Eggplant (Solanum melongena) is easy to grow, and some varieties are so beautiful they can be used as ornamentals. The flowers come in either purple or white with five lobes, and they give way to the beautiful eggplants that are typically a deep purple color and can come in various sizes and shapes. Eggplant is a fast-growing, warm-season vegetable that should be planted in the mid- to late spring. Note that eggplant's leaves and flowers can be toxic to people and pets.
|Botanical Name||Solanum melongena|
|Plant Type||Perennial, vegetable|
|Size||2–4 ft. tall, 1–3 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Loamy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline (5.5 to 7.5)|
|Hardiness Zones||9–12 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people, toxic to pets|
How to Plant Eggplant
When to Plant
Start seeds indoors eight to nine weeks prior to your area's projected last spring frost date. Or transplant nursery plants into the garden once there is absolutely no danger of frost in the spring.
Selecting a Planting Site
A sunny spot with well-draining soil is key for growing eggplant. A raised garden bed or container can be ideal because its soil will warm up faster than the ground. Try to plant where other plants of the nightshade family haven't been situated in recent growing seasons to help protect your eggplant from diseases.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Space plants at least 2 feet apart in rows that are at least 3 feet apart. Seeds should be covered with about 1/4 inch of soil while nursery plants should be situated at the same depth at which they were growing in their nursery container. It's ideal to add stakes while the plants are still small to avoid disturbing the roots once the plants are established. Most varieties will be fine tied to a piece of bamboo or a wooden stake sunk deeply into the soil about 1 to 2 inches away from the plant. You can also build a bamboo cage, or use a coated metal tomato cage.
Eggplants are sun lovers. Make sure they get at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days.
An organically rich, loamy soil with sharp drainage is ideal. Moreover, eggplant can grow in a soil pH that ranges from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline.
Water regularly to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. It's a good idea to use some type of mulch, such as straw or wood chips, to cover the soil and retain moisture. Eggplants with abnormal shapes can be the result of inconsistent watering.
Temperature and Humidity
Eggplant grows best in temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit with nighttime temperatures down to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. A moderate humidity level is best. Very high humidity can cause the pollen to become too sticky and not pollinate the plant.
When planting seedlings, mix compost or a 5-10-10 fertilizer into the soil, following label instructions. Fertilize again when the first eggplants are still very small, followed by another feeding a few weeks later.
Eggplant self-pollinates, usually with the help of the wind. But pollinating insects also can assist with the process.
Types of Eggplant
There are several varieties of eggplant, including:
- 'Fairy Tale': This dwarf eggplant grows to a mere 4 inches long.
- 'Hansel': This variety is long and narrow, with fewer seeds than its predecessors.
- 'Gretel': This variety is just like 'Hansel' but with white skin.
- 'Rosa Bianca': This round variety has pink and lavender shading.
- 'Little Fingers': The eggplants on this small variety look like little purple fingers.
Eggplant vs. Zucchini
Eggplant and zucchini are similar in shape, though eggplant is typically purple while zucchini is typically green. They also have similar textures and can be interchanged for one another in some recipes. However, eggplant is prone to taking on the flavors of the food it’s cooked with while the taste of zucchini tends to come through more in dishes.
In general, eggplant is harvested in the mid- to late summer, depending on the variety. And it tastes best when harvested fairly young, so check plants often for eggplants that are just becoming ripe. Transplants will take roughly 65 to 80 days to maturity while seeds will take 100 to 120 days.
Pick eggplants with skin that is glossy and unwrinkled. They also should have a little give to them. Use a knife to cut the stem, leaving about an inch on the eggplant. Eggplant can be eaten raw, but it’s most commonly baked, grilled, or cooked in another way. It can be stored in the refrigerator uncut and unwashed for about a week. Wash just prior to using.
How to Grow Eggplant in Pots
If you don’t have the space or proper soil conditions for eggplant, container growth is a good option. The container should be at least 5 gallons and have ample drainage holes. A dark-colored pot is a good option because it will absorb sunlight to provide the warm soil conditions that eggplant likes.
Pruning typically isn’t necessary when growing eggplant as an annual. But if you live where it’s perennial, a little pruning on a mature plant can help to revitalize it. Leave the main stem, along with the first two stems that branch off from it. Then, after the plant has produced most of its eggplants for the season, remove the rest of the stems. This pruning should encourage vigorous new growth for the next growing season. Also, prune off any suckers around the base of the plant, so the plant can put its energy into eggplant production.
If you have access to a mature plant, it’s possible to propagate eggplant via cuttings. This is an inexpensive way to get a new plant, and it cuts down on the time it takes to grow from seed. The best time to take cuttings is at the end of the growing season; they can be planted outdoors the following spring. Here’s how:
- Cut a 6- to 8-inch portion of healthy stem. Remove any foliage on the lower half of the cutting.
- Place the cutting in a small container filled halfway with water, and put the container in a warm spot with bright, indirect light. Refresh the water every couple of days. You should see roots grow in around two weeks.
- Plant the cutting in a gallon-size container of potting mix, and water it well.
- Keep the container by your brightest window, and maintain even soil moisture.
- Once the weather warms in the spring, gradually acclimate the young plant to outdoor conditions before transplanting it into the garden.
How to Grow Eggplant From Seed
Start the seeds in small containers filled with seed-starting mix indoors, or directly plant them in the garden soil after the weather has warmed. Moisten the soil with a spray bottle, as the watering must be very gentle until the seeds germinate. When starting in containers, cover the container with plastic wrap, and set it on a heat mat to keep the soil temperature between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure the plastic wrap has condensation on its underside. If it doesn't, it's time to mist the soil again before recovering the container. After the seeds germinate in about one to two weeks, uncover the container and move it to a bright window for the seedlings to continue to grow until it's warm enough for them outside.
Potting and Repotting Eggplant
A quality all-purpose potting mix or one made specifically for vegetables will work well for potting eggplant. You can repot seedlings after they reach at least 4 inches tall into a container that's 5 gallons or larger. Add stakes to the container at that time to support the plant as it grows.
Outside of its growing zones, most gardeners grow eggplant as an annual. So overwintering isn't necessary. But when grown as a perennial, it should be protected from cold weather and frost. If your area is expecting colder-than-average temperatures, cover your plants with row covers, or bring containers indoors if possible.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Eggplant is susceptible to many of the same pests and diseases as other nightshade species, including tomatoes. Some problematic pests can be flea beetles, cutworms, tomato hornworms, and Colorado potato beetles. Diseases include powdery mildew and verticillium wilt. Look for pest- and disease-resistant varieties, and aim to provide optimal growing conditions. Healthy plants are able to ward off many pest and disease issues.
Is eggplant easy to grow?
Eggplant is easy to grow as long as the plants get enough light and heat.
How long does it take to grow eggplant?
In general, it takes 100 to 120 days to go from seed to harvestable eggplants.
Does eggplant come back every year?
Eggplants are perennial in warm climates, but many gardeners treat them as an annual and discard the plant after one growing season.
Anonymous. “Eggplant: A Savory Fruit with a Juicy Past.” Safety Services, 1 July 2018, https://safetyservices.ucdavis.edu/units/occupational-health/health-well-being/nutrition/nutrition-corner-blog/july-2018.