Growing Eggplant

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Ichiban eggplant harvested with tomatoes and zinnia flowers

During the peak summer season, you’ll harvest several eggplants a week.

Eggplant a must if you’re a fan of outdoor grilling! These stately plants make grow well and look beautiful in containers, ornamental borders, raised beds, and traditional in-ground gardens. Small-fruited eggplant varieties tend to be especially heavy bearers, and you can expect to pick a dozen or more from each Ichiban plant over the summer in warm climates. Larger varieties like Black Beauty and White, which bear more traditional-sized fruits, are equally impressive whether in the garden or kitchen, where they can be stuffed, grilled, or combined with summer herbs and tomatoes in homemade eggplant parmesan.

Soil, Planting, and Care

White eggplant on the plant in garden

White eggplant is a nice, mild-tasting surprise for some gardeners and eaters. Like dark-colored eggplant, the white fruits should be glossy when ready to harvest

Eggplant loves warmth and grows best in very sunny, well-drained locations. Raised beds that have been generously enriched with composted manure are ideal, but any fertile soil with a pH from 6.3 to 6.8 will satisfy the plants. Although eggplant’s coarse, leathery leaves withstand hot weather in champion style, provide a generous mulch of hay, shredded leaves, or other biodegradable material beneath your eggplants to keep the soil relatively cool and to hold moisture and keep down weeds. Because eggplant really needs warm soil to grow well, gardeners in cool climates often do best growing the plants in large, dark-colored containers. On a sunny day, soil temperatures inside black pots may be 10 degrees or more higher than in-ground soil temperatures. Row covers are also a good option in cool climates, or even to protect plants from cool spells in warm climates. Open the ends of the row covers on warm days to let the bees reach the flowers for help with pollination.

Eggplants grow into tall, angular plants, so they should be spaced 24 to 36 inches apart. Fertilize planting holes by mixing in a balanced timed-release or organic fertilizer, following the rates given on the label. At the same time, mix in 2 inches of compost to help hold moisture and fertilizer in the soil. Set plants at the same depth at which they are growing in their containers, and water well before spreading mulch. To keep plants healthy and well fed, give them a liquid plant food, such as Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food, every couple weeks.

In the case of a late cold spell, you may need to delay planting eggplant seedlings until cool weather passes. Should this happen, keep the plants in a sheltered, sunny spot outdoors during the day, and bring them indoors at night.

Be sure to keep plants watered or they will be small and bitter. They need a nice, steady supply of moisture but not so much that the soil is soggy. Drip systems or a soaker hose are ideal.

Eggplants are prone to falling over when loaded with fruit, so you may want to tie plants to stakes to keep them upright. If you drive a stake into the ground just an inch or two from the plant at the time of planting, you won’t disturb the plant by trying to do it later. You can also use small tomato cages to support the plants.

Troubleshooting

Eggplant plants are large and grow well in containers. Stake the stems to support heavy fruit

Eggplants grow into large, stately plants that need plenty of elbow room. In containers, plant one per 18 to 24 inch container. Before fruits form, stake the stems to provide extra late-season support.

The tiny, black flea beetle is by far the worst pest of eggplant, but big, healthy plants usually produce well despite tiny leaf holes made by lots of flea beetles. In some areas, a common soil-borne fungus, verticillium wilt, causes eggplants to wilt and die. Where verticillium is a common problem with non-resistant tomatoes (they are close eggplant cousins), grow eggplants in containers filled with premium potting mix.

Harvest and Storage

Large eggplant cut in half to show the seeds inside. Small seeds mean the eggplant is less bitter.

Eggplant harvested at the right time will have hard flesh and small seeds. If fruit is over-mature, the seeds will be large and tough and taste bitter.

Eggplant fruits can taste bitter if picked when underripe or overripe, so harvesting is part of the eggplant grower’s art. A perfect fruit will stop growing larger, have a glossy skin, and show a sprinkling of soft, well-formed yet immature seeds when you slice it open. Fruits with no visible seeds are immature, and hard, dark seeds are found in overripe eggplants. Use pruning shears to harvest eggplant with a short stub of stem attached, because the fruits will not pull free by hand. Rinse clean, pat dry, and store in the refrigerator for several days. Eggplant discolors rapidly when cut open, so work quickly when preparing slices or skewers for grilling. Marinades that include salt, vinegar, and/or lemon juice will keep cut pieces of eggplant from darkening.

