Gardeners in warm regions rejoice! Although fussy to grow in cooler areas, eggplant thrives in warm weather. Learn how to grow eggplant, and add this beautiful fruit (yes, eggplant is a fruit) to your garden and table.
How to grow eggplant: 8 tips for growing eggplant
1. Choose the best location for growing eggplant
Eggplant prefers a sunny location with well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter.
It’s important to rotate where you plant eggplant and other members of the nightshade family (such as potatoes and tomatoes) to help prevent and avoid soilborne pests and diseases. Wait at least 2 years between plantings of the nightshade family.
If pest or disease has been an issue in the past, try growing eggplant in containers instead. Eggplant does well when grown in large containers.
2. Choose an eggplant type suited to your needs
Eggplant varieties differ in size, shape, color, and maturation time.
- Globe eggplants are traditional large purple or white oval fruits. They produce best in warmer climates.
- Japanese eggplants have long slender fruits that mature quickly; a good choice for cooler areas.
- Small fruited eggplants (such as Indian and Fairytale) are more compact and are perfect for small spaces or containers.
3. Start eggplant indoors or purchase transplants
Eggplant does best when planted outdoors from transplants rather than seeds. Start seeds for eggplant indoors 6 – 8 weeks before the last spring frost. Seeds sprout in 7 -14 days. Eggplant seeds last up to 4 years. Eggplant seeds are available on Seedsnow.com.
4. How to grow eggplant? Plant eggplant at the correct time
Eggplant prefers warm weather so don’t plant it before temperatures have warmed in the spring. Transplant eggplant seedlings into the garden when the soil is at least 70℉ (the best way to check your soil temperature is with a soil thermometer), with daytime temperatures at or above 70℉ and nighttime temperatures above 50℉.
In the low desert of Arizona:
- Start seeds indoors: December 15 – January and May 1 – June
- Plant transplants outside: March and July 15 – August 15
Space plants 18 – 24 inches apart. If using square foot gardening, allow 2-3 square feet for each plant.
5. Care for the plants throughout the season
- Give eggplant a steady supply of moisture, but do not let the soil get soggy. If eggplant isn’t watered enough, the fruit will be small and bitter.
- Eggplant also needs food to produce well. Feed the plant at least once a month with fish emulsion or compost tea.
- Eggplant is self-fertile but benefits from pollination from bees.
- Remove withered leaves, and stake or trellis plants as needed.
6. How to grow eggplant? Be on the lookout for pests
Flea beetles, aphids, and potato beetles are common pests of eggplant. Use row covers to deter them until plants are large enough to withstand a little damage. If pests are persistent, leave row covers in place through harvest time.
7. Harvest eggplant at the right time
Small fruits have the best taste, and frequent harvesting encourages more production. Eggplant stems are brittle. To harvest, clip fruit with some stem attached.
Not Ready to Harvest
Ready to Harvest
No thumb imprint visible when pressed
Thumb imprint disappears
Thumb imprint remains
Bright, shiny skin; firm and heavy for size
Can be harvested when at least half the size of mature fruit
Soft, wrinkled, brown spots
Tender; best taste; small seeds
Large seeds; bitter; tough skin
8. Don’t let eggplant harvests go to waste
Eggplant does not freeze or can well. It’s best to use eggplant within a day or two of harvest. Do not store eggplant in the fridge, but in a cool, moist well-ventilated area.
Naturally low in calories but high in fiber, eggplant can be grilled, fried, breaded, roasted, stewed, or sauteed. Eggplant is also an excellent meat substitute and an essential element in Italian cooking. There are several dishes where eggplant is the star – think eggplant parmesan or baba ghanoush. Try adding this versatile fruit to favorite recipes or adding it to omelets or as a pizza topping.