Be vigilant when growing eggplant.
Eggplant is a cold-sensitive vegetable that requires a long warm season for best yields. The culture of eggplant is similar to that of bell pepper, with transplants being set in the garden after all danger of frost is passed. Eggplants are slightly larger plants than peppers and are spaced slightly farther apart. Eggplant requires careful attention for a good harvest. Small-fruited, exotic-colored and ornamental varieties can be grown in containers and used for decorations.
When to Plant
Eggplant is best started from transplants. Select plants in cell packs or individual containers. It is important to get the plants off to a proper start. Do not plant too early. Transplant after the soil has warmed and the danger of frost has passed. Eggplants are more susceptible than tomato plants to injury from low temperatures and do not grow until temperatures warm. Ideally, plant out when nighttime temperatures reliably stay above 50 degrees.
Spacing & Depth
- Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row, or even closer for small-fruited types.
- Three to six plants are usually sufficient for most families unless eggplant is a favorite vegetable, eaten often.
- Allow 30 to 36 inches between rows or space plants 24 inches apart in all directions in raised beds.
Use starter fertilizer for transplanting. Side-dress nitrogen fertilizer when the plants are half grown and again immediately after harvest of the first fruits. Given sufficient moisture and fertility, eggplant thrives in the heat of summer. The plants tolerate dry weather after they are well established but should be irrigated during extended dry periods for continued peak production.
Common Problems Growing Eggplant
Verticillium wilt causes yellowing, wilting and death of the plants.
Flea beetles cause tiny holes in the leaves. Damage can be severe, especially on young plants, if unchecked. These beetles can be controlled by applying an insecticide or using floating row covers early in the season when plants are most vulnerable.
Harvest the fruits when they are 6 to 8 inches long and still glossy. Use a knife or pruning shears rather than breaking or twisting the stems. Many eggplant varieties have small prickly thorns on the stem and calyx, so exercise caution or wear gloves when harvesting. Leave the large (usually green) calyx attached to the fruit.
When the fruits become dull or brown, they are too mature for culinary use and should be cut off and discarded. Over-mature fruits are spongy and seedy and may be bitter. Even properly harvested fruits do not store well and should be eaten soon after they are harvested. Large, vigorous plants can yield as many as four to six fruits at the peak of the season.
Selection and Storage
Harvest eggplants when they are young. Size is not always an indication of maturity. To test, hold the eggplant in your palm and gently press it with your thumb. If the flesh presses in but bounces back, it is ready for harvesting. If the flesh is hard and does not give, the eggplant is immature and too young to harvest. If the thumb indentation remains, the eggplant to over mature and may be completely brown inside and bitter with large tough seeds.
There is long-standing controversy about male and female eggplants. Eggplants have a dimple at the blossom end. The dimple can be very round or oval in shape. The round ones seem to have more seeds and tend to be less meaty, so select the oval dimpled eggplant.
Eggplants bruise easily so harvest gently. Always cut the eggplant with the cap and some of the stem attached. Eggplants do not like cool temperatures so they do not store well. Harvest and use them immediately for best flavor. If you must store them, wrap them in plastic or use plastic and store them for 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator. Be careful as it will soon develop soft brown spots and become bitter. Use them while the stem and cap are still greenish and rather fresh-looking.
Questions and Answers Growing Eggplant
Q. I planted my eggplants early, but they did not grow very well.
A. They probably were planted while the soil was too cold. It is better to hold the plants (but keep them growing) until the soil warms. If necessary, repot into larger containers to maintain vigor. Mulching with black plastic film can help warm the soil,, especially in northern areas. Floating row covers can help with cool, early seasons as well as bar harmful insects from succulent young plants.
Preparing Egglant for Exhibition
Extension specialist Jim Schmidt demonstrates how to properly prepare eggplant for exhibition.
- How to tell if eggplant is fresh
- Tips for exhibiting produce