Eggplant is a very tender warm season perennial grown as an annual. Grow eggplant in the warmest, frost-free time of the year. The edible fruit can be long and slender or round or egg-shaped fruit. The fruit is creamy-white, yellow, brown, purple, or sometimes almost black.
Eggplant is a small- to a medium-size bush vegetable that produces smooth, glossy-skinned fruit that can vary in length from 5 to 12 inches (12-30cm) long. Eggplants have large, fuzzy, grayish-green leaves and produce star-shaped lavender flowers with yellow centers.
Eggplants can grow 2 to 6 feet tall (.6-1.8m), depending on the variety.
Here is your complete guide to growing eggplant!
Eggplant Quick Growing Tips
- Eggplants grow 18 to 36 inches tall and 24 to 36 inches wide. Each plant produces 3 to 4 well-developed fruits weighing up to 2 pounds each.
- Eggplants require a long growing season of 100 to 140 warm days with air temperatures consistently between 70° and 90°F (21-32°C) to reach harvest.
- Eggplant is best started indoors and later transplanted into the garden; sow eggplant indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date or the time you plan to set plants into the garden.
- Transplant seedlings into the garden no sooner than 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost in spring.
- Eggplants planted too early will not develop.
- Eggplant yield: plant 1 to 2 eggplants per household member.
Starting Eggplants Indoors
- Start eggplants from seed indoors about 8 weeks before setting seedlings in the garden.
- Sow seed in individual containers or flats. Sow eggplant seed ¼ to ½ inch (12mm) deep spaced 4 to 5 inches (10-12cm) apart. Sow seeds in a moistened seed starting mix. Place a plastic dome or plastic wrap over the seed starting tray to retain warmth and moisture until seedlings emerge.
- Eggplant seeds germinate in about 5 to 6 days.
- Give seedlings started indoors 12 hours of light each day; use a grow light or fluorescent lights.
- Start seeds on a heat mat then grow seedlings on at about 70°F (21°C).
- Transfer seedlings to 4-inch (10cm) pots when seedlings are 3 to 4 inches (7-10cm) tall and then into gallon containers if the weather does not allow transplanting as seedlings grow 5 to 6 inches (12-15cm) tall or taller.
- Place seedlings under a grow light for 10 hours a day; turn plants every other day so that they grow tall and straight.
- Ahead of transplanting, lay black plastic across garden planting beds to pre-warm the soil.
- An alternative to starting eggplants from seed is to purchase plants 6 to 8 weeks old at the garden center.
More tips: Eggplant Seed Starting Tips.
Where to Plant Eggplant
- Grow eggplants in a sunny location. Ten hours of sunlight each day is essential for the best growth.
- Eggplants grow best in loamy soil or sandy loam that is rich in organic matter and well drained. Add aged compost or commercial organic planting mix to planting beds ahead of planting and turn the soil to 12 inches (30cm) deep.
- Eggplants prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8. Perform a soil test ahead of plating to know the soil pH.
- Warm the soil in advance of planting by laying black plastic over planting beds for two weeks.
Transplanting Eggplants into the Garden
- Transplant eggplants into the garden 2 to 3 weeks after the last spring frost. Warm soil is essential for young plants to become established.
- Harden off seedlings before transplanting them in the garden; set them outdoors in a sunny spot for an hour or two the first day, then increase the time outdoors each day so that they become acclimatized.
- Make a planting hole twice the width of the root ball and half again as deep. Moisten the hole before transplanting.
- Sprinkle a 5-10-5 or 5-10-10 organic fertilizer in the bottom of the hole and cover lightly with aged compost or planting mix. Then set the seedling in place.
- Set eggplant seedlings into the garden at the same depth they are growing in their containers.
- Firm the soil around the root ball and gently water the plant. Create a small basin around the seedling to direct water to the roots at watering time.
- Set a stake or small tomato cage in place to support the plant as it grows. Eggplants loaded with fruit can tip or fall over; it’s best to support them.
- Do not crowd eggplants. Space plants 24 to 36 inches (61-91cm) apart–about 2 square feet per plant. Check the seed packet for the mature size of the variety or cultivar you are growing. Space rows 24 to 36 inches apart.
- Be sure plants are well-spaced to allow for good air circulation which is essential for fruit ripening and to discourage pests and diseases.
- Protect young plants with polyethylene floating row covers if days or nights are cool. Lift row covers during warm afternoons so that bees can pollinate plants.
Container Growing Eggplants
- Eggplants are easily grown in containers.
- Grow eggplants in pots at least 12 inches (30cm) across and as deep. Choose a smaller growing variety for container growing.
- Be sure to keep the potting soil just moist throughout the season. Do not let the soil dry out.
- Feed eggplants in containers every two to three weeks with compost tea or a dilute solution of fish emulsion.
- Container-grown eggplants are easily moved out of cold weather; so you can extend the season in spring and autumn by moving plants indoors when frost threatens.
- Eggplants require evenly moist soil to ensure the best and fastest growth. Do not allow the soil to dry out and do not overwater.
