How To Grow And Care For Eggplant

Growing Eggplant
Photo: Alison Miksch

You don't need to be an egghead to grow eggplants. They're even simpler to grow than their tomato cousins, and they like the same conditions. Plant eggplant (Solanum melongena) in your summer kitchen garden and enjoy the spongy, creamy fruit in salads and pastas for months to come. (Like other nightshade plants, the leaves, flowers, and roots of eggplant are toxic to pets and to people). The mild fruit soaks up surrounding flavors, making a great base for dips and casseroles. Try the classic deep purple variety, 'Black Beauty,' or plant an array of white, pinkish-purple, or streaked varieties that grow from finger-sized to more than a foot long. Here's how to grow this easy warm-season vegetable.

Plant Attributes
Common Name Eggplant, aubergine, brinjal
Botanical Name Solanum melongena
Family Solanaceae
Plant Type Annual, perennial, fruit
Mature Size 2-4 ft. tall, 1-3 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Loamy, sandy, well-drained but moist, fertile
Soil pH Acidic (5.5-6.8)
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Purple with yellow center
Hardiness Zones 10-12 (USDA)
Native Area Asia
Toxicity Leaves, flowers, and roots toxic to pets, toxic to people

Eggplant Care

Eggplants thrive in 75-degree soil and sulk if planted too soon. To raise the soil temperature for early planting, mulch with black plastic or grow in dark-colored containers. Plants grow up to 3 feet tall, with large leaves and purple or white blossoms. The eye-catching fruit—technically a berry—is quite attractive in flowerbeds and container gardens. Stake eggplants as you would peppers and tomatoes, so the heavy-laden plants don't fall over.


Plant your eggplant in full sun where it will receive at least eight hours of direct sunlight a day. Shade or partial shade will result in stunted plants with no or few fruits.


Eggplants like rich and loamy or sandy soil. Plant in fertile, well-drained soil amended with organic matter, such as composted manure or chopped leaves. The organic matter both enriches the soil and helps retain moisture. Eggplants prefer acidic soil but will do fine in neutral soil.


Though an eggplant may survive dry spells, it thrives with moisture. Mulch around your eggplants to conserve moisture in the soil. Water frequently until your transplants are established, then make sure your plants receive at least an inch of water a week—2 inches is preferable. When the plant is fruiting, consistent moisture is key. Water so that the soil is moist (but not soggy) at a depth of 6 inches. A soaker hose can be helpful for keeping your plants watered.

Temperature And Humidity

Eggplants are very sensitive to cold temperatures. Plant them in the garden in spring after your soil temperature has reached 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They are happiest while air temperatures are 70 to 85 degrees, so wait at least a couple of weeks after the last frost. While eggplants thrive in hot, humid weather, an intense, sticky heatwave can reduce pollination.

They have a long growing season in much of the South, producing from July until October. In the Coastal South, you may be able to plant these in the garden from mid-spring until late summer. While eggplant is perennial in tropical climates, hot temperatures result in bitter-tasting fruit. In South Florida, eggplant is usually grown in fall and winter.


Use an organic product, such as Jobe's Organics Vegetable & Tomato (2-7-4), according to label directions. Fertilize at planting (unless you are using potting soil that contains fertilizer, in which case you should wait) and every four weeks. Overfertilizing with nitrogen will result in bushy growth and fewer flowers, so choose a fertilizer with higher levels of phosphorus.

Types Of Eggplant

While 'Black Beauty' is a common selection in grocery stores, consider venturing beyond the everyday eggplant. Here are some popular and unusual cultivars you can try in your garden:

  • 'Florida Market' is a prolific heirloom with excellent flavor, faring well in our long growing season. Large, shiny, almost black eggplants appear about 85 days after setting out plants.
  • Midsized 'Dancer' (65 days) features pinkish-purple, cylindrical fruit. A smaller plant, it produces well through hot, humid summers and gets its second wind in fall.
  • 'Little Fingers' produces small clusters of almost black, slender fruits on compact plants in 65 days. Fast-growing 'Gretel' has a similar appearance but with creamy white fruit ready in 55 days.
  • For beautiful purple fruits streaked with white, try globe-shaped 'Rosa Bianca,' slender 'Calliope,' or tear-drop-shaped 'Fairytale.'
  • White eggplants come with fun names like 'Casper,' 'Ghostbuster,' and 'Snowy,' while 'Kermit' has cherry tomato-sized green and white fruits.

