We love eggplants here, but not everyone agrees with us. It’s a tricky plant to grow and can be intimidating to cook. Once you learn a bit about it though, you’ll find that eggplant makes a delicious dish and adds unique character to your garden. And, after learning about the plant’s needs, growing eggplant is a breeze!
You can cook so many different things with eggplant, from salad to ratatouille. If you aren’t a fan of the flavor, use them as decorative features in your landscaping or indoor container garden. These charming plants will thrive in raised beds, pots, and even upside down! It’s no wonder they’re such a revered piece of produce.
Eggplant dates back to at least 300 BC in Southeast Asia, where it had important culinary and medicinal uses. In 5th century China, it was used to make dye and various recipes. Eggplant became a prized dish in many European cultures as well, although Italians originally thought it would make the eater insane. Even today, in India, eggplant is called “King of Vegetables”.
Trust us when we say that this distinctive plant will upgrade your garden and meals. It’s full of nutrients and supplies gorgeous color. Of anything, it’s a great companion plant for tomatoes. So take the plunge and learn about how to start growing eggplant today!
Good Products At Amazon For Growing Eggplant:
- Safer Brand Insecticidal Soap & Pyrethrin
- Monterey B.T. Worm & Caterpillar Killer
- Southern Ag Liquid Copper Fungicide
Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Eggplant, aubergine, Guinea squash, brinjal, melongen, garden egg|
|Scientific Name||Solanum melongena|
|Days to Harvest||50-65 days|
|Water:||Frequently to maintain consistent moisture|
|Fertilizer||Balanced; every 2 weeks|
|Pests||Flea beetles, Colorado potato beetle, tomato hornworm|
|Diseases||Cercospora leaf rot, Phomopsis fruit rot, Verticillium wilt|
All About Eggplant
Solanum melongena is native to Southeast Asia, particularly India where it’s one of the top crops grown. It’s also widely grown in the US and some European countries where it’s an important part of Mediterranean cuisine.
Thanks to its native climate, this plant can be a warm-weather perennial. However, in climates with cold winters, it’s planted as an annual. It does like a long growing season though, so you’ll have the best chance of success if you start the seeds early.
Reaching 3 feet tall, eggplant plants look a bit like small trees. Their sometimes spiny stems grow medium-sized leaves that are purple-tinged in some varieties. The smooth and glossy eggplants heavily hang down from the stems. These plants also feature floppy violet flowers that are almost as showy as the fruit they produce.
It has seeds, so is eggplant a fruit? Yes, but technically it’s a berry – even if it doesn’t look like one. We don’t recommend you put it in a fruit basket though. In the kitchen, this berry is considered a vegetable because of its texture and taste.
There’s actually an astonishing variety of eggplants. Their size and shape range from small and round to long slender fruit. Colorwise, they aren’t limited to purple. You can find eggplant fruit in hues of white, red, yellow, and green. There are even variegated ones!
The name “eggplant” actually comes from varieties like the Japanese White Egg, which are just the size, shape, and color of eggs. Other types are less egg-like though, like Turkish Orange and variegated Shooting Stars. The classic, saturated purple variety that you see in stores is called Black Beauty – and beautiful it is! The bottom line is, whether you’re growing Japanese Eggplant or the bitter Thai varieties, there’s an eggplant for every gardener’s taste.
Planting eggplants straight in the ground is possible but it’s best to give them a headstart and plant indoors 6-10 weeks before the last frost. If you do plant in the ground, wait until all chances of frost are gone and it’s consistently above 50°F.
Indoors, plant in a seedling tray or peat pots. Bury the eggplant seeds ¼ inch deep and 1-3 inches apart. Use a heating mat to warm the soil to 80-90°F. It will take about 2-3 weeks for the seeds to germinate. In the meantime, opt for a misting bottle instead of a watering can so you don’t wash the seeds away.
Once seedlings emerge, lower the soil temperature to 70°F. About a week before you plan to transplant them outside, harden off the seedlings by lowering the temperature again to 60°F and reducing watering.
In the ground, space your baby eggplants about 2 feet apart with 3 feet between rows. You may want to protect them against pests and the elements with row covers. But, remember to remove them once the flowers show up or they’ll interfere with wind pollination.
