Growing Eggplant: Give These Veggies A Try!

Ed Wike
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Quick Care Guide

Most varieties of eggplant are warm weather plants, although some cool weather varieties are available. Gardeners in the south of the nation have the best success with eggplant, while gardeners in northern areas need to pay attention to when temperatures drop below 50 degrees at night. Eggplants can be started indoors or directly in the garden. Eggplants have a tendency to grow large and take up a lot of space. For this reason, as well as because eggplant does not store well, gardeners need to be careful when choosing varieties.

Soil

Eggplants like a rich, fertile soil with a lot of compost added. Eggplant also needs plenty of water so make sure you have a good watering system in place.

Plant Care

Make sure you choose a well-draining spot for eggplant. In order to get a continuous harvest, continue to plant new crops every two weeks.

Like many garden vegetables, eggplant needs proper spacing in order to grow well and produce. The dwarf varieties of eggplant should be two feet apart, the medium varieties should be spaced three feet apart, and the bushy varieties should be planted five feet apart.

All About Eggplant

Hailing from southern Asia and the east coast of Africa, eggplants have made their way onto plates in regions throughout the world. The best time to plant eggplant seeds is in the early spring, though planting can be done for most of the year in most climates.

Eggplant seeds are black and about the size of a pencil point. How well eggplants do in your region will depend on the quality of the seeds. The best eggplants are a deep purple color, alternately the darkest black and blue. They should be glossy and feel heavy in the palm of your hand. Often the best way to tell what variety of vegetable you are buying is to taste it.

Eggplant is a warm-weather vegetable and should be planted in soil that is well-drained and loves summer heat. Unlike other members of the nightshade family, eggplants will not grow well in shady areas. Eggplant plants are ready to harvest in as little as 60 days.

Eggplants are cool-weather fruits which can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week after harvest. When buying eggplants at the grocery store, the best choices are still firm and glossy. The skin will be dark purple or nearly black in color and the texture will be smooth. Read the information on the packaging to find out how long the eggplant will keep fresh in the fridge.

Planting Eggplant

Eggplants are members of the nightshade family. Grow eggplant indoors using eggplant seeds. Soil should be rich in nutrients and well drained. Choose a location in the house that gets 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day. Eggplants are sensitive to sunburn, so they should be planted accordingly. Follow the directions of your seed packet to get the best results.

To keep soil warm, cover the soil with 1 to 2 inches of mulch after planting. You can also use clear plastic mulch for eggplant plants to reflect sunlight. Eggplant seeds will not germinate well in cold soil. Make sure the soil temperature is at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Eggplant seeds may take 4 weeks for germination. Eggplant seeds will easily rot so plant them just below the surface of the soil. Generally, one eggplant plant is enough to fill your need.

Eggplant Care

Eggplants do best in full sun, with a temperature of around 70 degrees. They can thrive in greenhouses and in outdoor plantings. Eggplant plants are twining plants, meaning that they are sprawling plants that grow along the ground and upward, forming a bush, as opposed to growing into a tree.

Eggplant plants grow best in loamy soil. Plant the seeds directly into the soil at three to four weeks, keeping them moist. Allow the seeds to grow in place until the weather warms, about July.

Eggplant is grown to be harvested when the plant flowers. The fruit grows under the leaves and toward the center of the plant. Harvest the fruit when the skin is light for darker shades as purple, black, and even white. Sometimes the fruit is harvested and left to rot, with the effect of spreading the plant's seeds.

Eggplant plants can grow to be over eight feet tall. Pruning this plant when it starts to grow will help prevent or stop the plant from growing as tall. Start pruning your eggplant plant when it is about six months old. Prune the plant lightly a couple of times, then go back every week or two to trim a branch or leaf. Do not prune the leaves.

Spray your eggplant plants with a water hose. The leaves of the plant should be shiny and deep green.

Sun and Temperature

This attention grabbing vegetable is among the most versatile you can grow. These plants can be trained to grow in a variety of shapes with leaves that range from purple and deep burgundy to a glowing green and white.

Balconies and decks make the perfect place to start growing eggplants, along with containers that can be placed in the sun patio of any home.

