Also known as an aubergine or brinjal, eggplants are a warm-weather vegetable that is harvested in mid to late summer, and taste best when harvested young. Eggplants do require relatively high temperatures, similar to tomatoes and peppers. They grow fastest when temperatures are between 70°F and 85°F—and very slowly during cooler weather. Not unlike tomatoes and peppers, eggplants develop and hang from the branches of a plant that can grow several feet in height. Though known for their illustrious dark purple color, they can also be black, green, pink, white, or variegated purple-white.
Planting and Growing Information:
Given they need warm soil, eggplants are commonly purchased as 6 to 8-week-old transplants (or started indoors about two months in advance) to give them a head start. Be sure to plant eggplant in a location that receives full sun—6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day—for the best results. Eggplant grows best in a well-drained sandy loam or loam soil that’s fairly high in organic matter. The soil pH should be slightly acidic to neutral (5.8 and 6.5) for best growth. Raised beds, which warm quicker than ground soil, are ideal for growing eggplant. Should you be growing eggplant in pots, use a dark-colored container that will absorb more sunlight. Put one plant per 5-gallon (or larger) pot in full sun, and outdoors so it can be pollinated. To avoid disease, use a premium potting mix.
Begin seeds indoors in flats or peat pots 6 to 8 weeks prior to the last spring frost date. Seeds germinate quickly at temperatures between 70° to 90°F. Alternatively, purchase 6 to 8-week-old nursery transplants just before planting. Remember to not plant eggplant transplants into the garden until after the last threat of frost. Start seeds indoors and sow them ¼ of an inch deep in flats or peat pots. After risk of the last spring frost has passed and daytime temperatures are 70° to 75°F (60° to 75°F at night), set seedlings in holes 24 to 40 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart. Be sure to use a covering of black plastic mulch to warm soil before setting out transplants if soil temperatures aren’t high enough yet. Right after planting (in ground or pot), set 24-inch-high stakes 1 to 2 inches from each plant, or use cages to provide support and avoid disturbing the soil or roots later. Eggplant will fall over when laden with fruit. After planting, water well. Add a layer of mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds. In colder climates, consider using row covers to keep the young eggplants warm and sheltered. Open the ends of the row covers on warm days so that bees may pollinate the eggplants’ flowers.
Eggplant will fall over once loaded with fruit. Make sure to stake tall plants or use a cage to keep the plants upright. If you’re growing eggplant in containers, stake the stems before the fruit forms. Make sure to water well to moisten the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches to ensure the soil is moist but never soggy. It’s best to consistently water, and a soaker hose or drip system at ground level is ideal. The crucial period for moisture is during fruit set and fruit development. Strangely shaped eggplants as a result of inconsistent and inadequate watering. Mulching can provide uniform moisture, conserve water, and reduce weeds.
The ideal growing place for eggplants is in raised beds with composted manure as the soil warms quicker. To improve fertility, mix 1 inch of well-rotted manure, compost, 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, or apply 1¼ pounds of 5-10-5 per 10 feet of row when the row spacing is 4 feet. During the growth period, apply a balanced fertilizer every 2 weeks or so.
Depending on the variety, harvest eggplant 65 to 80 days after transplanting. When starting from seed, expect 100 to 120 days to maturity. July, August, and September (even into October) are all harvest months for eggplant, depending on where you live and the variety you planted. Eggplant tastes best when harvested young, and then the plant’s energy goes into producing new fruit. If you harvest early and often, the plant will be quite prolific. Once ready, be sure to check on the eggplants every 2 to 3 days.
Fruits can taste bitter when underripe or overripe. The skin of the fruit should appear glossy and unwrinkled and have a uniform color. Seeds should be soft but formed if you cut the eggplant open. It will taste bitter if the skin appears faded and the seeds inside are dark and hard. Japanese eggplant will be ready to harvest when it’s the size of a finger or hot dog. When harvesting, make sure to not pull the fruit (it won’t come off). Given the stem is tough, cut the fruit off with a sharp knife close to the stem above the green cap (calyx) on the top and leave about an inch of it attached.