If you’re short on space, growing eggplants in containers is just as easy – if not easier – as the ground. The plants get pretty large, so you’ll need at least a 5-gallon container. If you really want to get creative, eggplants can also be grown upside down like tomatoes.
Learning how to grow eggplant includes getting their care needs exactly right. These botanical berries are picky about their temperature and water, so pay close attention.
Sun and Temperature
Eggplant plants love to be warm. Plant them in full sunlight and away from tall shadow-casting plants. These plants are very sensitive to cold, so only plant them where the temperature will be above 50°F during the growing season.
The ideal daytime temperature is between 70 and 85°F. Warm temperatures above 95°F may cause blossom drop and decreased yield. Anything below 70°F runs the risk of slowing the plant’s growth.
Water and Humidity
Eggplants will lap up lots of water so keep the soil consistently moist (about 1-2” per week). Fluctuations between wet and dry soil can harm berry development and mar their skin. In very warm weather, you may want to set your soaker hose to run on an irrigation timer to ensure regular soil moisture. You can also water multiple times a day. Luckily, you can minimize evaporation by applying mulch to the soil, and this helps conserve moisture.
Humidity isn’t a huge factor to keep eggplants growing. However, they do prefer dry conditions over humid ones. Humidity can accelerate the growth of bacteria and interfere with pollen dispersal.
Since you’ll be watering frequently, the soil must be well-draining. Otherwise, it’ll become waterlogged and drown the roots. Achieve this, as well as fertility, by adding compost, peat, and humus as needed. For ideal growth, the pH should be between 5.5 and 6.8.
Along with water, fertilizer for eggplants is just about the best way to help the plants grow strong and produce delicious fruit. Before planting, use a soil testing kit to determine what nutrients you need to add. Eggplants need a balanced diet of NPK, so choose your fertilizer accordingly. If you can’t get the soil tested, a 10-10-10 fertilizer is a good choice. Most products made for tomatoes will also do wonders for growing eggplants.
Work granular fertilizer into the soil before planting. Once the plants bloom, apply a side-dressing every two weeks at the most. These plants will give you multiple harvests, so keep up with this schedule to keep the fruit coming.
Pruning / Training
Use pruning to your advantage by controlling the fruit size. If you clip off excess leaves and all but a few blossoms, more energy will be directed into growing large egg plants. On the flip side, leave the plant alone to get numerous, but small, eggplants. For Japanese eggplant growing, you’ll get a high yield if you trim the top of the plants, forcing them to grow outwards instead.
Staking or caging may be needed to keep the stem upright. This also improves aeration and lifts the fruit off the ground, which helps prevent diseases. A simple wooden stake or tomato cage works well as long as it’s over 3 feet tall. For stakes, place each one about an inch away from the plant’s base and loosely tie the stem to it with a fiber-based tie. Replace the tie as needed as the plant grows.
Because they’re grown as annuals, Solanum melongena is usually only propagated by seed. You can save money by saving your own seed. Keep in mind though that by doing this you run the risk of passing diseases on to the next generation of plants. The resulting eggplants also may not be true to type.
You’ll have to sacrifice an eggplant or two to save the seeds. Let the designated fruit mature fully on the vine before harvesting it. The color will become dull and discolored while the skin grows thick and hard. The eggplant needs to be healthy and free from deformities.
Once harvested, cut the eggplant in half and scoop out the seedy pulp. Separate the seeds by hand. Make sure all the pulp is rinsed off and set them out to dry in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated location. In 2-3 days, transfer them to an envelope or paper bag and store in a cool location until you’re ready to plant them. They’ll remain viable for 4 years, but are best sown as soon as possible.
Harvesting and Storing
You’ve put in the work and now you’re ready for a warm plate of home-grown goodness. Here’s how to harvest and store your yield for the best – and tastiest – results.
As eggplants mature, their flavor turns bitter, the flesh gets tough, and the seeds grow. Eventually, the whole fruit will turn yellow. Our goal is to pick it when the flavor and texture are optimal while reaching a good size.
Pay attention to the skin of the eggplant. It should be thin, glossy, and firm. If you aren’t sure, lightly cut into it and take a look inside. The flesh should be yellow-white and absent of seeds. Take note of the outer appearance and compare it to the other eggplants so you don’t have to cut into them too often.