Download our How to Grow Eggplant instructions. They are in .PDF format.

FAQs

Where should I plant my eggplant?

This plant despises cold, wet weather. It grows best in warm or hot weather and a very sunny garden. In cool mountain climates, you may need a greenhouse. Some varieties, like Ichiban, do exceptionally well in containers.

Does eggplant grow upright or is it supposed to fall into a vine and grow on the ground?

Eggplant grows upright on a shrubby plant, but the fruit can get so heavy that it pulls the plant down. Use a plant stake or cage to hold the plants upright.

Can Ichiban eggplant be grown in a container?

It is great for a container. Plant each eggplant in a five-gallon or larger pot in full sun.

Does my container-grown eggplant need to be outdoors for pollination?

Yes, it needs to be outdoors for bright sunlight and because bees are needed for good pollination.

What causes eggplant fruit to become distorted and strangely colored?

Very high temperatures and low moisture give rise to poor-quality, misshapen fruits. Eggplants fade in color when they over-ripened. Avoid both scenarios by watering regularly and harvesting fruit early.

How do I know when to harvest my eggplant?

Eggplants are ripe when their skin first fails to rebound to fingernail pressure.

140 thoughts on “Growing Eggplant

  1. We have had our eggplant for 2 years. Last year we had 2 nice medium sized eggplants that were delicious. This year we have probably 20 eggplants growing, but they are greenish yellow and have never gotten the purple color like we had last year. What is happening?

    • Hi Fred,
      Lucky you! – Eggplant does not overwinter where I garden. Yellowish fruit is often a sign of stress on the plant. Commonly this would be high temperatures, poor fertility, and even watering issues. Has the plant been fertilized well prior to flowering? – danielle, Bonnie Plants

      • We think we fertilized it adequately. We even have more blossoms coming on it now as well. Will this fruit eventually ripen? Will it change in color? We have tomato supports on it as it was being weighted down by all the fruits. Should we pick some off to take the stress off the plant?

        • Hi Fred,
          You can take some off to reduce the fruit load. Yellowing eggplants do not typically turn to the purple varietal color, but purple fruited eggplant will turn yellow once it is past its prime. If all of the eggplant are yellow, I would try one…usually they are bitter in flavor. If it is, remove them all and let the plant recoup.

  2. Is it ok to plant 2 yellow squash together in a very large patio pot? Thanks

    • I’m sorry, I forgot this was an eggplant page when I asked about the yellow squash.

    • Hi Peggy,
      You can plant multiples in the same container, no problem. Just remember squash plants get huge. Usually a 24 inch pot is recommended for one, but you get a pot 1 1/2 times that size and plant both. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

  3. Hello! I bought some ichiban eggplants a few weeks back and am trying them for the first time. It dropped into the low 40′s high 30′s unexpectedly here in Oklahoma and since then one of my plants has a blue/purple tint to the end of its leaves and now it is starting to slightly brown on the tip. Should I expect a low yield since it got so cold and is the discoloration caused by too much water? Any help would be great!

    • Hi Anthony,
      Eggplant is a warm season veggie and grows well in warm soils. So it could very well have frost or freeze damage if it was uncovered. Look for the new growth on the eggplant to come out healthy. Too much water can also cause leaf discolorations and even tip burn, but I bet the cold weather is to blame. Make sure the eggplant is planted in a well draining soil and follow these watering tips. – danielle, Bonnie Plants

  4. I live in upstate NY where I don’t have a yard. I was wondering if I made a raised flower bed and got a grow lamp if the eggplants would grow?

    • Hi Jamie,
      I am not sure I understand…are you making the riased flower bed outside or inside? If outside, just make sure it will receive 6 – 8 hours of full morning sun per day. If you are growing inside, it may be more tricky. Here are some tips on indoor veggie gardening from Virginia Cooperative Extension. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

  5. Hi,

    I was was wondering how much sun the ichiban eggplant needs to grow. I plan on planting mine in a raised container on my deck. It gets about about 8 or 9 hours of sun per day. Is that enough?