Unlike many other crops, however, eggplant needs a warm climate to grow well. Unfortunately, you can’t place an eggplant outside if temperatures drop below 50 degrees F at night. You will need to move your plants inside during the cold months and start them inside early in the season.

Bugs and eggplants tend to go hand in hand. They need extremely warm and sunny weather to grow well. If you wait too long to pollinate, you might end up with little to no fruit. If you wait too long to harvest, you could end up with a worm infestation. For this reason, starting your crop early might be your best bet, just in case something goes wrong.

Water and Humidity

If you have chosen to grow eggplant indoors, as most people do, then it is highly important to monitor the moisture levels in the air. Eggplant loves humid environments, and the ideal humidity for eggplant growth is between 65 and 80 percent. To reach this level of humidity, you can start by keeping your garden bed moist to the touch by watering it twice daily. If the soil remains dry longer than one hour between waterings, it should be watered again until it has been replenished.

Another great way of reaching the humidity level of eggplant is by using a spray bottle filled with water and a mixture of water-retaining crystals. You want to spray the mist over the soil and wet it thoroughly.

Additionally, you will need to keep the temperature of the environment warm. Eggplant is one of the few plants that thrive easily in the summertime, and it is important that you keep the temperature in the garden raised above 75 degrees. One of the best ways to do this is by moving plants into the sun, if possible.

Soil

Eggplants may be a beautiful plant to have in your home, but it may not be the easiest to care for. You need to ensure that you have the right soil and growing environment if you are going to care for this plant properly.

Most eggplants require well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. You can tell the quality of your soil by its pH and texture. You need to make sure that you have the perfect growing environment for your eggplant and that can only be done by taking a few minutes to get to know your soil.

Test your soil to see if you need to add more compost or nutrients to it. Most eggplants require a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. You should never work with soil outside of this range because it could lead to issues with insects and disease.

Finally, eggplants are heavy feeders. You may need to fertilize your eggplant once a week. Make sure that you read the feeding instructions on the back of your fertilizer. It should tell you how much fertilizer you should use based on the size of your eggplant plant.

Move any mulch away from the base of your eggplant plant. Mulch can cause algae to grow on the stems and leaves of your plant. If you do not remove the mulch the eggplant may not grow properly.

Fertilizing

If you have never grown eggplant, you will be surprised by how prolific they are in return for the little bit of effort required to maintain eggplant plants.

Eggplant is not fussy about soil, but does like a well-drained, balanced soil with lots of organic material. Eggplant also loves nitrogen. In fact, eggplant loves a soil test high in nitrogen.

You can buy a soil 'recipe' mix from a nursery or a garden center. Most will have a few options for you. The premium eggplant soil mix will have blood meal, cottonseed meal, bone meal, and meat meal. You will want to use a higher percentage of the premium mix than you would a standard mix.

Organic eggplant growers love a product called Azomite. It is an all-natural mineral mined from deposits 400 million years old. It contains over 70 essential minerals, which are required for plant growth. Azomite will give your eggplant plants the healthy start they deserve.

When choosing a fertilizer, most gardeners remember the three numbers on the package. For example, 15-5-10 means this fertilizer package will provide 15 units of nitrogen, 5 units of phosphate and 10 units of potash per pound of the mix.

Pruning / Training

Pruning / Training Eggplant Plants:

If you are growing eggplant in containers, pruning the plant will help prevent the branches from breaking. Eggplants tend to get really heavy. Pruning the plant will help to limit the stress on the plant which will lead to higher yields. If you will be growing eggplant in a pot, prune the plant back when the plant reaches about 1 foot tall, then every two weeks following.

Eggplant will grow like a vine. Worry not, branches will grow from each leaf which will allow you to grow multiple stems.

Select stems that have more than one leaf. Cut off the main stem as close to the leaf as possible.

Trim the tops of the stems to allow the plant to focus on growing roots.

Place the eggplants on your windowsill in a sunny window. If you do not have a sunny window, the plants will grow well under florescent lights.

When you feel you have enough eggplants, you can start on your garden, growing eggplants in your garden will provide you with plenty to eat.

