How to Grow Eggplant for Beginners the help you need to add this amazing vegetable to your backyard garden this growing season.
Eggplant is a fairly versatile plant that is best grown in warmer months. You can use it in a variety of recipes, like lasagna, or just grill it up for a tasty side summer side. With so many uses, eggplant is truly growing in popularity.
Eggplant will flourish quite well in a variety of growing conditions. This means it can be grown in a traditional in-ground garden, in raised beds, even in containers allowing you to plant and grow it almost anywhere. If your ground doesn’t have healthy soil, you can opt for a raised bed or container where you can control the type of soil you use. A container also allows you the option to move your plants to follow the sun if you don’t get enough sun in one spot throughout the day.
When it comes to eggplant, there are many varieties to choose from allowing you to grow anything from smaller fruits that produce a bountiful harvest to the larger fruits you find in the grocery stores.
There are three basic types to choose from:
· Globe eggplants – traditional size fruits that are purple or white. They grow best in warmer climates.
· Japanese eggplants – long, slender fruits that mature quickly. These are a good option for cooler climates.
· Small fruited eggplants – more compact in size. They are perfect for small gardens or containers.
Within these various types, there are several varieties to choose from including:
· Galine – grows well in the North with a large harvest. It’s a hybrid fruit and grows 6-7 inches. It will mature in about 65 days.
· Black Beauty – an heirloom fruit, the classic eggplant variety. Black Beauties are large, dark purple, and grow about 18-24 inches tall. They are ready to harvest in 70-75 days after transplanting.
· Green Knight – produces long, jade green fruit with dense flesh and fewer seeds. It’s a hybrid that will grow 34-36 inches tall with fruit up to 7 inches.
· Listada De Gandia – this European heirloom variety will produce purple and white streaked fruits on plants that grow up to 14 inches tall. The fruits are egg shaped and up to 8 inches long with a mild flavor and tender skin. Maturity is 80-90 days.
· Pot Black – a great variety for containers as the plants are compact and produce 3-ounce fruits that have no bitter flavor. They mature quickly, in about 55-60 days.
· Purple Blaze – produces neon purple fruits with white streaks. The plants grow 18-20 inches tall with fruits up to 4 inches that are white on the inside.
· White Star – another hybrid fruit that is shiny, white, and sweet. Like most white eggplant, it doesn’t have a bitter taste to it. The plants grow 30-36 inches tall and fruit grows to 5-7 inches long.
What You Need to Grow Eggplant
Eggplants require both nutrient-rich soil and a lot of sun to grow as well as high warm temperatures. Fortunately, they grow well in both small and large gardens, in raised garden beds, and in containers, as I mentioned earlier, so you have plenty of options when it comes to planting.
Eggplants are warm season fruits so you’ll need to plant after the last frost has occurred and the ground warms up. They grow fastest when temperatures are between 70° and 85°, slowly when temperatures are cooler.
Like tomatoes and peppers, eggplant grows from plants that are tall with beautiful fruit that hangs down from its branches. Plants can grow several feet high so you will want to make sure there’s room for growth and they won’t overshadow any shorter plants, taking away their sun exposure. You’ll also want to plant on staking them or growing them against a trellis as the fruits will weigh the stalks down when they become full.
By adding a stake to your plant early on, you will ensure that your eggplant has the support it needs from the start.
How to Grow Eggplant
Eggplants can be purchased as 6–8-week-old transplants or started indoors 2 months in advance to help them mature and produce more quickly once transplanted in your garden.
If planting indoors, start seeds in flats or peat pots at least 8 weeks before the last frost. Eggplants like the warmth and you will find that they will germinate faster in warmer temperatures, about 70° – 90° F.
Due to their love of warmer temperatures, eggplants especially love raised beds or containers where the soil warms more quickly. A great option if you live in a cooler climate that lasts longer in the warmer seasons.
When to Plant Eggplant
As I said, eggplant does best when planted in warmer temperatures, after the last frost. For most areas, this means planting in late April to early May is usually the ideal time. To help get a head start with your growing seasons, you can start eggplant seeds indoors in late January to early February then you can easily transplant them once the ground warms up.
How to Plant Eggplant
Remember to choose a sunny spot to achieve the best results. You will also want to make sure the soil is well-draining and a bit sandy. This will help you to grow a healthy root system which is needed for a healthy plant. If you are new to gardening, you can research your property to see where you will have the most successful growing location.
Note the sun throughout the day making a note in your gardening journal. Once you have the right spot, you’re ready to get planting.
Once you have your new eggplants in the ground be sure to water immediately helping those roots continue to grow. It is also a good idea to cover the ground with a 2-3” layer of organic mulch to help the soil retain moisture and keep the soil warm.
How Many Plants to Plant
Eggplants produce a fair amount of fruit so you shouldn’t need too many plants, about 2-3 per grown adult should be plenty. And good news, since you won’t need to plant many plants, this makes them the perfect fruit for growing in smaller areas.
How Long Does Eggplant Take to Grow?
Depending on the variety that you choose, eggplant can take anywhere from 50-75 days to mature when planting transplanted seedlings, and additional 6-8 weeks if planting seeds so transplants will allow you to harvest sooner.
Once they start to mature, you can expect a steady and bountiful harvest for several weeks.
Eggplants prefer warmer temperatures, 70° – 85° F. Because of this, you will want to make sure you don’t plant seeds or transplants before the last frost. If you are new to gardening, you can ask your neighbors when that date will be. Make a note of the date in your gardening journal so you have that record going forward.
Once the warmer temperatures of summer hit, your plants will thrive throughout the growing season.
