Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Eggplants
Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Eggplants
Eggplants—also known as aubergine—are warm-weather vegetables that are harvested in mid- to late summer. See how to plant, grow, harvest, and cook these lovely deep purple crops—one of our favorite grilling vegetables!
Eggplants are actually perennials though they are treated by most gardeners as annuals. Given their tropical and subtropical heritage, eggplants do require relatively high temperatures, similar to tomatoes and peppers (which are also in the nightshade family of vegetables). Like tomatoes, eggplants grow hanging from the vines of a plant that grows several feet in height.
Because they need warm soil, eggplants are usually purchased as transplants (or, started indoors about two months in advance). Raised beds enriched with composted manure are an ideal growing place for eggplants because the soil warms more quickly. Eggplants are also great for containers and make lovely ornamental borders.
Though eggplants are usually a beautiful dark purple color, their color can vary, and so can the size and shape—from small- to large-fruited. Explore eggplants!
- Start plants indoors in flats or peat pots 2 months before the soil warms up or buy nursery transplants just before planting.
- Plant outdoors in a very sunny spot with well-draining, fertile soil (with a pH from 6.3 to 6.8).
- Mix 1 inch or so of well-rotted manure or a general fertilizer such as 5-10-5 throughout the planting bed about a week before planting. (Apply 2 to 3 pounds per 100 square feet.)
- Use a covering of black plastic mulch to warm heavy clay soils before setting out transplants.
- If transplanting, set 3- to 4-inch tall seedlings 24 to 30 inches apart in well-prepared beds.
- Mix 1 tablespoon of 5-10-5 or a shovelful of rotted manure or good compost with the soil in the bottom of each planting hole and cover with more soil.
- If you’re growing eggplant in pots, use a dark-colored container. Each plant needs five-gallon (or, larger) pots and should be placed in full sun and outdoors so it can be pollinated. Use a premium potting mix to avoid disease.
- Stake the plants right away (just an inch or two from the plant) to provide support as they climb and to avoid disturbing the soil later.
- If you live in a cold climate, consider using row covers to keep the eggplants warm and sheltered. Open the ends of the row covers on warm days so that the bees may pollinate.
- After planting, water well. Add a layer of mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
- Eggplant will fall over once loaded with fruit. Be sure to stake plants 24 inches tall or use a cage to keep the plants upright.
- If growing eggplant in containers, stake the stems before the fruit forms.
- Water well without letting the soil get soggy. Consistent watering is best, and a soaker hose or drip system at ground level is ideal.
- Apply a balanced fertilizer every two weeks during the growing season.
- For bigger fruits, restrict to five or six per plant.
- Pinch out the terminal growing points for a bushier plant.
- Flea beetles are probably the most common pest, but a healthy eggplant should be able to withstand damage from their tiny holes.
- Verticillium wilt and Powdery Mildew can affect eggplant.
- Tomato Hornworms are sometimes an issue.
- Eggplant fruit may not ripen properly due to cold temperatures, pest damage, or infertile soils.
- Strangely-shaped eggplant are the result of inconsistent watering or low moisture.
- Harvest 16 to 24 weeks after sowing when the skin of the fruit is shiny and unwrinkled.
- Don’t wait too long to harvest! As soon as the skin does not rebound to gentle pressure from your finger, it’s ripe.
- When harvesting, do not pull the fruit (as it won’t come off). Cut the fruit with a sharp knife or pruning shears close to the stem, leaving about an inch of it attached.
- Eggplants can be stored for up to two weeks in humid conditions no lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Store in the refrigerator where it will keep for several days. Do not wash or cut in advance to avoid damaging the skin, which will quickly perish if exposed.
- ‘Black Beauty’ is the traditional eggplant size. One plant produces 4 to 6 large rounded fruit.
- ‘Ichiban’ eggplant is a slim, long hybrid with thin skin. Expect a dozen or more fruit from one plant.
- ‘Little Fingers’ are small, finger-sized eggplant. Small-fruited varieties tend to be especially heavy bearers.
- ‘Easter Egg’ is an ornamental eggplant, usually white in color. (It’s not edible.)
Wit & Wisdom
At one time, women in the Orient used a black dye to stain their teeth a gun metal gray. The dye probably came from the same dark purple eggplant we see in the marketplace today.
- Eggplant is excellent grilled, roasted, breaded, fried, or baked! The thinner varieties (Ichiban) are more ideal for grilling and roasting and the traditional varieties (Black Beauty) are great breaded or fried; the round fruit is also good as a “boat” for stuffing.
- Use a stainless steel knife (not steel) to cut eggplant or it will discolor.
- If your eggplant is oversize, the skin may be too tough to eat. Peel before cooking or bake the eggplant and then scoop out the flesh. If you’re baking eggplant, first pierce the skin a few times to allow steam to escape.
- Many Italians will tenderize an eggplant so it’s less bitter. Slice, sprinkle with salt, and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes.