How To Grow Eggplants
Eggplants are warm-season vegetables that are commonly grown in home gardens. They have spongy flesh and thin skin and are typically used as a vegetable in cooking.
As such, eggplants are, by botanic definition, berries - eggplants are fleshy fruits without pits (stones) and are produced from a single flower containing only one ovary.
Eggplants grow vigorously, having colorful flowers and large, broad leaves. Traditionally, eggplant fruits are black, but there are also many varieties that come in other colors as well.
Quick Tips and Tricks On Growing Eggplants
Eggplants are fairly easy to grow and take care of. They grow quickly and are strong feeders. However, there are a few things to look for.
Location And Soil
Eggplants prefer locations with full sun exposure and well-drain soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0, preferably between 6.0 and 6.5.
If You have heavy soil that doesn't drain well, or sandy soil that doesn't hold moisture and nutrients well, consider adding organic matter in the form of organic compost, worm castings, and similar - they will both improve the soil quality and provide the required nutrients.
If the soil is very heavy, consider adding even some sand or growing eggplants in raised beds or larger pots and containers.
When And How To Sow Eggplants
Start eggplants from seeds indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Also, if You need just a few seedlings, consider purchasing young plants from a nursery or garden center.
Fill suitable pots and containers with good potting soil that drains well, and place seeds half an inch apart. Cover the seeds with a very thin layer of potting soil and water gently.
If the seedlings are going to grow a single plant per pot, after germinating, remove all the plants except the strongest one. If the seedlings are going to grow in larger pots, remove the excess seedlings, leaving only the strongest ones 2-4 inches apart - the distance depends on the expected time the seedlings are going to be indoors.
The seedlings or even young plants should be transplanted into the garden after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed up - eggplants prefer temperatures above 70°F (21°C).
The plants should be spaced about 18-24 (46 - 61 cm) inches apart in rows. The rows should be at least 36 inches (91 cm) apart, ensuring the gardeners an easy access to the plants.
Also, to promote growth, consider removing flowers that appear on the plant before it reaches about a foot tall. This will help the plant put its energy into growing strong roots and foliage.
On the other hand, if You are growing some early variety and prefer an early harvest, leave some early flowers on the plants and let them grow into eggplants. These plants will be perhaps a little bit smaller, but the harvest will be longer.
How To Water Eggplants
Eggplants like moist but not soggy soil. When they are not watered regularly, they tend to produce smaller and bitter fruits. So, be sure to water them regularly, providing about 1-2 inches of water per week.
Since they require consistent moisture to grow well, consider using a dripping system that keeps the moisture very constant and, in the long run, saves plenty of water.
When watering the eggplants, be sure to water the soil directly while keeping the leaves and fruits as dry as possible - this prevents many diseases and helps the plants stay as healthy as possible.
Note: During the summer heat, eggplants should be watered almost daily.
How To Fertilize Eggplants
Eggplants should be planted in slightly acidic, nutrient-rich soil.
When preparing the soil, be sure to add organic compost, aged manure, worm castings, and similar organic fertilizers that also improve the soil quality and refeed the plants for a longer period of time.
Also, it is good practice to fertilize plants every 4-6 weeks using a balanced fertilizer, such as an NPK 10-10-10, mixed with some organic fertilizer.
Add A Layer of Mulch
By adding a layer of mulch, the gardeners can control the weeds and prevent the drying out of the soil. Also, as the mulch decomposes, it refeeds the plants and helps keep the soil slightly acidic.
As the fruits grow, they can damage the plant. Hence, it is a good practice to add some support for the eggplants in the form of single stakes or even grow cages - tomato cages are just fine.
While some gardeners recommend adding support when eggplants start to produce their first small fruits, personally, the best time to add stakes and other support is when planting the plants in their permanent location - this prevents harming the root system later. Just my 2c.
Prune The Plants
Eggplant pruning is important for several reasons - it increases the yield, improves the quality of fruits, and decreases the plant's susceptibility to various diseases.
Unlike tomatoes which are pruned down to a single main stalk, eggplants should be pruned to two or preferably three branches.
Also, remove all the suckers that grow between the leaf node and the main stalk.
There are many varieties of eggplants differing in plant and fruit size, fruit color, and other details. Also, the popularity of individual variety often depends on the region.
Here are some of the most popular eggplant varieties:
- Black Beauty - a classic, large, deep purple eggplant with smooth skin and mild flavor. It is ready for harvest some 75 days after transplanting.
- Rosa Bianca - a medium-sized eggplant with white and purple striped skin and tender, creamy flesh. It is ready for harvest some 80 days after transplanting.
- Galine - a high-yield and very reliable bell-type black to dark purple eggplant, 6-7" long, 3-4" in diameter.
- Fairy Tale - a small, elongated (2-4" long, 3/4 - 1 1/4" diameter) eggplant with purple and white striped skin and a delicate flavor with no bitterness.
- Japanese - a slender, elongated eggplant with smooth, glossy skin and tender, sweet flesh.
- White Egg - a large, oval-shaped eggplant with white skin and a mild, slightly sweet flavor. Note: there are many white eggplant varieties that are often labeled as "White Egg."
- Thai - a small, slender eggplant with dark purple skin and tender, sweet flesh. Some varieties look very similar to tomatoes in color and shape.
- Indian - a small, round eggplant with dark purple skin and a mild, slightly sweet flavor.
- Graffiti - a medium-sized, round eggplant with a bright purple and white striped skin and a mild, sweet, almost fruity flavor.
Of course, there are many other varieties that are commonly grown in home gardens, including Pot Black, Purple Blaze, White Star (Hybrid), Green Knight, etc.
