the last two or three weeks before harvest.

Timing. Get onions and garlic started first in the spring. When nighttime temperatures warm, set tomato and pepper starts in the garden. By late spring, cilantro, basil and parsley can be sown or set out in the garden. Your salsa garden will be ready for harvest by mid to late summer and should give you fresh salsa into late autumn in most regions.



Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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