I never appreciated eggplants until I saw another gardener growing them and realized how pretty they look dangling from a branch. Once I grew my own, I came to appreciate their unique taste and texture. Now, these plants are a staple in my summer garden.
WHEN TO PLANT EGGPLANT IN TEXAS
Texas gardeners have a long eggplant growing season thanks to our warm climate. Eggplant grows really well in warm weather (it loves when temps range from 70 to 90 degrees F), but it can hang in there during even the hottest of summer days.
Honestly, thank goodness for eggplant. If it weren’t for it and a few other plants—mainly okra, basil, hot and sweet peppers, and sweet potatoes—we wouldn’t have much to grow and look forward to harvesting during Texas’s blazing summer months. Even eggplant’s cousin, the tomato plant, can’t stand the heat of this Texas Hill Country kitchen.
Eggplant can only grow in warm soil, so you want to wait until about 2 to 3 weeks after your last frost date to plant eggplant. For those of us in the greater Austin area, that means early to mid-April (our last frost date is mid-March).
When daytime temperatures are consistently over 95 in the summer, you might notice your eggplant plants producing smaller fruits. That’s normal. Your plant will recover when it cools down a bit in early fall and produce normal-size fruit once more.
Your plants should continue producing until cool weather arrives in the fall. Like tomatoes and peppers, eggplant plants have zero frost tolerance.
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WHERE TO GROW EGGPLANT
Your most important priority is to pick a spot where your eggplant plants can receive full sun. They’ll need at least eight hours of direct sunlight a day to form such large fruit. Really, the more sun you can give these guys, the better!
You can grow eggplant in either a raised bed or a large container. I prefer to grow eggplant in my raised beds, which are filled with well-drained soil rich in organic matter. The height of the raised beds ensures the roots have plenty of room to spread out and help anchor the plant to prevent it from toppling over once it’s forming heavy fruit. The added height also provides good drainage.
Growing eggplant in containers
If you’re short on raised bed space or haven’t gotten your raised beds set up yet, you can grow eggplant in a large container or pot. Make sure that whichever container you choose has at least one good drainage hole to let out excess water. I’ve had success growing eggplant in dark-colored containers, which keep the soil super warm—just the way these plants like it.
You can grow a single eggplant in a pot at least 12″ deep and wide, or you can plant several small varieties every 8″ in larger containers. Look for seeds that say “container variety” or “dwarf” so that the plants will be okay with tight quarters.
Fill you containers with rich soil by mixing compost in with a high-quality organic potting soil.
Check out our post on container gardening for more tips to help you be successful.
OUR FAVORITE EGGPLANT VARIETIES TO GROW IN TEXAS
My favorite eggplant varieties to grow are Rosa Bianca and Little Prince, but there are many different varieties you can grow at home. You can explore fruit in all different shapes, sizes, colors combos, and flavors—types you’ll never get to try if you only eat eggplant from the grocery store. Did you know, for instance, that there are white eggplants?
Some of my favorite varieties of eggplant to grow and enjoy include:
- Black Beauty – Classic italian eggplant like you buy at the store but so much better homegrown.
- Ping Tung Long – These Asian eggplants are highly productive, a long and slender variety that can handle the heat.
- Rosa Bianca – These beautiful violet and white striped fruits are perfect for the home chef. This heirloom variety has no bitterness and is from Scicily.
- Icicle White Eggplant – These white eggplants are long and skinny and very ornamental and edible. Great addition to any garden.
- Little Prince – This variety is a great option for container gardening. Even though it’s a more compact plant, it can still produce a ton of fruit.
HOW TO PLANT EGGPLANT
Eggplants are large plants that take a long time to grow to maturity and produce. With that in mind, it’s best to either buy an eggplant start from your local nursery in April or May or start your own plants by seed indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date. (For Austinites, that means late January or early February.)
If you’re buying young eggplants, look for healthy-looking plants with dark green leaves. Pick ones that don’t have flowers forming yet. Check the undersides of leaves for signs of pests and the roots for signs of stress or disease.
How to start eggplant from seed
If you’re up for starting your own eggplant seeds indoors, check out our indoor seed starting guide for the best way to care for seedlings and transition them outdoors. Seed starting indoors takes some work (and, honestly, some practice) to get it right, but it’s a great way to get a head start on the growing season.
I’m telling you now that eggplant seeds are tiny. You’ll have to work at planting only a couple in each cell. Sow them only 1/4 inch deep. They should germinate in about 5 to 14 days. With eggplant, warm temperatures are critical, so I recommend using a heat mat until you see little green sprouts appear and keeping the seed starting trays in the warmest spot in your home.
Whether you bought plants or grew your own, make sure to wait until all chance of frost has passed before you even think about moving them outdoors.