If your eggplant varieties have prickles, pull on some gloves before harvesting. Then, grab a pair of sharp scissors or clippers and have at it. Keep a small piece of the stem attached and make a clean cut. Handle the fruit carefully, as it bruises easily.
If you can, do multiple small harvests over a few weeks instead of all at once. This will increase your yield in the long run.
You’ll enjoy your harvest the most if you eat it fresh. Sadly, eggplants only last a week in the fridge before they lose quality. They also don’t freeze well or hold up with other preservation methods. The only widely-used method to lengthen the shelf life is to pickle them. There are lots of simple pickling recipes out there.
Resistant varieties are a godsend for vegetable gardeners. Unfortunately, even those are susceptible to problems. Here’s what you should be on the lookout for.
If your eggplant growing is eggplant-less, you may be overfertilizing. Nitrogen is great for leafy growth, but too much of it will take energy away from the fruit. If you notice this, prune back the foliage and switch to a low-nitrogen fertilizer (or lay off it altogether).
Blossom drop is another potential problem. It’s usually caused by a lack of water, which stresses out the plant. Prevent this by watering deeply, so the moisture makes it all the way to the roots. Another cause of eggplant flower drop is humidity. When the pollen gets moist, it becomes sticky which prevents it from blowing off with the wind. As a result, the flowers don’t get pollinated. Humidity is difficult to control outside, so you may want to grow your plants indoors if this is a recurring problem.
Make sure to keep in mind that eggplant is part of the solanaceous family (also called nightshade). It’s closely related to and shares many growing problems with tomatoes, peppers, and tomatoes. Because of this, avoid constantly planting those species in the same location year after year. Otherwise, you’ll be creating a soil haven for nightshade-loving pests and diseases.
Flea beetles are small, dark, round, and a menace to our beloved eggplant fruit. When they feed on this plant, the leaves become spotted with yellow and brown. Eventually, flea beetles will chew away the majority of the leaf. Pyrethrin sprays are a fast-acting and organic choice that will eliminate flea beetles as well as Japanese beetles. Ofter effective options are sticky traps, row covers, and literally vacuuming up the flea beetles.
Colorado potato beetles are actually kind of pretty with their orange and white coloring and uniform stripes. Despite their intriguing looks though, these bugs are pests around eggplants. They feed on the plants and lay orange eggs on the underside of the leaves. If you come across these eggs, crush them before they can hatch. BT and pyrethrin sprays will take care of the hungry adult potato beetles, as will row covers.
Tomato hornworms are the epitome of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. These soon-to-be moths are large, green, and ravenous for solanum plants. You can pick them off by hand or, like the other pests, use BT or pyrethrin spray. They can be prevented by using overhead covers or diatomaceous earth.
Cercospora leaf spot is a fungus that starts at the bottom of plants and works its way up. It creates yellow and light brown spots that eventually turn dark and dry out the whole leaf. This fungus is boosted by humidity, so only water at the roots and give your plant a support to improve aeration. If needed, treat the disease with copper fungicide.
Phomopsis fruit rot will turn your eggplant varieties from gorgeous to ghastly. This fungus shows up as light-colored, sunken areas on the fruit that grow to consume the whole thing. You may also notice discolored, dropping leaves and stem cankers. Needless to say, this fungus is not a pretty sight. Prevent it by keeping the plant dry, using disease-free seeds, and immediately destroying infected areas. Use copper fungicide if the fungus gets out of control.
Yet another fungus, Verticillium wilt turns the leaves yellow, starting at the bottom of the plant. In time, the leaves curl, turn brown, and dry out. This disease can stay in your soil even after the eggplants are gone, so any other plant susceptible to verticillium is also at risk in that spot. Protect your plants and prevent fungal growth by using resistant varieties and practicing good crop rotation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How long does it take to grow an eggplant?
A: These plants grow slowly. Depending on the variety, they usually take 50-65 days to produce their first harvest.
Q: How many eggplants do you get per plant?
A: This depends on the variety and how well you care for your plants. You can usually expect to get 3-12 eggplants.
Q: What should I plant next to eggplant?
A: Plants in the Solanum family, such as tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes, are good choices because they have the same care needs as eggplant. Legumes such as beans or lentils are also excellent companions when you plant eggplant.