Eggplant is a delicious and exciting vegetable you can grow at home. Also known as aubergine, eggplant still grows wild in its originating country of India. And now it is cultivated all over the world. Eggplants come in many exciting varieties producing different sizes, shapes and colors. From small round green Thai eggplant and orange tomato-looking Turkish eggplant to the more commonly known large purple-black eggplant (Black Beauty).
Yet grocery stores usually only stock one or two varieties of eggplant at most. Fortunately for home gardeners, we have the opportunity to grow an exciting number of colorful eggplant. And above all, they not only look great but they also taste amazing too. So how exactly do you get started planting your own eggplant at home? We guide you through how to grow eggplants successfully right here.
Ideal Growing Conditions
As a warm-weather vegetable, eggplant (Solanum melongena) is often grown as an annual. And in warm climates, it grows as a perennial. Meaning it can grow for many seasons.
Eggplant should only be planted when the soil temperature is at least 65F (18C) and all chances of frost have passed. You can check your soil temperature with a soil thermometer.
In cooler climates, gardeners can consider growing eggplants in pots as they can produce the warmer soil favored by eggplants. Or in raised garden beds which also provide warmer soil. Additionally, gardeners can use row covers to help keep the soil warm. Remember to uncover the plants on warm days for pollinating insects to fertilize the eggplant flowers.
Eggplants love the sun, so plant them in a sunny spot that receives 6-8 hours of sunlight a day or more.
Fertile, well-drained soil is preferred for growing eggplant. You can improve the soil by adding compost and well-rotted manure before planting.
Finally, mulch eggplants with an organic mulch to retain soil moisture, keep the soil warm and generally protect the plant. Keep mulch from directly touching the plant stem.
Water eggplant regularly to encourage strong, healthy growth and ensure the fruit does not become bitter. Try to keep the soil moist but not soggy.
How To Grow Eggplant From Seed
To get ahead start on the eggplant growing season, try growing eggplant from seed. They can be started indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date.
For successful seed germination, a seedling heat mat will ensure soil temperature can be ideally maintained at 80-90F (26-32C).
A position close to a window or other natural light is best. If there is not enough light, you can consider Grow Lights.
Plant eggplant seeds at a depth of 1/4 inch (6 mm) and water gently.
Seedlings will emerge in 7-10 days.
Keep the soil moist but not soggy. It’s a good idea to use a water spray bottle so as not to disturb the soil or damage the new, fragile seedlings.
Once the seedlings are 3-4 inches (7-10cm), they can be transferred into larger pots or into the garden once they have been hardened off.
Hardening off is the process of slowly exposing the new seedlings to the outside conditions. This is done over the course of a week or two by placing the plants outside for a few hours at a time and increasing the time over the coming days. It’s important not to skip this step in order to produce healthy plants that will thrive for you.
Spacing And Staking
Space eggplant 24-40 inches (60-100cm) apart, depending on variety, and stake them to stop them falling over. As the plants can become large and weighed down with fruit, stacking will support and plant and the fruit.
Stack with a tomato stake or tomato cage at the time of planting to minimize root disturbance.
You can use old stockings or a recycled soft stretchy cloth cut into manageable stripes to gently tie the plant to the stack for support.
Eggplant is a close relative of the tomato, chilli and potato and part of the nightshade family (Solanaceae). As a result, it is not a good idea to plant eggplant in the same garden bed as their relatives because soil-borne diseases can develop. Practising crop rotation of three years will minimize disease and increase fruit production.
So in summary, try not to plant eggplant in the same garden bed that has grown a relative of eggplant, or an eggplant, in the past 2 years.
Fruit production can be supported with organic fertilizer or pelletized chicken manure as the flowers are forming. Then follow the manufactures instructions for additional applications during the growing season.
Eggplants require a long growing period of 10-14 weeks to produce. They are usually harvested mid to late summer as a result.
Eggplants can be harvested when they stop growing but are still firm and their skin is glossy. An additional test of ripeness is to press a finger gently to the skin, you are looking for the skin of the eggplant to ‘bounce’ back. This is a good indicator of ripeness, along with the above tips.
If skin becomes dull it is probably overripe. Eggplant can be bitter if harvested too early or too late, getting it right is a skill you will enjoy mastering!
Harvest the fruit about 1 inch (2.5cm) above the stem to help increase the storage time.
Eggplants will store in the fridge for 2 weeks.
Popular Eggplant Varieties
There are many eggplants home gardeners can choose to grow. Here are a few popular varieties:
Black Beauty – this classic eggplant is grown commercially and found in grocery stores. The large fruit and early harvesting nature of the plant make it a great choice to grow at home.
Rosa Bianca – a lovely Italian variety with lavender and white fruit.
Listada de Gandia – attractive white and lavender striped fruit.
Ping Tung Long – productive plant producing thin, long purple fruit.
Pests And Disease
Many of these pests can be withstood by mature eggplants. As a preventative measure, it’s beneficial to use row covers on seedlings.
Another clever preventative measure is to use fruit and vegetable exclusion bags on the eggplant fruit to protect them from a wide range of pests. I use inexpensive organza bags and tie each eggplant gently in the bag as pictured below. Having a selection of different sized organza bags at home will come in handy for many other types of fruit and vegetables in the garden, including tomatoes and peppers (capsicum).
Flea Beetles – these pests chew holes through the leaves of plants. A few natural control options include planting a trap crop such as radishes or nasturtium, use sticky traps or Diatomaceous Earth.
Colorado Potato Beetles
Aphids – encourage beneficial insect into the garden. Ladybugs feed on aphids.
Many eggplant diseases can be controlled by planting disease-resistant eggplant varieties and practice crop rotation.
Blossom End Rot – usually a result of over-watering. Ensure soil is free draining and reduce watering.
Above all, by following the planting tips provided throughout this article, the likelihood of pests or disease occurring will be greatly minimized.
Eggplants are a delicious vegetable and exciting addition to your summer vegetable garden. It is incredibly satisfying to harvest eggplants, knowing they will be on the dinner menu that evening. As home gardeners, the numerous varieties of eggplant ensure we have many discoveries to make in the garden. Which discoveries will you make?
Grow Lights – use Grow Lights for raising seeds indoors in low light conditions.
Seed Starter Peat Pots – start seed easily in these peat pots.
Glass Spray Bottle – gently water seedlings with a water spray bottle.
Organza Bags – used as fruit and vegetable exclusion bags to protect eggplant from pests.
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