Add a 2- to 3-inch thick layer of fresh compost to the planting area first. Space your little starts about 18″ to 24″ apart. Dig a hole that’s just as deep and twice as wide as the rootball of the start. Unfortunately, eggplants can’t form roots along a buried stem like tomatoes can.
From the time your little eggplant seedlings are moved outdoors to the vegetable garden, they’ll need 70 or more sun-soaked days to produce.
What to plant around eggplant
I’ve heard so many local gardeners say they just don’t grow anything in the summer because plants can’t handle our heat. We can actually grow things year round here in Central Texas. You just have to choose the right plants for our climate.
You can plant flowers like marigolds and zinnias alongside your eggplant. They’ll attract beneficial insects and keep garden pests at bay. Basil is a wonderful herb to grow throughout the summer that also benefits the overall health of your garden. Lastly, hot peppers like jalapeños and serrano peppers, plus sweet peppers like banana peppers can also take the heat of our climate. Learn more about what grows well in the heat here.
HOW TO TEND EGGPLANT PLANTS
It’s best to give your eggplant one long drink of water about every 5 to 7 days instead of lots of little sips throughout the week. In total, your plants will about 1″ of water each week to form fruits. Delivering this water all at once encourages large plants like eggplant to build a stronger and deeper root system. Of course, on super sunny days, you might need to up your watering.
If you’re watering by hand, avoid spraying water on the leaves of the plant.
My preferred method of watering is using drip irrigation set on a timer to water deeply at regular intervals. Garden in Minutes is a great DIY kit for installing drip irrigation in your garden.
Eggplants are heavy feeders. The compost you added at the time of planting won’t last young plants very long.
Add a balanced fertilizer like MicroLife All Purpose at the time of planting your seedlings. Sprinkle around the base of each plant. In a couple weeks, you’ll need to change up your feeding game to help your plants form flowers and then fruit.
The best time to switch fertilizers is when you see the first little flowers appear. It’s now time for something with more phosphorus and potassium. My go-to organic fertilizer for fruiting plants is MicroLife’s Maximum Blooms. Continue feeding your plants every 2 to 4 weeks. You want to avoid adding more nitrogen at this stage, or your plants will focus too much on growing more leaves for you, instead of fruit.
You can also push more compost around the base of each plant every couple of weeks to ensure they’re getting all the nutrients they need.
Checking for common pests on eggplant
The best way to prevent significant pest issues is to check on your plants daily. Remove any visible pests by hand and toss them in soapy water.
Eggplant flea beetles can be a problem here in Texas. They’re teeny tiny little black bugs that chew teeny tiny little holes through the leaves of your eggplant. You can treat them with Neem oil. Make sure to check back frequently to see if more treatments are needed.
Do eggplants need a trellis
While eggplants don’t climb up trellises like pole beans or cucumbers they usually do need to be staked as their fruits can be quite heavy and cause the plant to fall over.
If your plants look like they’re struggling to stay upright, add some stakes or one central pole to support the plants. Prune or tie up any leaves that might touch the soil as a form of disease and pest control.
HOW TO HARVEST EGGPLANTS
Eggplant fruits form from those beautiful white flowers you’ve been admiring on your plants. Just know that fruits can take a long time to mature. They’re not in a hurry like okra or zucchini.
Your first fruits are typically ready to harvest around late summer. Most varieties take between 70 to 90 days to produce.
You can begin to harvest fruits when they’re about 1/3 of their full size. I like to lightly push my thumbnail into the side of the fruit; if the mark stays, that means the fruit is ripe and ready to be picked. You can also wait for fruit to grow to the full size indicated on the back of the seed packet. You’ll want to harvest before the skin starts looking dull instead of shiny. By then, the seeds inside will be hard and the whole thing will have a bitter taste.
To harvest fruits, use scissors or sharp knife to cut the stem. Handle fruits carefully to avoid bruising them.
Make sure to wear gloves when you’re harvesting eggplants fruits. They have little spines on their stems. While we’re speaking of safety, make sure everyone in your household knows not to eat any part of these plants other than the fruits since eggplant is a member of the nightshade family. We don’t want anyone getting sick.
HOW TO SAVE AND ENJOY EGGPLANTS FROM THE GARDEN
The best way to store eggplant after harvest is outside of the fridge. (Refrigeration can change the texture, just like it does with tomatoes.) Try to enjoy you harvest within a week.
Eggplants can be grilled, baked, stewed, sautéed, fried, or stuffed. Their thick, almost meaty texture helps them hold up to heat. Lately, my family has been trying out lots of dishes where we replace meat with eggplant, like eggplant parmesan and eggplant “meat” balls. You could also use up a bunch of your harvest making your own baba ghanoush.
I hope this guide helps you grow a bountiful harvest of shiny eggplant this year! Let us know if you have any questions.
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