Few vegetable plants are more beautiful than this Southeast Asian native, known botanically as Solanum melongena. Although most people associate eggplant with big purple fruit, the common name comes from a small type with white fruit that does indeed resemble a swan's egg.
The plant grows to a shrubby 23 ft. high and wide, with large, lobed leaves that are green with a purplish tinge. Drooping violet flowers shaped like those of potato (a close relative) are 1 in. across. The glossy-skinned fruit may be blackish purple, purple, pink, green, orange-red, white, or bicolored. Fruit is generally oval or rounded and may reach 1 ft. long, depending on type; those that are long and slender are often called Japanese or Ichiban eggplants. An eggplant or two adds striking color to vegetable gardens; single plants make good container subjects.
If you enjoy eating tiny whole eggplants, allow the plants to grow and produce naturally. If you want large fruit, pinch out some terminal growth and some blossoms; three to six big fruits per plant will result. Pick fruit when it develops color but before it loses shine. To harvest, use a knife or hand pruners to cut fruit from the plant, leaving an inch or so of stem on each fruit. Flea beetles are a problem on young plants. Grow plants under row covers until big enough to tolerate leaf damage. Control aphids and whiteflies with horticultural oil.
Recommended selections include the following.
'Black Beauty'. Rounded black-purple fruit to 8 in. long; 74 days from transplant to harvest.
'Blue Marble'. Gorgeous, rounded fruit 78 in. wide, deep violet with white tops; 62 days.
'Cloud Nine'. Pure white, oblong fruit; best when harvested at 7 in. long; 75 days.
'Dusky'. Early, 6- to 7-in., glossy black, oval fruit; 58 days.
'Gretel'. Miniature, 3- to 4-in.-long, thin, white fruit born in clusters. 55 days.
'Hansel'. Miniature, 3- to 10-in.-long, thin, deep purple fruit born in clusters; 55 days.
'Ichiban Hybrid'. Japanese type. Slender, dark purple fruit may reach 10 in. long. Purple foliage; 61 days.
'Louisiana Long Green'. Light green, zucchini-shaped fruit to 7 in. long. Southern heirloom; 100 days.
'Neon'. Deep pink, semicylindrical fruit. Ready to pick when 56 in. long; 73 days.
'Pingtung Long'. Japanese type. Slender, pinkish purple fruit up to 1 ft. long. Heavy producer; 50 days.
'Purple Rain'. Egg-shaped fruit to 6 in. long, in a beautiful shade of purple; 66 days.
'Rosa Bianca'. Italian heirloom noted for delicious flavor. Elongated, eggshaped, 4- to 5-in.-long fruit in creamy white with lavender striping; 75 days.
'White Beauty'. Oval, white fruit, 78 in. across. Very productive in hot, humid areas; 70 to 74 days.
Plants are quite sensitive to cold, so don't set out in spring until daytime temperatures are in the 70sabout 2 to 6 weeks after the last frost. Plant in loose, fertile, slightly acid, and well-drained soil. To maintain healthy growth, keep soil evenly moist. In Florida and along the Gulf Coast, you can grow plants from seed started indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost. Elsewhere, it's easier to buy transplants. Space transplants 23 ft. apart in rows spaced 22 ft. apart. At planting time, feed with liquid 20-20-20 fertilizer. Every 4 to 6 weeks, sprinkle 1 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 10 ft. of row around plants. Stake plants to keep fruit off the ground and to keep branches from breaking under the weight of a heavy crop. Control weeds. Eggplant grows rapidly in warm weather and, if cared for properly, will produce over a long season.