    • Hello Chris,
      The full sun will make your eggplant very happy! -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  6. Regarding eggplant, if you don’t see any bees around, you won’t get any eggplant. I always hand pollinate the flowers using a small sable makeup brush. After hand pollinating, the flower will die, but you’ll see the eggplant peeking out from it.

  7. Hi. A couple of weeks ago I bought a couple of Ichiban Japanese eggplant plants at Home Depot. Now that they seem to be healthy and growing I am noticing some differences in the plants. One has deep purple stems and veins and the other does not. The leaves seem to be shaped differently as well. The one with purple veins have rounded leaves while the other one have a more jagged shape, as well as having what feels like tiny spikes poking out of its veins. When I bought them, I picked them from different flats and I noticed that on the plastic labels, one says just “Ichiban” in the first line of the label and the other says “Ichiban Egg”. Are these both Ichiban eggplants or was one of them mis-labeled?
    Also I know the eggplant likes warm weather but I live in Arizona where it can reach 110+ degrees on some days. Since I have these planted in large containers I can move them to shade if need be. Would you recommend moving them to shadier locations when it gets really hot? And what temperature would you consider really hot?

    • Hi Jong,
      I would consider over 75 degrees at night and 90 during the day a little hot for some veggies like eggplant and tomato. They may drop blossoms at that temperature. These plants still need the sun to produce…morning sun and afternoon shade would help as would a shadecloth. I would love to help you with your eggplant. It may be easier if you could upload a good picture of each plant…you can do this through the Ask an Expert page or on Bonnie Plants facebook page! – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

      • Thanks for the info. This is my first year in AZ but I understand that sometimes it does not get below the 80′s at night. Once the temperatures start going above 90 regularly I’ll move them to an area that only gets morning sun.

        As for the differences in the Eggplants, I noticed you list 6 different types but not all the pictures have good shots of the leaves so I did a Google search for pictures of each of your eggplant varieties. I’m pretty sure the plant with purple veins is an Ichiban, but the other looks to be a Gretel mini white eggplant. I got a much better picture of this plant at lehighvalleyepicurus.wordpress.com and the leaves look similar.

        I actually bought the Ichibans for my Mom since she can’t readily find Japanese eggplant – whenever the supermarkets advertise them she says they are not genuine Japanese eggplant. She lives in a condo and doesn’t have a backyard to grow veggies. Looks like I am going to have to go back to HD to see if I can find another Ichiban. However the description on your website on the Gretels say they are thin skinned and that is what she likes about Japanese eggplant – their thin skins. So I’ll continue to grow it and see how she likes them.

  8. I live in an apartment complex where several 4′ x 8′ garden patches are available to residents. I claimed one 4 years ago and have amended and tended it carefully year round. In trying to make my small garden vertical I use short/small very inexpensive tomato cages. This year I have just planted 1 eggplant for the first time — a black beauty (dreaming of fresh baba ghanoush). Will the tomato cage system work to support these eggplants, which I know can get quite large and heavy? I have full SC sun that can last 12- 14 hrs a day in mid summer.

    • Hi Magenta,
      Yes, you can use the same tomato cage for the eggplants. Since they do not get as tall as tomatoes, a couple of stakes will work to hold the plant up when it becomes loaded with fruit. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  9. Hi! I planted some bonnie transplants about 6 weeks ago, among them 3 Black Beauty Eggplants. My other plants have really taken off (I even have several tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers set already), but the eggplants are growing more slowly. The leaves have gotten really big and the plants look healthy, but there are no flowers or buds.
    The temperatures here have been about 50 (at night) and around 75 during the day, with a few colder or warmer days here and there. The forecast for the next week says it will be warming up well into the 80s this week.
    When can I expect to see some eggplants?
    Thank you!

