Eggplant Care At A Glance
- Warm season annuals, related to tomatoes, peppers & potatoes, originating in Asia.
- Plants perform best with long, warm growing seasons.
- Require well-drained, organically rich soil with full sun and consistent water.
- Good plants for container culture.
Seed Planting Instructions
Follow the same planting instructions for tomatoes or peppers.
- Seeds do best when started indoors with controlled conditions.
- Start 3-4 weeks prior to the last average frost date.
- Pre-soak seeds for 8 hrs. prior to sowing to help speed germination.
- Sow seeds pre-moistened, seed starting mix, 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep.
- Place trays or cell packs on bottom heat with consistent 75°-85°F.
- Cover with a plastic dome or kitchen wrap to help keep medium moist but spritz as needed.
- Once seedlings emerge, remove them from heat, and place them in bright light or sunny windows.
- Fertilizing seedlings with balanced, naturally derived water-soluble food diluted to 1/2 strength to prevent stalled growth.
- Seedlings can be transplanted into larger individual pots when 2-3 sets of true leaves form.
- Harden off plants for 7-10 days prior to planting out after the threat of frost and the weather is consistently warm.
- Space plants 18 to 20 inches apart, with each row 30 to 36 inches apart.
- Heat-loving plants perform best when planted out 1-2 weeks after tomato plants.
- Planting them into black plastic or landscape fabric can help provide heat they appreciate but add appropriate 3-5-3 fertilizer and organic matter prior to fabric installation.
- Apply mulch and keep plants consistently watered at ground level.
- Four to six plants per garden are typically enough for a family of four.
Many cultivars are available in different sizes, shapes, and colors. Interestingly, even with these physical differences fruit flavor does not vary much between cultivars.
Some cultivars do have thin skin that does not require peeling before cooking, and some cultivars can be seedless.
- Like other garden vegetables, eggplants perform best with regular, consistent water applied at the root zone.
- Follow the 1 inch of water per week, per plant rule, especially when temps are high, and the weather is dry.
- Apply 2-3 in. of mulch around plants to help retain soil moisture and suppress weeds.
- Eggplants are considered heavy feeders.
- When plants have reached half size, side-dress with 3-5-3 vegetable fertilizer blended with fresh compost and again immediately after harvest of first fruits. Or use liquid vegetable-specific fertilizers.
- Ripe fruits are those that reach their optimal size suggested for the cultivar grown and the skin should have a shiny appearance with a uniform color.
- Eggplants do not hold or store well, for this reason, plan to use fruits on the day of harvest.
- Overripe fruits will lose color, usually turning a dull brown. Overripe fruits will feel soft or spongy and typically have lots of seeds. Fruits in this condition should be composted.
- Ripe fruits should be removed by cutting the stem. Do not pull or twist them off, as this can damage the plant or the fruits. The calyx should be left attached to the top of the fruit, no matter what the cultivar.
- Eggplants can be affected by wilt diseases such as verticillium, especially in cooler northern climates.
- In colder growing zones choose wilt-resistant hybrids.
- Do not plant too early, wait for warm weather, since plant stress due to cold weather leaves eggplants more susceptible to wilt diseases.
- Keep plants healthy and vigorous by maintaining proper watering & fertilizing.
Early blight - Alternaria solani is a common fungal disease on tomato plants, that can also affect eggplants.
- Early blight symptoms first appear as basic leaf spotting on the lower leaves. Those spots form into larger tan or brown colored spots along with visible concentric rings of darker brown and a yellow halo.
- Preventing Early blight is key.
- Mulch with 2-3 inches of clean straw and remove any spotted leaves as soon as they're discovered.
- As plants grow, lift and thin lower foliage to reduce the effects of splashing water from the ground up and to help improve air circulation.
- During humid weather apply bio or mineral-based fungicides preventatively according to label instructions.
Phomopsis blight- Phomopsis vexans is a stem & fruit rotting fungal disease affecting eggplants.
- Stem lesions and rotting at soil level on young seedlings, similar looking to damping off symptoms, where seedlings quickly collapse and die. Prevent by not over-watering and with proper sanitation.
- Older leaves are susceptible to developing circular lesions of gray to brown with lighter-colored centers, with affected leaves turning entirely yellow and then dropping off.
- Phomopsis blight is most damaging to the fruits. Symptoms start with pale sunken oval areas on the fruits with sunken areas spreading into one another to cause larger rotted sections of the fruit.
- Preventing Phomopsis is key.
- Remove affected or infected leaves asap.
- Control weeds in all areas adjacent to the garden.
- Utilize proper crop rotation techniques with a 3-4-year hiatus if eggplants become infected with Phomopsis.
- Preventatively apply bio or mineral-based fungicides as directed during hot, wet weather.
- Eggplants are favored by many common garden insects that also attack tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes.
- Flea beetles, Colorado potato beetles, aphids, spider mites, whiteflies, thrips, hornworms, and stink bugs are all insects to watch for.
- Prevent major damage by practicing weed suppression in and around garden areas.
- While eggplants are heavy feeders, applications of high-nitrogen fertilizers can cause extreme foliage growth that is attractive to many insects or disease pests.
- Utilize exclusion techniques by deploying floating row covers early and late in the season.
- Monitor plants for evidence of pest damage and react appropriately by hand-picking when they are found or use applications of appropriate low-impact insecticides like insecticidal soaps.
Bitter Tasting or Misshapen Fruit
- Bitter fruits are caused by plant stress due mostly to hot, dry weather conditions.
- Avoid by keeping plants mulched, and appropriately watered, especially during periods of high heat and drought while fruits are forming.
- Misshapen fruits can be caused by pollination issues related to plant stress due to high heat, dry soils, or a combination of these factors.
- Typically caused by sun scald, but sunken rotted spots can be due to Phomopsis blight (See above).
- Healthy plants typically form enough leaf cover to shade fruits from sun exposure.
- Shade plants with floating row covers or fabric if fruits are exposed beyond the plant foliage.
- Sun scalded fruits can still be used, by simply slicing off damaged spots as needed.
- Overripe fruits typically discolor with brown to bronze color. (See Harvesting above)