Pests and Diseases
Eggplants are prone to a number of pests and diseases that can affect their growth and yield. Some common pests and diseases of eggplants include:
- Aphids - small, soft-bodied insects that feed on the sap of eggplant plants and can transmit diseases.
- Cutworms - caterpillars that feed on the stems and leaves of eggplant plants and can cause serious damage.
- Flea beetles - small, hard-bodied insects that feed on the leaves of eggplant plants and can cause damage to the foliage.
- Tomato hornworms - large caterpillars that feed on the foliage and fruit of eggplant plants and can cause significant damage.
- Verticillium wilt - a fungal disease that can cause the leaves of eggplant plants to turn yellow and wilt and can eventually kill the plant.
- Fusarium wilt - a fungal disease that can cause the leaves of eggplant plants to turn yellow and wilt and can eventually kill the plant.
- Powdery mildew - a fungal disease that can cause a powdery white or grey growth on the leaves of eggplant plants and can reduce yields.
Personally, the worse pests for eggplants are flea beetles - they cut small holes in the leaves, damaging the plant. While strong plants can do just fine with few flea beetles, stronger infestation must be prevented. For example, small plants can be protected by very fine netting, which must be removed when the plants start to flower.
If absolutely necessary, use chemicals (insecticides) as instructed.
When To Harvest Eggplants
Eggplants take anywhere from 60 to 90 days to grow, depending on the variety and growing conditions.
To determine when your eggplants are ready to be harvested, check the seed packet or plant label for the expected days to maturity. This will give You a general idea of how long it will take for your eggplants to be ready to harvest.
Generally, eggplants are ready to be harvested when they have reached their full size and have glossy, smooth skin. The skin should be firm, and the flesh should be tender. Overripe eggplants may have dull skin and spongy or soft flesh.
To test for ripeness, gently press the skin of the eggplant with your thumb. If the skin springs back, it is ready to be harvested. If it leaves an indentation, the eggplant is not quite ripe yet.
Eggplants should be harvested before the first frost in the fall, as frost can damage plants.
To prolong the harvest, consider growing a few plants in the larger flower pots or containers placed on the cart with wheels. When there is a danger of frost, take your plants indoors and keep them near the southern windows - if required, add some artificial grow lighting and hand pollinate the flowers.
How To Prepare Eggplants
There are many ways to prepare eggplants, depending on the recipe and your preferences. Here are a few general steps for preparing eggplants:
- Wash the eggplant: Rinse the eggplant under cool running water and dry it with a clean towel.
- Cut the eggplant: Depending on the recipe and your desired final product, you may need to cut the eggplant into slices, cubes, or other shapes. Be sure to remove the stem and any blemishes or bruises on the skin.
- Peel the eggplant: Some recipes may call for peeled eggplants, while others may use the skin. To peel the eggplant, use a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife to remove the skin.
- Salt the eggplant: Salt may help remove any bitterness and excess moisture from the eggplants. To salt the eggplant, place the slices or cubes in a suitable pot and sprinkle them lightly with salt. Let the eggplant sit for about 30 minutes, then rinse them and cook according to your recipe.
- Cook the eggplant: There are many eggplant cooking methods, including grilling, roasting, frying, sautéing, baking, etc. My favorite eggplant recipe includes adding garlic and olive oil to the eggplants and preparing them on the barbecue.
Eggplants are best prepared fresh, alone or mixed with other vegetables, as a side dish, but also as the main dish.
Few Final Words
Eggplants need plenty of space to grow and thrive. The amount of space needed depends on the variety grown, but generally, eggplants should be spaced about 18-24 inches apart to allow for adequate room to grow.
In addition to spacing the plants apart, it is also important to consider the overall size of the plants when planning your garden. Some eggplant varieties can grow quite large, reaching heights of 3-4 or even more feet, while others are more compact. Be sure to choose a variety that suits the space You have available.
Eggplants also need plenty of sunlight to grow well, so be sure to choose a location in your garden that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Proper spacing and sunlight will help your eggplants grow to be healthy and productive.
Begin harvesting eggplants when they are firm and have a glossy, deep purple color. Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the fruit from the plant, being careful not to damage the plant.
With just a little effort, few plants can yield a very nice harvest of fresh, healthy, and tasty eggplants.
For more information about eggplants, feel free to check the following:
Or check the following eggplant articles:
Growing eggplants with other plants can enhance their growth and deter pests, but not all plants are the same.
Eggplant companion plants range from herbs and flowers to other vegetables, improving the health of eggplants and, in the end, the harvest. Also, some plants don't go well with eggplants, and those plants should not be grown together.
Published: January 17, 2023.
Fairy Tale eggplants are a small, elongated eggplant variety with purple and white striped skin and a delicate, sweet flavor, with just a few seeds and no bitterness.
Fairy Tale eggplants are well suited for growing in small gardens or containers, requiring very little space. They can be rather productive but also decorative plants.
Published: January 9, 2023.
Growing eggplants in raised beds can be a great way to provide the plants with well-draining soil and improve the overall growing conditions.
By planting eggplants in at least 12-18 inches (~30-46 cm) of customized soil, eggplants can yield a great harvest, which can be prolonged over several months by planting different varieties after the danger of late spring frost is over.
Published: January 2, 2023.
Eggplants are well-suited for growing in pots and containers as long as there is enough room to accommodate the plant's root system. By growing eggplants in pots and containers, the gardener can offer the plants almost ideal soil, moisture level, and very often temperature and lighting conditions.
Also, by growing eggplants in the pots, the harvesting season can be prolonged significantly.
Published: December 28, 2022.