    • Hello Kay,
      Eggplants require warmer soil temperatures than other veggies to really take off. Eggplant, like tomatoes, are fussy about temperatures. Temperatures in the mid 50s and below for several days in a row, and eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers may not set fruit. Eggplant is an 80 – 95 day plant (transplant unto harvest). Let the temperatures warm up a bit and you will start to see flowers. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  10. I tried growing eggplant last year. Over the course of about a week all 3 of my plants (about 16-18″ tall) disappeared–the WHOLE plant! What would do this? I also lost all of my colored bell pepper plants (whole) and my Cherokee purple tomato plant (whole) along with a few of my tomato plants the same way. What do I do to prevent this from happening again? (I was able to keep all of my green bells, Juliette tomatoes, and Roma’s.)

    • Hello Kim,
      Sounds like you all have a hungry critter roaming about. Insects would not eat the entire plant to the ground (not that quickly anyhow). Excluding hungry animals is a great way to control them…this means building fences around the garden. P. Allen Smith has a great video on keeping these guys out. Also lots of ideas on nettings. Good Luck!
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  11. I planted my eggplant plant about 3 weeks ago, It has only grown about 2 inches while other plants in my raised bed planter have grown substantially more are are starting to flower. It is in a good sunny spot and gets plenty of water in well drained soil, any suggestions or is this normal?

    Thanks.

    • Hi Jordan,
      I think this is normal. What do you have planted with it? Eggplant grows in very warm soils. If the soil is not warm enough, it will sit and grow slowly. Generally, tomatoes will tolerate a lower soil temperature than eggplant.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  12. The information is very useful. Thank you!
    I live in Mexico and have just planted Ichiban plants for the first time. Last year I had nice fruits from my Black Beauty bushes but this year I could not find seeds anywhere.
    I was surprised to see the seeds of the Japanese variety and jumped at the opportunity to try it. Let’s see what I’ll have in May-June.
    With best wishes
    Val

  13. My Black Beauty eggplants are now golden in color. What kind of fertilizer does my garden need to make them purple again?

    • Hi Lisa,
      If the eggplants have turned a golden color, they may be past time to harvest. Eggplant that start out purple will turn brown or straw colored once they are past their prime. Unfortunately, they will not turn purple again. When eggplant is ready to harvest, fruit will stop growing with a glossy purple color. If you did not fertilize at planting, you will want to fertilize soon to keep the eggplant healthy. As you can see from this article on The Basics of Fertilizing, eggplant is a heavy feeder. One of my favorite grilled vegetables.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  14. I’ve had my eggplant in the ground since le=ast spring, lots of flowers but no fruit until this year. I have only one piece of fruit and it’s purple, about the size of a really large egg, and shinny. I live in the Houston area, and we’ve had a particularliy mild winter. How do I know when to harvest…can I continue with this plant or do I need to start over. The plant is very healthy with lots of flowers, but like I said, only one fruit.

    • Hello Julie,
      You can continue with this plant, but I would plant a new one too. Eggplant is usually grown as an annual even though it will overwinter in some climates (like yours!). There are a few reasons that eggplant fail to produce. The first is temperatures – high temperatures in the upper 90s affect eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers. In fact, you may notice production of all slow down until Fall when temperatures start to cool off. Obviously, your eggplant was flowering last Fall. I am wondering how much Nitrogen fertilizer was used. Too much nitrogen will encourage the green leafy growth at the expense of flowers / fruit. Keep us informed.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  15. I live in zone 4 in northern michigan and would like to know if i can grow eggplant in this zone. we are putting in raised beds this year and what would be the best variety for me. thank you

    • Hi Brenda,
      Yes, eggplant like Black Beauty and Ichiban will grow in the area. The biggest concern is getting them in quickly after the cold weather leaves. They take about 80 days of warm weather until harvest. The Japanese Ichiban variety is harvestable in about 60 days and may produce more eggplant for you.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  16. I planted my eggplants in the ground last weekend (I live in Houston) and the bottom leaves are shriveling and curling up. A few are a little brown around the edges. (The top leaves look healthy) I checked the soil and it appears to be moist about an inch down. Do you have any idea what would be causing this? Thank you!!

    • Hi Kate,
      Not sure what the temperature is where you are gardening, but if temperatures are diving into the 40′s, they may need protection at night until the temperatures warm up. Once plants are established, the soil should be moist about 6 inches down. Water deeply, a several times a week. For more watering tips, visit this Bonnie Plants article on watering the vegetable garden.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

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