Garden eggplants need plenty of room to grow. They grow for about 6 inches, then turn around and start growing another eggplant. You can grow 6 to 8 plants, in a row, per garden bed.

Propagation

"Stem cuttings are an easy and healthy way to propagate eggplants. Look for a 6-inch stem with at least 2 nodes. The nodes are the little bumps at the bottom of the stem.

Taking a stem cutting is really easy. Using a sharp knife, cut the stem at one of the nodes. Make sure you have at least 3 to 5 inches of stem with just the tip of the cutting attached."

Place the cutting in a container filled with perlite or vermiculite, or even just water. Just make sure it is weed-free before you start.

Place the cutting in a glass of water under a fluorescent light or in a windowsill. Do not place it near a window, however, unless the sky is cloudy. Eggplants need partial shade to grow.

After a few weeks, you should start to see the top of the cutting start to sprout little leaves. That is a good sign that the cutting took.

Plant the cutting in moist potting soil once it has at least two sets of leaves on it. The rooting hormone you put on the cutting should be about the consistency of peanut butter. Simply brush a little onto the stem of the cutting and put it direct in planting soil and keep it moist.

Within a couple of weeks, you should see signs of growth in the soil. That is a sure sign the cutting took.

Harvesting and Storing

When you pick any eggplant fruit, you should inspect it before you slice it right away. You’ll want to peel the eggplant, being sure to inspect the flesh beneath the skin for any soft or mushy spots. Throughout their growing period, eggplants will bruise and crack easily. Those areas can be cut off by cutting around them. Once the skin is removed, cut the eggplant into pieces and store in a plastic bag. You’ll be able to store your cut eggplant up to a week in your refrigerator, provided the open bag is kept in the back of the fridge, away from other produce.

If you live in an area that is too warm for eggplants to continue growing outdoors, the best way to preserve eggplant once you’ve harvested it, is to freeze it. Eggplant freezes very well and can be added to soups or casseroles later in the year, when you want to have a special meal or just want a new flavor for a standard recipe.

Harvesting

To harvest eggplants, wait to harvest them when they are dark purple. If they are left on the vine to reach full maturity, they will be bitter and inedible. You can cut the stems with a knife or garden shears and shake the plant until the fruit falls to the ground, or you can cut the plants at the base and harvest them just like you would a cabbage.

Fill a bucket with cold water and and place the eggplants one at a time into the bucket. Agitate them gently for a few minutes to dislodge any eggplant cactus thorns that may have lodged in the fruit. Remove the fruit from the cold water and place them in a colander to dry before storing them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

To store eggplant cuttings, carefully trim the stems to 3 to 6 cm long. Place them in a glass of water until you can potted them in a 6- or 8-inch pot.

Storing

There are two primary ways to store and prepare raw eggplant. The most common method is to leave the eggplant whole and gently rinse it with cool water. Then set it aside, eliminating the use of produce bags. The other method is to slice the eggplant before storing it. To do this, you should cut it into 1–2–inch rounds, and then turn the rounds on their sides and slice them vertically to form quarter-inch thick rounds.

Each of these methods has its own distinct benefits and advantages. The first method is best for those who wish to have their eggplant in an intact state, since sitting unceremoniously in a colander tends to drain some of the produce's liquid. This can lead to the eggplant being mealy when cooked. The second method, however, is best for seasoning and marinating eggplant, since the plant can absorb more of the salt and seasonings that will help it to taste delicious. If you choose this second method, make sure that you gently pat the slices dry with a clean dish towel to ensure that they don’t get soggy.

Troubleshooting

There are several things that you should be aware of when growing eggplants. Read below to learn about the two most common problems people run into when growing eggplant.

Pests can be a real issue when growing eggplant. One of the biggest pests that people encounter when growing eggplants is the spotted tiger moth caterpillar. These caterpillars are soft blue color with the spots of yellow and black in a diagonal pattern. The larval stage is a bit larger and black in color with yellow or blue spots. Both stages prefer to feed on the leaves of eggplant plants so it’s important to have that in mind. While it’s possible to hand-pick the eggs(moth eggs are small in size), you should know that hand-picking any pest is never a good idea. You can risk spreading the eggs to other plants in your garden and doing this will only help the pest locate your plants. A better alternative is to apply a general purpose organic insecticide like neem oil to your plants. This will control both the caterpillars and the eggs.