- Set drip irrigation or a soaker hose in place after transplanting seedlings to the garden. Give plants at least 1 inch of water every week.
- Inconsistent soil moisture can result in misshapen fruits.
- After the soil has warmed to 70°F (21°C), mulch around eggplants to retain soil moisture and to keep down weeds.
- Water plants in the early morning on a sunny day.
- Avoid overhead irrigation which can leave plants susceptible to fungal diseases.
- Check the soil every day or two in late summer to be sure the soil does not go dry; thrust your index finger into the soil; if it comes away dry, water the plants.
- Bitter flavor is often the result of plants being water stressed.
- Eggplants are heavy feeders.
- Prepare planting beds by adding aged compost and well-rotted organic mulch.
- Side-dress eggplants with compost tea or a dilute solution of fish emulsion every 2 or 3 weeks until the fruit has set and then every 3 to 4 weeks after.
Companion Plants for Eggplants
- Plant eggplants with bush beans, southern peas, and nitrogen-fixing crops. Do not plant eggplant with tomatoes or corn.
Caring for Eggplants
- Protect eggplants from an unexpected late frost. Provide protection at night until all danger of frost is past. Cover plant with spun poly floating row covers.
- Chilly weather and lack of moisture can inhibit pollination.
- In hot weather, the soil temperature may become too warm for the roots; mulch plants about 4 weeks after setting them in the garden. Use aged compost or grass clippings to mulch around eggplants in summer.
- Where temperatures grow hot in the summer to 100°F (37°C) or greater, protect eggplants with shade covering.
- Tall varieties and those with heavy fruit should be staked or caged.
- Eggplants can be attacked by cutworms, aphids, flea beetles, Colorado potato bugs, spider mites, and tomato hornworms.
- Cutworms eat young plant stems just below the soil surface. Move the soil to uncover cutworms. Set collars around the plants at the time of transplanting.
- Flea beetles eat tiny holes in eggplant leaves. Spray eggplant flea beetles with neem soil.
- Tomato hornworms are large caterpillars that eat large sections of leaves. Handpick hornworms off the plants or spray with Bacillus thuringiensis.
- Colorado potato beetles and their larvae will skeletonized leave. They can be removed by hand or sprayed with insecticidal soap.
- Aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites also suck juices from leaves. Hose them off the plant and pinch out infested areas. Spray infestation with insecticidal soap or spinosad.
- Spider mites can be difficult to control; use an insecticidal soap spray.
Protect eggplants: Eggplant Growing Problems: Troubleshooting.
- Eggplant is susceptible to fungal and bacterial diseases and also viral diseases.
- Planting disease-resistant varieties when possible.
- Keep the garden clean of debris.
- Bacterial wilt, southern blight, and Verticillium wilt can cause eggplants to wilt.
- Bacterial wilt can not be cured; plants wilt and a brown slime will ooze from the stem. Remove and place plants in the trash.
- Southern blight is a fungal disease that spreads in hot, moist weather. Leaves turn pale and fall off and mold may appear around the base of the plants; remove the plants and place them in the trash.
- Verticillium wilt causes wilting on one side of the plant; spray-mist leaves with compost tea to prevent and slow fungal diseases.
- Anthracnose is a fruit-rot fungus that causes round depressed areas in the thin asking; removed infected fruit and place it in the trash.
- Diseased plants should be removed immediately before the disease spreads to healthy plants.
- Protect the plants against soil-borne disease by rotating corps; do not plant eggplant family members including tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers in the same spot two seasons in a row.
Eggplant Problem Prevention
Here are ways to prevent eggplant problems from the beginning of the season until the end:
- Before planting spread black plastic to prewarm the soil.
- At the time of planting, encircle each young plant with a cutworm collar.
- Cover plants with a floating row cover and seal the edges to exclude insects or spray plants with kaolin clay to discourage flea beetles.
- Protect eggplants from chilly nights with cloches or row covers until reliable warm weather arrives; then remove protection.
- Weed carefully around young plants to avoid root damage.
- Apply an organic mulch when the soil has warmed.
- Use a sharp knife or garden shears to cut eggplant fruit off plants without breaking the stems.
- After harvest, if Verticillium wilt is a problem, remove all plant tops and roots from the garden.
- The time to harvest fruit is 100 to 150 days from sowing seed and 70 to 85 days from planting transplants. Fruit production and harvest can be slowed by cloudy or cool days during the growing season.
- Eggplants are ready for harvest and will have the best flavor when the fruit is firm and full-colored with glossy skin.
- Eggplants with no seeds are immature. Fruits with hard, dark seeds are overripe.
- Eggplants that are under or overripe will have a bitter taste.
- Cut eggplants from the stem with a pruning shear or sharp knife. Leave a short stub of stem about 2 inches long attached to the fruit. Wear gloves when harvesting eggplant fruits; there can be sharp thorns around the stems and calyx.
Harvest tips: How to Harvest and Store Eggplant.
Eggplant Kitchen Use
- Eggplant is served cooked: baked, grilled, stewed, and deep-fried.
- Serve eggplant with cheese, tomatoes, onions, and meats.
