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I love growing eggplants, like tomatoes, they are a staple in my garden. If you get the harvest timing right, this diverse vegetable fruit has no bitterness and is an excellent addition to any meal. Easy to grow in containers, I raise mine in my polytunnel, where I can control the temperatures better than outdoors.
Eggplant, Solanum melongena, is a popular daylight-neutral vegetable grown in the tropics and subtropics. Called aubergine in Europe and brinjal in India, eggplant is a warm-season crop that doesn’t tolerate frost and requires a long growing season.
This article will help you beat the odds in growing what is generally considered a challenge – know-how makes everything easier. Spread across ten facts about growing eggplant, and you’ll find all the knowledge to put into practice in growing the very best eggplants.
Most commercial grown eggplants are cultivated in New Jersey, California, Florida, and Georgia – yielding an average of 25,000-pounds per acre.
1. Maximize The Season When Growing Eggplants
This heat-loving annual’s dramatic foliage and vivid fruits (deep purple, green, cream, and other hues) make it a superb option for edible decorative pots- and veggie gardens.
Eggplants grow well in hardiness zones 5 to 12, requiring at least two months with nighttime temperatures in the seventies.
Eggplant is best started by transplanting, and it is crucial to get the plant off to a good start. Plants with well-developed roots in the soil ball should be chosen.
It is not a good idea to start planting too soon. When the soil has warmed up, and the threat of frost has passed, plant. Tomato plants are more susceptible to frost than eggplants.
Growing eggplants is easy. Plant eggplants in quarter-inch-deep flats or cell-type pots. Warm the soil (preferably between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit) till emergence — heating mats may be required. It’s important to remember that eggplants will not germinate in chilly soil. Cover the seeds lightly with dirt and plant them in a warm, well-lit location.
To stimulate strong development and prevent plants from growing leggy, additional light may be required (in their effort to reach for light). Install lights 6 inches above the plants and leave them on for 14 hours every day. To keep the plants moist, water the soil with a thin mist.
Before transferring the plants into your garden, harden them off. This can be accomplished by letting them outside for two or three days and then bringing them inside each night. Leave them outside for 24 hours on the fourth day.
Plant transplants two weeks after the average last frost date, or when the daily average temperature is 68°F, and the soil temperature has reached 60°F, considering that a cold snap can stunt the plant.
Eggplant plants are significantly larger than pepper plants; therefore, they should be spread wide apart, and optimum eggplant production requires careful attention. Small-fruited, exotic-colored, and attractive cultivars can all be grown in containers. There will be more on this later.
2. Homegrown Eggplants Taste Better
Most commercial varieties in the U.S. are purplish-black and usually oval or teardrop shape. Less commonly produced varieties include Asian eggplants, which tend to be long and slender, and baby, or miniature, eggplants.
Exceptional tastes, shapes, and colors are available for the home gardener.
The All-American Selection (AAS) winners are an excellent place to find recommended varieties.[link]
Icicle F1 – 2022 AAS Winner
This cylindrical white eggplant earned the prestigious AAS award for several reasons. The Icicle plant has fewer spines than most eggplants, making for a less painful harvest! With larger fruits than other white eggplants, it produces an excellent yield while providing fewer seeds.
The large, durable, and vigorous plants hold up to insect damage and the environment. The pure white skin does not tend to yellow like many other white varieties of eggplant. The improved taste and texture have universal appeal (whether fresh or cooked)
Patio Baby F1 2014 AAS Winner
Patio Baby is a very early and highly productive eggplant with a compact habit, making it an excellent choice for containers or in the garden. Deep purple, egg-shaped fruit should be harvested at baby size-2 to 3 inches and are delicious roasted or in dips and salads.
Thornless leaves and calyxes allow for painless harvesting and make Patio Baby child-friendly. Plants will continue to produce fruit throughout the entire season.