Look for these selections at your local garden center or online from and

How To Harvest Eggplant

Learning when to pick is a little tricky. Look for glossy skin versus the dull skin of overripe, bitter eggplant. Clip the thick, woody stem with snips, and enjoy the fruit while fresh. Eggplants are chameleons in the kitchen and useful in many forms. Sliced or diced, they are great for grilling, perfect pureed, simple to stir-fry, and a hearty addition to many Italian and Mediterranean dishes.

Propagating Eggplant

Eggplants can be propagated from cuttings, which has the advantage of producing plants that mature faster than those grown from seed. Cuttings are taken at the end of the growing season to become new plants in the following year:

  1. Cut a 4-6 inch length of healthy stem and remove leaves from the bottom half. You can help root formation get a head start by placing cuttings in a glass of water for a couple of weeks before planting. If you do this, make sure to change the water frequently to keep your cutting healthy.
  2. Stick the cutting at least 2 inches deep in a lightweight potting mix. Water well and place in a spot with bright, indirect light.
  3. Keep the soil moist. Your plants will appreciate being moved to a sunny window or under a grow light once they are well-rooted.
  4. Transplant in the garden two weeks after the last frost, but first spend a few days gradually acclimating your plants to the outdoors.

How To Grow Eggplants From Seed

If you have an interest in growing hard-to-find heirloom or novelty eggplants, you may want to start plants from seed. Start your seeds indoors about six weeks before the last frost:

  1. Fill 3-inch pots or a seed tray with sterile seed starting mix and moisten.
  2. Sow your seeds 1/4-inch deep and 2 or 3 inches apart. Lightly cover with seed-starting mix and water. Cover the pots or tray with clear plastic to help maintain moisture.
  3. Place in bright light in a warm spot that is at least 70 degrees and preferably 80 degrees. Germination may improve with use of a heating mat under your pots.
  4. After seeds sprout, remove the clear plastic. Water to keep moist and provide very bright light for the best growth. A grow light helps plants develop strong, straight, healthy stems. Thin plants if they get overcrowded.
  5. Set your plants outdoors in a shady spot once daytime temperatures reach 70 degrees, bringing plants indoors on cool nights. Gradually increase exposure to direct sunlight, then transplant 18-24 inches apart in the garden.

Potting And Repotting Eggplant

Many eggplant varieties don't grow taller than 2 or 3 feet, making them an excellent container plant for your patio or garden. Unless you use an undersized container, you'll likely only pot your eggplant once in the growing season. Place one eggplant in a 12- to 14-inch container in high-quality potting soil, at the same depth as it was in its nursery pot. Or, use a 20-inch pot for up to three eggplants. Add a small tomato cage or stake your plants.

Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer like Osmocote at the time of planting and water well. Once your eggplant flowers, apply a high-potassium fertilizer labeled for garden vegetables or tomatoes. Water containers whenever the top inch of soil is dry.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Without a doubt, flea beetles will find your tasty crop, making pinholes in leaves that can do real damage to young plants. Deter their early-season arrival by shielding plants with row covers until they bloom (then remove them). Or use diatomaceous earth to dust leaves lightly, the same way Aunt Agnes powders her lemon squares with sugar. This organic pesticide works well, though it must be reapplied after a rainfall. Once the plants grow larger, they can tolerate considerably more damage from flea beetles.

Aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites pierce leaves to suck the sap. Spray aphids and spider mites with a strong stream of water to discourage them. Use insecticidal soap to control an infestation.

Colorado potato beetles, cutworms, and hornworms can cause significant defoliation on plants. Pick off these large insects and drop them in a can of soapy water. An insecticide containing spinosad can also be effective, but it should not be sprayed while bees are around.

Serious diseases like Verticillium wilt and bacterial wilt (sudden withering of the plant), Phytophthora blight (dark streaks on branches progressing to plant collapse), and southern blight (white fungal infection that rots the stem) are spread among members of the nightshade family and remain in the soil. Once an infection appears, controlling it is very difficult. To reduce the likelihood of passing a disease to your eggplant, don't plant where tomatoes, potatoes, or peppers grew in the past three years. Space rows of eggplant 3 feet apart to allow air circulation, and always water at the base of plants. Make sure to plant in well-drained soil and do not overwater.

How To Get Eggplant To Bloom

Your eggplant should bloom if conditions are right: full sun, warm weather, and adequate water. Transplants may take a few weeks to start flowering. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers that encourage green growth at the expense of flowering.

Common Problems With Eggplant

Sometimes plants will bloom but fail to produce any fruit. The blooms drop because of a frigid night, a lack of water, or because the flowers were not pollinated. Eggplants are primarily wind-pollinated, so still days or very hot, sticky weather can prevent pollination from occurring. If this becomes a recurring problem, you can try gently shaking your plants each day or using a paintbrush to spread pollen among the flowers.

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