- The French use eggplant in a vegetable stew called ratatouille, with tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, and herbs.
- Eggplant is a key ingredient in the Greek moussaka, layered with ground meat and topped with bechamel sauce.
- Baba ghanoush is finely chopped roasted eggplant, olive oil, lemon juice, various seasonings, and tahini. The eggplant is usually baked or broiled over an open flame before peeling.
- Coat eggplant slices in breadcrumbs and deep-fry them.
- To remove excess moisture from eggplant slices before you cook them, salt them liberally, let them stand for about half an hour, wash them, and pat the dry. Or weigh down the slices with a heavy plate to squeeze out the moisture.
Storing and Preserving Eggplants
- Eggplants will keep in a well-ventilated place for up to 1 week at 50°F (10°C) or slightly warmer.
- It is best not to refrigerate eggplant but if you do wrap the fruit in plastic to prevent cold burn. Do not wash or cut eggplants before refrigerating.
- Eggplant can be frozen or dried.
Eggplant Varieties to Grow
Classic eggplant varieties to grow are:
- Black Beauty: grows glossy black, bell-shaped fruit 4 to 6 inches (10-15cm) long; about 6 fruits per plant; the plant grows 18 to 24 inches tall; heirloom variety; harvest 74 days after transplanting
- Easter Egg: small pastel yellow or orange fruits the size of an egg.
- Galine: hybrid black bell to 6 inches long; grows well in cool to warm summer regions; 65 days.
- Gretel: white fruit about 4 inches long; sweet and tender; All-American Selection.
- Green Knight: jade green fruit to 7 inches long; the plant grows to 36 inches high; hybrid.
- Ichiban: grow slim, deep purple fruits 6 inches (15cm) plus long.
- Listada De Gandia: fruit is purple with white stripes to 8 inches long; mild flavor, thin skin; 80 days.
- Little Fingers: small, dark purple skin, 3 to 4 inches (7-10cm) long.
- Michal: black fruit with few seeds; grows well in tunnel or greenhouse; 70 days.
- Millionaire Purple: about 8 inches long, thin, purple fruit; hybrid cultivar.
- Pot Black: compact plant for container growing; no bitter taste; 60 days.
- Purple Blaze: purple fruit with white streaks; grows to 20 inches; 4-inch fruit.
- Ping Tung Long: bright purple fruit to 9 inches long with slight curve; 2 inches wide; open-pollinated; 65 days.
- White Star Hybrid: white fruit to 7 inches long; lacks the bitterness of purple varieties; the plant grows to 36 inches tall.
Here’s a full list of eggplant varieties to grow (there are a range of sizes to choose from):
- Bell-shaped eggplant: Black Beauty (73-80 days); Black Bell (68 days); Blacknite (61 days); Imperial Black Beauty (80 days).
- Long, cylindrical eggplant: Agora (68 days); Dusky (61 days); Ichiban (60 days); Millionaire (55 days); Osaka Honnoga (65 days); Slim Jim (65 days); Tycoon (54 days); Vernal (70 days); Violetta di Firenze (65 days); Vittoria (61 days).
- Small eggplants: Bambino (45 days); Mini Fingers (68 days).
- Non-purple eggplants: Alba (60 days); Casper (70 days); Easter Egg (60 days); Italian Pink (75 days); Listada de Gandia (75 days); Louisiana Long Green (100 days); Osterei (80 days); Rosa Bianca (75 days); Turkish Italian Orange (85 days); White Beauty (70 days).
Eggplant Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Should I begin eggplants indoors?
A: Yes. Start seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before warm weather arrives for good. The seeds need warm soil 70°F in order to germinate. When you transplant them into the garden space plants at least 24 inches apart. Protect seedlings from cold snap with hot caps or row covers.
Q: What care do eggplants need?
A: Sidedress the plants with a balanced organic fertilizer three weeks after transplanting and again when the fruits are just beginning to emerge from the blossoms. Water regularly and deeply. Mulch around plants since the soil has warmed thoroughly. Stake plants if they begin to be weighed down by fruits.
Q: Why are the leaves of my eggplant riddled with tiny holes every summer?
A: These holes are made by flea beetles. Spray plants with insecticidal soap or Sevin.
Q: My eggplant leaves suddenly wilted, turned brown, and died. What happened?
A: Verticillium wilt is a common disease that causes those symptoms. Plant resistant varieties such as Blackjack or Super-hybrid. Grow eggplants in containers to avoid infected soil; apply a soluble fertilizer once a week.
Q: Why do eggplant blossoms fall off?
A: Temperatures below 50°F or greater than 90°F stress eggplants can cause blossoms to drop. Plenty of aged compost worked into the soil and a thick mulch of organic material help plants withstand temperature extremes.
- Common name: Eggplant
- World names: aubergine (English, German), melongene (French) brinjal (Hindi), melanzane (Italian), daimaru nasu (Japanese) berenjena (Spainish(, makhua (Thai).
- Botanical name: Solanum melongena
- Family: Solanacea — member of the nightshade family which includes potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers.
- Origin: East Indies, India, South Asia
More tips: Eggplant Growing.