How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Eggplants

Seeds | Plant | Grow | Harvest | Pests | Conclusion

There are innumerable varieties of eggplants, all with their own distinct shape, color, texture and even taste. Eggplants are related to the tomato, botanically speaking, so some degree of experience with growing tomato plants will help produce fine eggplants.

Eggplants are tall and have soft hairy leaves that are almost gray in color. While they do not look like tomato plants, they can grow just as tall if not taller than even the very largest tomato varieties.

Choosing Seeds

The beauty of the internet is that gardeners are no longer limited to a basic selection of seeds to be used in the garden. While traditional eggplant varieties can be delicious and rewarding, experimenting with the wealth of varieties available from around the world adds excitement, as well as new colors and flavors. Mixing colors in the garden is a fun way to enjoy the growing experience and will lead to a richer harvest.

Most seed companies will provide hardiness zone based guidelines that detail where and when the variety of eggplant can thrive. Generally speaking, the warmer the region the better they grow, but with care eggplants can grow in any temperate climate.

Planting Eggplants

It is generally best to start eggplants indoors. While seeds can be planted directly into the soil, failure rates are likely to be high due to insects and cool ground temperatures that can prevent germanation until late in the season, making it questionable as to whether there will be a crop.

For starts planted indoors, plant seeds in rich potting soil without extra fertilizer four to six weeks before the last frost. Typical germination for eggplant seeds is one to two-weeks, but some do take longer, depending on the type of seeds and climate conditions. Make sure that containers are in the sunniest location possible as they require full sun throughout their lives.

Wait until seedlings are about 6 inches high to transplant outdoors. The general rule of thumb is to wait about 8 weeks before putting them outside. At this part of the growing process, do not fertilize or feed the plant. An initial rich potting medium should be sufficient until the time for transplanting.

At the seedling stage, make sure not to overwater. As a rule of thumb wet only the top layer of soil. Nothing can damage a young eggplant like too much water. When the weather has moderated to the point where frosts are no longer likely, harden the plants off by leaving them out of doors for longer and longer periods over a week's time prior to transplanting them to their new home outdoors. Make sure the spot dedicated to eggplants affords full sun. Eggplants favor warm temperatures.

Growing Eggplants

Eggplants are hungry plants, requiring frequent attention. The best type of soil is that which is naturally soft and rich, of course, but still make sure you regularly add well-composted manure if you have it, as the plant begins its life. Just as you can over-water an eggplant, you can also easily over-fertilize. Stick with a light organic mix or simple composted manure. Keep the soil moist until the blooms come around but never, never too wet.

Harvesting Eggplants

Eggplants taste best when they are of a moderate size. It can be tempting to watch them grow to see how big they will get, but for the best possible texture and flavor snip them carefully away from the plant at the stem when the season is about two-thirds complete. This can be hard to determine. So a good rule of thumb is to watch the “gloss factor” as they near age. The moment a young eggplant starts to look even a little glossy, it is time to pluck it.

Make certain when an eggplant is cut from the vine to use a very sharp knife or pruning shears as the plant can be damaged quite easily. Waiting too long to harvest makes the plants heavier and more bitter. There will also be a lot more seeds.

It’s Not Just People Who Love Eggplants

Eggplants are prone to invasion from critters of all shapes and sizes. They are vulnerable in particular to caterpillars — something about those hairy leaves and rich fruits brings them out in droves. While it is best to avoid spraying eggplants with poisons, a good way to keep the mites and caterpillars as well as other eggplant-loving nasties like aphids away is to use natural pest controls like an herbal insect spray. This is a chemical-free, non-poisonous way to make the fruits utterly unappealing to insects and yet allows people to remain safe while enjoying the fruits of your labor.

A frequent problem for eggplants is root rot. Root rot is cause by overwatering - so again, make sure they are planted in full sun and have enough water to wet the top layer of soil. These will also help prevent leaf spot as well.

Enjoying the Fruits of Labor

Eggplants are not difficult to plant, grow, or harvest, but they do take some vigilance. Pay close attention to rainfall to determine how much (if at all) to water them, remembering that these are drought-resistant plants. While they might not be able to stave off a dry spell quite like a cactus or an aloe plant, they can make do without water for a time if necessary. Make it a goal to keep the very top layer of the soil moist and there will be beautiful plants at the end of the growing season.

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