Gretel F1 – 2009 AAS Winner
Petite fruit, petite plant, perfect for containers. Gretel has clusters of pure white, elongated teardrop-shaped fruit that can be harvested in 55 days from transplanting. It is the earliest white eggplant and offers gardeners a high yield of 3-4 inch fruit with tender skin, few seeds, and the sweetest flavor.
Mature plants are about 36 to 52 inches tall and spread 2- to -3 feet. Gretel is easy to grow in containers or garden soil. Plants prefer warm growing conditions.
For maximum fruit set, harvest the clusters of eggplant regularly. There are many creative ways to slice, marinate, grill, or sauté the beautifully shaped eggplant.
Hansel F1 – 2008 AAS Winner
An eggplant lover bred hansel. Many eggplant disadvantages have been bred out of Hansel. Take seeds, for example. They interfere with chewability and texture. Young Hansel eggplants have very few seeds.
Bitterness is another problem. Generally, the cook removes the glossy purple skin to eliminate the bitter taste with most eggplants. Not so with Hansel; the fruit is tender and non-bitter. Another advantage is the harvest window. Gardeners can harvest the finger-like clusters of fruit when 3 inches in length. If the fruit stays on the plant until about 10 inches, they remain tender and so sweet.
This trait offers gardeners a long harvest time for Hansel. The plant size is small, no taller than three feet, and perfect for container growing, and Hansel will thrive on a patio or deck in a large container. Small eggplants can be harvested only 55 days after planting into containers. Hansel is a miniature plant with improved eating qualities and high yields for all eggplant aficionados.
Fairy Tale F1 – 2005 AAS Winner
Fairy Tale is a petite plant with decorative miniature eggplants that appear as luscious as the taste. Fairy Tale eggplants are white with violet/purple stripes, are sweet with no bitter taste, and have a tender skin and few seeds. Another superior quality is the window for harvest. The elongated oval eggplants can be picked when relatively small at 1 to 2 ounces, or they can be left on the plant until double the weight and the flavor and tenderness remain.
I recommend Fairy Tale eggplants for marinating and grilling whole, and the harvest can begin in just 49 to 51 days from transplanting. The petite plant reaches only 2½ feet tall and wide, perfect for container gardening. Before this 2005 win, eggplant had not won an AAS award since 1939, so Fairy Tale is an exceptional variety.
3. Growing Eggplants In Containers
Use one plant per 14-inch container (7-gallon). Any of the varieties recommended above will grow well in this size pot. You can also plant up to three plants in a 20-inch pot. Remember that when you are growing eggplants they are prolific root growers, so depth is essential. The generally accepted standard pot sizes are similar in that the deepness equals the diameter at the rim. Some of the larger sizes are prone to variances in height, width, and depth of the pot – below is a handy size converting table:
Some publications will advise that you fertilize your eggplants well. If you don’t apply your fertilizer in sync with bloom timing and fruit production, you may end up with less fruit than the plant is capable of. It is essential to provide nutrients that help the plant establish and upping the available plant food once it blooms and grows fruit. A suggested starting blend incorporated in a cubic yard of potting soil might be – ensure it’s well mixed in:
|Mineral||Ounces per Cubic Yard (27 Cubic Feet)|
|Nitrogen:||0.75 – 1.20|
|Phosphate||1.00 – 1.50|
|Potash||0.50 – 1.50|
|Sulfur||0.20 – 0.30|
Sidedress with 0.15 nitrogen per 10-foot weekly row after the first flowers are set. In wet years you may want to increase the weekly side-dressing.
Keep the flea beetles under control. Their damage can vary from creating lots of small holes in your leaves to, as the population grows, dramatically reducing the leaf area and, consequently, the fruit yield. The pyrethrum does an excellent job of controlling flea beetles.
The only organically approved herbicide registered for use in eggplants is GreenMatch, a broad-spectrum post-emergent-directed herbicide that burns down emerged weeds. This product only kills small, emerged weeds on contact and has no soil activity or residual.
