Known for its vibrant purple exterior and meaty interior, eggplant is wonderful to eat but is not the most common crop for a backyard gardener. However, with the right know-how, you can definitely try your hand at this colorful fruit.
When to plant eggplant: Eggplants have a very long growing season between 100 and 120 days. They also need a lot of warmth. If you have hot but short summers, you will need to start your seeds indoors before transplanting outside after the threat of frost is over. For most climates, wait until May, when the soil temperature is warm enough, to plant your seedlings. Make sure the soil is full of nutrients and keep it moist for the best, most consistent results.
Planting Eggplant in Different Climates
Eggplants are native to south Asia and thrive in a tropical climate. They love the heat and actually grow like a perennial when they don’t have to worry about cold winters.
Eggplants need soil that has plenty of moisture. A dry climate won’t be able to support these plants unless extra water is used on a daily basis.
A temperate climate should be able to support eggplants. Just make sure the summer temperatures are hot enough.
The hot summers of a continental climate are ideal for eggplant. You will want to start your seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before the last frost date as eggplant has such a long growing season.
Unfortunately, a polar climate won’t be able to support eggplant.
Choosing Eggplant Seeds
This variety is what we typically think when it comes to eggplant. Also known as American eggplant, it is large, big, and full of a meaty texture.
Slightly smaller in size, this variety still resembles the traditional Globe eggplant most of us are familiar with. The texture is the same but the taste can be a bit sweeter.
Even though we typically associate the color purple with eggplant, you can find other colors, including white. This variety tastes almost the same as your standard eggplant.
Even though it has a lighter purple color and a slimmer design, this variety still looks like what how you would picture an eggplant. The slim shape of this variety is great for slicing and stir-fries.
How to Plant Eggplant Seeds
Perennial vs Annual
Technically, eggplants are perennial plants, meaning if left alone they will continue to grow each year. However, because they are used to tropical climates, most gardeners in North America need to treat them as annuals and plant new crops each year.
Eggplants are native to South Asia and will even grow in the wild there. They prefer warm climates, so you need to ensure the area you live in has the proper temperatures before planting.
While eggplants can grow in more mild temperatures, they will be very slow. However, if you have temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, then the rate of growth will increase rapidly.
Start with transplants
When you first decide to grow eggplants, you need to do a bit of preparation. These plants like warm soil so you won’t be able to simply plant the seeds directly in your garden.
Instead, it is best to start the seeds indoors and then transplant them when they are ready. Plant the seeds two months before you plan to put them in the ground. Alternately, you can also simply purchase seedlings for your garden.
As we mentioned earlier, eggplants need warm soil so you definitely want to wait until all threat of frost is gone. You may even want to wait a bit longer, just to give the area a chance to warm up.
Make sure the soil you are using is full of nutrients. Add aged manure or compost to your soil and give it a good mix.
If you want to get started with your eggplants but are worried about the soil temperature, you can always use raised beds as they will have more warmth to them.
You can also measure your soil to test its pH level. Eggplant prefers soil in the 5.8 to 6.5 pH range.
In case you haven’t realized it yet, eggplants love the heat. It, therefore, makes sense that they need plenty of sun.
Always plant them in an area that gets at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day.
You can definitely grow eggplants in containers as the raised soil is ideal. Purchase containers that are dark in color so that they absorb the heat from the sun.
If you decide to purchase seedlings for your garden, be sure to inspect them first. You don’t want weak plants when starting out.
Look for eggplant seedlings that have sturdy stems and ideally, do not have blossoms. If your seedlings already have blossoms, it means the plants will force energy to this part instead of using their energy to establish themselves in the garden.
Eggplants can grow to be quite large and the plants need plenty of support. Even before they really start to grow, you should place stakes in the ground near each plant.
Getting these ready early means you don’t have to risk damaging the plant as you maneuver them. Without steaks, the heavy fruit on a plant can cause the whole thing to topple over.
Add companion plants
Companion planting is a great habit to get into with gardening. When you’re planning your garden, you can place beans, peas, peppers, and marigolds near your eggplants.
These all have the same growing needs as eggplants and you can be on the lookout for the same types of pests.
How to Water Eggplant
Eggplants are native to tropical climates so they require moist soil that also drains well.
When watering, you want to make sure the water really penetrates deep into the ground, to a level of about six inches. To help make this happen, aim to water with a slow but steady focus.
If you have drip irrigation, this is the best way to keep the soil nice and moist.
When your eggplants start to bear their fruit, you want to make sure you have a consistent watering schedule. Otherwise, your eggplants can actually grow to be misshapen.
How to Grow Eggplant
Adding a layer of bark mulch is really important with eggplants. If you can, use a dark-colored mulch as this will better trap in the heat from the sun.
Mulch will retain moisture in the soil and will also stop a lot of weeds from popping up.
If you live in a colder climate but still want to plant eggplants, you can use a row cover at the beginning after planting. This will insulate the plants during the later spring and give them a chance to grow in the summer.
Aim to fertilize your eggplants every two weeks. You can use a 5-10-5 fertilizer and add it to the ground around your plants before watering well to allow it to penetrate the soil.
Restrict the number of fruit
If your goal is to have large eggplant fruit, then you will need to restrict the number that grows on a single plant. Ideally, keep it to a maximum of five or six.
When your eggplant starts to bloom, simply pinch off a few of the blooms. This will restrict the growth and allow the plant to focus more energy on just a few pieces of fruit.
Watch for diseases and pests
While eggplants aren’t overly susceptible to disease and pests, there are a few to watch out for.
Early blight is a fungus and can result in leaves that have dark spots with yellow rings. Be sure to destroy any infected plants and improve the air circulation between others.
Flea beetles are a common pest when it comes to eggplants. They will create multiple tiny holes in the leaves. If this happens, add row covers to deter them.
Another fungus to look out for is powdery mildew. This is a common occurrence in backyard gardens and is a result of overwatering on leaves. Get rid of any infected leaves and increase the air circulation for other plants.
How long does eggplant take to grow?
If you start from seed, eggplants can take between 100 and 120 days to mature, which is very long. This long growing period will only work if you have long, warm summers.
This growing period won’t work for most gardeners which is why you will most likely need to start your seeds indoors. If you purchase seedlings to plant in your garden, you can expect them to take between 70 and 80 days to mature.
Eggplants have bold colors and are packed with a meaty texture that is nutrient-dense. Growing eggplants takes a lot of time and warmth so if your climate meets these requirements, this can be a fun crop to try.