Growing Problems

  • Cool weatherleaves plants small and bitter.
  • Too much nitrogen causes plants to send energy to the leaves and fruit, rather than the root system.
  • Too much water will cause the plant’s growth to suffer, and the plant will produce very little.
  • Growing Conditions

A garden spot is preferable; eggplants are sensitive to the cold.

Growing, five to six weeks after the spring equinox, eggplants do not appreciate hot weather.

Apply mulch layer of straw or compost to control weeds and conserve moisture.

Plant Nutrition

Feed eggplants with a water-soluble fertilizer such as 20-20-20, every four weeks from flowering until maturity.

Pests

Enjoy eggplants even if you battle with bugs. Spray plants with insecticide in the morning to avoid harming bees.

Lace Bugs

Lace bug eggs can be found on the top of the leaves inside a sticky web.

Scales

Scales hide under leaves where they suck the juice out of the stems, causing rapid demise of the plant.

Spider Mites

Eggplants become unproductive plants quickly when injured by mites.

Pests

One of the biggest fears of most new gardeners is dealing with pests. The fear makes sense – bugs, beetles, leaves mites, and the ever-present aphids, can really put a damper on your produce. But getting rid of some of these pests is super simple, with just a few common, non-toxic items at home.

There are a number of pest eaters out there that will devour your pest problems for you. Of course, you'll want to investigate what they're specifically attracted to, so that you can make sure they don't go after the good insects as well. Ladybugs are one of the most well-known and best at what they do pesticides. They're so effective that you can purchase them already in mature adult form. If you're really worried about what to start the bug colony in, pick up some cheap plastic containers at the dollar store, and just fill them up with whatever you've got in the kitchen.

Diseases

Eggplant is not a problem-free crop. It is susceptible to a number of diseases and pests. Diseases and pests are difficult to manage and can quickly destroy a crop. With all the work that grows into the season, caring for your plants properly is important. To keep your eggplants healthy, cultivate disease resistant varieties. Proper sanitation is also important in eggplant. It is important to keep eggplant free of weeds, and to properly protect your crop.

The following are some of the most common eggplant disease and pests:

  • Eggplant fruit and shoot borer- This is a moth introduced to protect fruit from eggplant fruit and shot borer, but it has become a common pest in the US. They bore into the fruit and the leaves, feeding on the stems, making the plants look stunted and disheveled.
  • Alternaria Leaf Spot- A fungal disease, Alternaria Leaf Spot causes black spots to develop on leaves.
  • Pod and Stem Blight- A bacterial disease that causes dark spots on the stems and wrinkled black or brown colored swollen and soggy pods.
  • Bacterial Canker- An important disease for organic eggplant growers. This bacterium is responsible for the disease of fruit and in some cases causes cankers on plants.
  • Verticillium wilt- A fungal disease that causes lesions and eventually death.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Do Eggplant Seeds Take To Germinate?

As with most vegetable seeds, the germination rate is influenced by a number of factors including soil temperature and if there are any diseases present. Typically, it takes about 21 days for the eggplant seeds to germinate although seedlings will not sprout until they are 4 to 6 weeks old.

To increase your odds of germination, you will need to use high-quality seeds and a good growing medium. Eggplants can grow in either containers of the garden however, many eggplant gardeners agree that the seeds grow significantly bigger when sown in the garden.

How to Grow Eggplant from Seed

Eggplant seeds need a starting temperature of 68 degrees. Eggplants are warm weather plants and must be kept warm if the seeds are to germinate.

You can start the seeds indoors if you live in a cooler climate and keep the temperature consistently warm.

Eggplant seeds germinate best in a light potting mix that drains well.

Once the seeds have sprouted, move the eggplant seedlings into larger containers so they have room to grow. Eggplant plants grow best in rich, fertile soil that is high in organic matter.

If you will be growing your eggplant plant in a garden bed or container, you must first add the organic matter to the soil before you plant your seeds.