Apply the liquid formulation after sundown to minimize the damage to pollinating bees, mainly bumblebees. Always follow all label directions when using any pesticide. Although eggplants have perfect flowers, and self-pollination would not be expected to be a problem, bees are required for good pollination.
When growing eggplants in containers they don’t necessarily require support, but if you’re growing a heavy bearer, you may want to install a tomato cage shortly after planting. It’s vital to install support early as adding it later can damage roots.
Growing eggplant is a perennial (avoiding frost is essential) you may need to prune the plant to optimize yields.
The first main division, where the first two stems emerge from the base, as well as one other robust stem, should be left alone. All others must be removed.
This may appear to be a bit severe at first, but the plant should swiftly recover with new green growth and fruit.
4. When Growing Eggplants Ensure to Add Supports With New Transplants
Adding supports after your eggplant has grown will damage the roots and may kill your plant. Support pot plants with cages or trellis to prevent lodging (plants falling over). Growing eggplants as perennials (are able to effectively protect them from frost and freeze), you should consider using bamboo stakes and twine to support fruit when they emerge.
Consider huge containers or raised beds in addition to the usual garden when growing outside. Plants should be spaced according to their mature plant size: larger types should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart, while smaller cultivars should be spaced 12 to 18 inches apart.
Ascertain that the soil is well-drained and that the plants receive at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Before planting, work plenty of compost into the bed. If you’re using container soil, use a slow-release fertilizer.
During the night, cover young plants with hot caps or a row cover fabric, then remove during the day. Because eggplants are primarily made up of water, they require at least an inch of water on the soil every week while growing.
A layer of organic mulch, about an inch or two thick, will help keep the soil moist. When fruits are forming, watering is extremely important.
Stake large-fruited kinds to keep them from collapsing under the weight of their fruit. Stake the long, slender-fruited kinds to encourage straighter fruit development.
Check for flea beetle or Colorado potato beetle holes in the leaves on a weekly or more frequent basis. Fabric row covers, used during transplanting, will keep these out.
Control these pests with biological pesticides, such as a new one based on soil bacteria that isn’t as hazardous to beneficial insects like ladybugs and predatory mites.
5. Eggplants are Ideal Candidates for Ground Covers and Row Covers
Ground mulches made of black plastic may raise soil temperature, reduce weeds, and save moisture, resulting in increased yield and a faster harvest. The soil surface must be smooth, and the plastic must stick securely to the soil surface for black plastic mulch to boost soil warmth.
This can only be done using a machine that has been specifically developed and configured for this purpose. Clear plastic mulch is excellent for transporting heat to the soil, but it doesn’t keep weeds at bay.
A new generation of plastic mulch films, IRT (infrared transmitting) or wavelength selective films, is something between the black plastic and transparent film and provides improved weed control and soil warming.
Although they are more expensive than black or transparent films, they tend to be cost-effective in situations when soil warming is critical.
Crop covers made of plastic, spun-bonded, and nonwoven materials have been created for usage as windbreaks, frost protection, and increased yield and earliness. In many crops, they work well with plastic mulch and drip watering.
Row covers made of nonwoven or spun-bonded polyester, polypropylene, and perforated polyethylene can be utilized for 4 to 8 weeks after transplanting. When the plants begin to flower, the covers should be removed to allow adequate pollination.
Row coverings increase heat unit accumulation by 2 to 3 times above ambient temperatures during the day, and gains of two to four degrees can be gained as frost protection overnight. Under row covers, soil temperatures and root growth rise, as do early yields and, in some instances, overall yields.
Yellow nutsedge has sharp leaves that can penetrate plastic film; research has shown that placing a layer of paper between the soil and plastic film can reduce the emergence of nutsedge through plastic mulch.
