If you can grow peppers, you can grow eggplants. That’s how easy they are grow. If garden space permits, try growing a few of many different varieties of eggplants; small and oval, large and oblong, white, orange or green fruit color, or just stick with the delicious and versatile purplish-black variety most of us are familiar with. I always recommend that my clients try growing one plant in their garden, and then they’ll be hooked on the ease and beauty of homegrown eggplants.
When to Plant
Eggplants love warm weather and produce their best in zones that offer them a long and warm growing season. If you’re starting plants from seeds, start the seeds 6 weeks before the last predicted frost date and keep seedlings in a location that has a constant temperature of above 75 degrees.
If you are starting with plants, wait until the soil is warm and outdoor air temperature is above 75 degrees before planting in the garden.
Choose a sunny location where no ‘nightshade’ vegetables have been grown in past two years. Nightshade plants are eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes and peppers, and by moving their planting location each year you’ll reduce the risk of certain types of pest infestation. Then take a soil sample to your local county extension office or garden supply center for a soil test. Eggplants need a pH level of between 5.5 and 6.5 to best production. Work in about 2 inches of compost into the soil along with a slow-release balanced fertilize.
How to Plant
Set plants out 18-24 inches apart in prepared soil. The tender young plants are highly susceptible to flea beetles and other garden pests and will need covered in some way to protect them until they reach about 12 inches tall. An easy covering method is to cut the bottoms off of plastic gallon milk jugs or 2 liter soda bottles and place one over each plant to create a mini greenhouse. Leave lids intact and unscrew for ventilation on hot days. Remove and discard covering when plants reach 12 inches.
Eggplants can also be grown in containers and placed up off the ground to protect them from being infested with flea beetles.
Eggplants are ready to be harvested when they reach their recommended mature size and when flesh is soft enough to press thumb into, but firm enough for the flesh to bounce right back into shape. Under-ripe fruits are too hard to make a thumbprint and over-ripe fruits are too soft to bounce back into shape.
Use a sharp knife or hand-held pruning shears to cut the stem away from the main stalk, leaving the eggplant cap intact.