Eggplants need a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight a day to grow well and produce a nice harvest. You can test your planting area in advance by tracking the amount of sunlight the area gets on a regular basis. If you don’t receive enough light in an area, you may want to consider planting in containers so that you can move them with the sun.
I love to use containers whenever possible as it allows me to dress up my outdoor area and bring our produce closer to my kitchen door. A super convenient bonus of container gardening.
Eggplants need well-draining, sandy loam or loam soil that is fairly high in organic matter. By having sand in your soil you will allow more room for water. The preferred soil pH is 5.8 to 6.5 to encourage the best growth. The soil will also need to be warm. If it hasn’t quite warmed yet, you can cover the area with black plastic to help it warm up before planting or you can plant in raised beds or containers, which will warm faster than ground soil.
Eggplants need a steady supply of water however it is important to remember not to let the soil get soggy. If it’s not watered enough, the fruit will be small and bitter. If watered too much, it can lead to disease and underproduction of fruit. Don’t let this fine line worry you too much. Just keep an eye on the wetness. You can do so by using the finger test to make sure it’s moist but not soggy. Simply stick your finger down in the soil to an inch deep to check the moisture.
When watering, as with all of your plants, remember to water under the foliage at ground level. This will keep the soil from splashing up onto the plant’s leaves reducing the change of pests or diseases.
Eggplant requires a moderate amount of fertilizer. You can achieve this by mixing in 1 inch of well-rotted manure or general-purpose fertilizer, such as 5-10-10, throughout the planting bed about a week before planting.
Space plants that are 3-4 inches tall about 24-30 inches apart in rows that are 3-4 feet apart. This will give them plenty of room to grow without overcrowding each other as they begin to fill with fruit.
If planting seeds, you don’t need to plant deep, just about a ¼”. If planting seedlings that you purchased or started indoors, aim to plant just slightly deeper than their existing soil clod.
Growing Tips for Eggplant
Containers: If you’re using pots to grow eggplant, use dark-colored containers, this will allow them to absorb more sunlight as they are growing. Each plant will need a 5-gallon pot or larger that allows for drainage. Place containers in an area that allows for full sunlight outdoors so that your plants can be sufficiently pollinated. Finally, using a premium potting mix will help to avoid disease.
Transplants: If you’re purchasing transplants, do your best to purchase high-quality plants. Avoid plants that are tall, spindly, or young without blossoms. These plants will produce less than optimal yields.
Growing Care: Remove any withered leaves and stake or trellis the plants as needed for best growth.
Pollination: Self-fertile eggplant flowers can be fertilized by the wind, but bee pollination improves the fruit quality and size. Creating an environment that is attractive to bees will help your garden flourish.
Seedlings: If transplanting seedlings, help them acclimate to the outdoors easier with a process known as “hardening off.” Put the seedlings outside for a short time, a half hour or so, on the first day then gradually increase the amount of time they spend outside each day for about a week to ten days.
Planting: Remove any fruit or flowers that have started to develop before transplanting so that the plant can put all of its energy into the root and stem development.
Support: Stake the plants right away, about an inch or two from the plant, to provide support as they climb.
Cages: As plants grow, they will fall over once they become loaded with fruit. You can also use cages meant for tomatoes to help your plants stay upright.
Watering: Water well to moisten the soil to about 6 inches deep being sure to keep the soil moist but not soggy. The most crucial stage for watering is when the fruit starts to develop.
How to Harvest Eggplant
Eggplants taste best when harvested young. Small fruits have the best taste and frequent harvesting encourages more fruit production. When harvesting fresh fruit, be careful to clip rather than yank them from their stem. This will help the stem to stay intact encouraging a continuous production of fruit throughout the season.
The best way to determine if it’s time to harvest is by checking the fruit’s skin. Fruits are ripe and ready to harvest when it doesn’t rebound after being touched with a finger.
Eggplants are usually ready to harvest 60-80 days after transplanting seedlings or 100-120 days after planting seeds. Depending on your temperatures, you can expect to harvest anytime from late June to early October.
How to Store Eggplant
Eggplants do not freeze or can very well so it’s best to use them within a day or two of harvesting. Do not store eggplant in the refrigerator, but rather in a cool, moist, and well-ventilated area.
What Diseases and Pests to Watch For
There are a few pests and diseases to keep an eye out for when growing eggplant.
- Flea beetles
- Potato beetles
- Tomato hornworms
- Powdery Mildew (This can be avoided with plenty of sun, good air circulation, and watering at the base to avoid the foliage and fruit)
Use row covers to deter pests early into the growing season and until the plants are large enough to withstand a little bit of damage. If pests persist, you can leave the row covers on until it’s time to harvest. When using row covers be sure to allow for pollination as this is crucial for developing fruit.
If flowers form but then fall off or the fruit doesn’t develop, it’s most likely that the temperatures are too cold. This is also the case if fruits are small and not fully growing. Eggplants like it warm to hot temperatures while growing. Daytime temperatures are perfect for them at 80° to 90° F during the day and 60° to 65° F at night.
Another issue to watch out for is strange or misshapen fruit. This is usually caused by inconsistent or low moisture.
How to Use Eggplant
Eggplant can be used in many recipes and it is quickly gaining in popularity with many families.
You can toss eggplant in oil and seasoning to roast, grill them with other veggies from your garden, or even use them as a main dish as stuffed eggplant, eggplant parmesan, and even eggplant and white bean meatballs. Roasted, grilled, sautéed, or baked, they’re something the whole family can enjoy. And since the plants will produce fruit over and over again, they’ll keep you stocked all summer.