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What are you planning to grow in your container garden this year? Well, before you finalize your layout, consider squeezing an eggplant or two into the picture! Although their foliage differs, eggplants grow much like peppers in terms of size, space requirements, and relative ease of care. These qualities alone can be enticing to the gardener, but there's much more to be had!
Eggplants offer the gardener the ability to reach out and grow varieties that never show up in the supermarket! Sure, you can choose to cultivate the ever popular Purple Beauty, but the real winners of taste and tenderness come with the lesser known cultivars. In this guide on how to grow eggplants in containers, we'll touch on some of these unique varieties, as well as cover the essentials of eggplant cultivation.
Eggplant Origins and Characteristics
Eggplants are a unique nightshade species related to potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes. The first eggplants to be domesticated were done so in India. In tropical climates, eggplants are grown as perennials. And in temperate climates, they are cultivated as tender annuals.
- Binomial Name: Solanum melogena
- Family: Solanaceae
- Common Names: Aubergine, brinjal and eggplant
Basics for Growing Eggplants in Containers
- Container: When growing eggplants in containers, the minimum volume should be at least 3 gallons per plant. Note that larger planters will offer the potential for larger yields. Also, when selecting a container to grow eggplants in, consider one made of wood or fired terra cotta pottery. Unlike plastic containers, these are known to breathe and will allow for better oxygenation of the root mass. This is an essential aspect of plant vitality.
- Fertile and Well-Draining Soil: Starting with the right potting soil will keep your plants healthy and thriving throughout the season. To find your ideal mix, search for candidates that are rich in composted organics and that are also amended with soil aerators such as perlite or vermiculite. Composted organics will provide instant and slow-release nutrition, while soil aerators will keep the roots from becoming waterlogged and oxygen deprived.
- Full Sun: The minimum amount of direct sun needed to grow eggplants is six hours a day. While eggplants will produce decent yields with this amount of sunlight, increasing the exposure to 8–11 hours will help greatly in boosting yields.
Heirloom Eggplant Varieties
The standard for eggplants. These plants produce large purple fruits.
Plants produce smaller striped fruits. Normally lavender with cream stripes, the fruits are absolutely delicious.
Eggplant grown in Japan. The fruits are all white in color and are very tasty.
Similar to the Black Beauty eggplant but grows much longer with a thinner girth.
Listada de Gandia
Heavy producing plants. The mild tasting fruits are popular in French cuisine.
Aubergine du Burkina Faso
Very unique eggplant variety from Africa. The fruits are a vibrant red color and resemble a large heirloom tomato. Somewhat bitter and strong flavor!
How to Grow Eggplant Plants
- Six to eight weeks before the average last frost in your area, begin to sow eggplant seeds indoors. Keep the seeds in containers in a dark and warm place until the seeds have sprouted. (Germination normally takes 7–10 days). When the seeds have germinated, immediately transfer to a well-lit, south-facing windowsill or under artificial grow lighting. The seedlings will stay here for the next 8–10 weeks, so make sure they're comfortable. Make sure the soil is consistently moist, but never soggy or over watered during this period.
- Around the date of the average last frost in your local area, your eggplants can begin the process of hardening off. Over the next two weeks, and of course weather permitting, allow the plants to stay outdoors with increased time intervals each day. Start with an hour at first and slowly increase the intervals until the plants are ready to permanently stay outdoors.
- After the eggplant plants have been hardened off, and about two weeks after the average last frost, transplanting outdoors to the final container can be completed. When transplanting, I personally like to amend my potting soil with a bit of bone meal. This adds a great deal of nutrition and—when mixed along with the composted organics in the potting soil—eliminates the need for fertilizing later in the season.
- Once the eggplants have been transplanted to their final container, there's little left to do but sit back, wait, and water. Allow the top 2 inches of soil to become dry before thoroughly watering to keep your eggplants happy and healthy.
- If you're able to move your containers, try rotating them once a week or so. This ensures that all parts of the plant are offered exposure to sunlight.
How to Harvest
Roughly 60–80 days after transplanting to their final outdoor location, your eggplants will be ready for harvesting. Some will be ready for harvest even sooner, especially if you're like me and like small eggplants!
A good way to tell when your eggplants are ripe for the picking is when the skin develops a nice, glossy sheen to it. To harvest, use sanitized garden sheers to cut the fruit off. Cut the stem of the fruit off as close to the main branch as possible. Just like that, your eggplants are harvested!
Tips for Growing Eggplant
- Flea Beetle Control: If flea beetles are an issue in your garden, companion-planting catnip at the base of each eggplant can resolve the infestation.
- Keep Roots Warm: In cooler areas where eggplant is typically harder to grow, plant into plastic containers. Though oxygenation of the roots will not be as great, plastic containers will keep the soil much warmer for tender eggplant roots.
- Harvest the First Fruits Early: Though you may like your eggplants large, plan to harvest the first set of fruits at a smaller stage. By doing this, you'll not only have the most tender young eggplants for eating, you'll also stimulate the plants to set even more fruit!
- Practice Crop Rotation: Eggplants are sensitive plants that can be infected by a variety of plant diseases. To reduce the risk of infection, never plant eggplants in the same place where peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, or any other nightshade was grown the previous season.
- Slow-Release Nutrition: At the time of transplanting your eggplants outdoors, adding slow-release nutrition in the form bone meal can aid in flower and fruit production down the road. As a general feeding, add 1/4 cup of bone meal beneath and around each plant. As the bone meal breaks down over the season, it will release essential nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus.
Growing eggplants is a great way to enjoy and to maximize your container garden's potential. So, why wait any longer? It's time to get out there and start growing eggplants from seed. Seriously, there couldn't be a better season than this one! Don't go another year without missing out on the delicate and fresh flavors of homegrown eggplant! Thanks for reading this guide on how to grow eggplants in containers. As always, please leave any comments or questions you may have. Good luck with your garden this season!
Dianna Mendez on April 04, 2014:
I like to have my veggie sandwiches layered with eggplant. It has such a wonderful taste and texture. I only wish I could grow them in my yard.
Stephanie Bradberry from New Jersey on March 24, 2014:
This is a cool idea. Thanks for sharing.