Gleaming skin; a plump elongated shape: the eggplant is a vegetable you’d want to caress with your eyes and fingers, even if you didn’t know its luscious flavor.Roger Verge
6. Eggplants Are Part of the Nightshade Family
Part of the Solanum family, Eggplants are kin to potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers. All these plants are day-neutral, meaning that they don’t need a certain amount of darkness to flower – unlike other photoperiod-sensitive plants.
- Short Day Plants – require a 14 to 16-hour continuous dark period to flower. Examples are cocklebur, soybean, coffee, and chrysanthemum.
- Long Day Plants – require 14 to 16 hours of sunlight and 8 to 10 hours of continuous darkness to flower. Examples are beet, radish, spinach, carrots, onion, wheat, and corn.
- Day Neutral Plants – are photoperiod-insensitive. Examples are peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and sunflowers.
It is believed that photoperiodism plays a role in the migration and hibernation of animals, though the effects are not as evident as it is in plants.
7. Growing Eggplants is all About Sun, Soil, and Water
You must understand when growing eggplants, that they are warm-season crops that cannot be frost-hardened. For the transplanted crop, an 80-day growing season is necessary. Temperatures of 79°F during the day and 68°F at night are ideal when growing eggplants. At temperatures below 63 degrees Fahrenheit or above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, plant development slows, and pollination issues arise.
The length of the day has little effect on flowering. Cooler temperatures might hamper fruit sets. Temperatures and humidity levels that are too high can affect harvests. Drought and extreme rainfall are not a problem for eggplant. Due to the build-up of root-rotting diseases, it will not withstand prolonged periods of saturated soil.
Eggplant thrives in a wide range of soil types. As a standard practice, you should incorporate at least 4-inches of compost into the top 12-inches of all vegetable beds. A soil pH of 5,5 to 6,5 is ideal for eggplant growth. Eggplant is often planted on light or sandy loam soils with good drainage and consistent temperatures.
8. Eggplants Can Have A Root Depth of up to Four Feet
Because eggplant roots to a depth of 35 to 48 inches, sandy loam or silt loam soils with no physical obstacles are preferable for healthy plant growth and development.
Furrow or drip irrigation can be used to cultivate eggplant. Some farmers employ black plastic mulch and drip tape in spring plantings to regulate weeds, moisture, and soil temperature. Flowering, fruit set, and expansion are all critical watering times.
The amount of water used is determined by the time of year and the stage of plant development. The top 17 inches of soil contain the majority of the water and nutrient-absorbing roots. Irrigation should be carefully controlled in this root zone to keep the soil moist. Moist soil improves calcium availability which in turn prevents blossom-end rot.
9. When Growing Eggplants They Need to be Harvested with Care
Begin harvesting the large, oval varieties when the fruit is 2 inches in diameter. Continue to harvest the fruit until they are 4 to 6 inches across. At the proper harvest stage, the fruit will be firm and shiny. Overmature fruit will be dull, seedy, and tough and tend to be bitter. Remove the fruit with a knife or hand shears, leaving an inch of stem on each fruit.
Fruit that is picked too soon may contain solanine, a poisonous chemical. If the fruit is firm and your thumb cannot create an imprint on it, it is still immature. It is ready when an indentation produced by pushing your thumb into the skin springs back. It is overripe if the fruit is spongy and your thumbprint is still visible.
10. Eggplants Don’t Store Well
Eggplants bruise readily, so pick with care. Always cut the eggplant with the cap and a stem portion still intact. Because eggplants dislike chilly temperatures, they do not keep well.
Harvest and utilize them as soon as possible for the finest taste. If you must preserve them, wrap them in plastic or use plastics and place them in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. Be cautious since it will quickly grow soft brown patches and turn bitter.
Use them when the stem and crown are still greenish and supple.
Conclusion On Growing Eggplants At Home
Growing eggplants is fun, especially if you plant hybrid cultivars. Pot plants with shiny fruit and purple basil can make a delightful display. You’ve got what it takes to be successful, now get gardening.
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