NGA Articles: Easy Eggplants

Easy Eggplants (cont)

By: Charlie Nardozzi with Peter Kopcinski

How to Grow Eggplants

Sow seeds, and keep them toasty. Sow seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost. Space them about 1/2 inch apart in a flat filled with a commercial seed-starting medium, and cover them with 1/4 inch of soil. Eggplant seeds germinate best in a warm environment (80oF) supplied by a heating mat. Keep the flats moist, and remember that the extra heat will cause them to dry out faster. For best germination, shut the mat off during the day to allow the soil temperature to drop 10oF. Eggplant seeds normally don't germinate all at once and can take 7 to 15 days to emerge.

Thin seedlings, and transplant them carefully. Once seedlings show their true leaves, thin to about 2 inches apart. If the plants start getting large enough that their leaves touch those of the adjacent plants, consider transplanting them into 5-inch pots. One week before transplanting into the garden, begin conditioning plants to the outdoors: Take them outside for a few hours the first day, and increase the amount of time each day until they stay out all day by the end of the week. Eggplants are very sensitive to transplant shock, so take extra care to harden them off properly.

Eggplants tropical plants that like extra heat. Don't rush to put them out in spring. Many gardeners wait until one to two weeks after they plant their main tomato and pepper crops to transplant eggplants into the garden. In cooler climates, lay black plastic over the beds two weeks before setting out your transplants to preheat the soil. If appropriate, plant near a stone, brick or rock wall that absorbs heat during the day and keeps the eggplants warm on chilly summer nights. Space plants 15 inches apart in rows and if temperatures are expected to be below 60oF, cover the plants with floating row covers to both keep them warm and protect them from insects.

Fertilize, water, and stake plants. Eggplants prefer deep, fertile garden soil, full sun, and warm temperatures. Before transplanting, work about 6 cubic feet (about a 3/4-inch layer) of compost into the top 6 inches of a 100-square-foot bed, which is enough space for 10 plants.

Once planted, eggplants need uniform moisture, warmth, and fertility to produce the best yields. Any stress on the plant will reduce yields and increase the chance of verticillium wilt, the most common disease of eggplants will attack. Water weekly if it doesn't rain. Feed every two weeks with fish emulsion at half the rate recommended for monthly use.

Alternatively, make one application of 15 to 20 pounds of composted manure, or 2 1/2 pounds of a low-nitrogen, complete fertilizer such as 5-20-20. As with other members of the Solanum family (potatoes and tomatoes), eggplants produce lush foliage but few fruits when fed large amounts of nitrogen.

Some varieties such as 'Bambino' and 'Easter Egg' only grow 1 to 2 feet tall, so they're easy to grow in containers. Choose a 12-inch-diameter container, fill it with potting soil, and place it in a sunny, warm spot outside. Keep the plant well watered and fertilized.

However, most varieties grow 3 to 4 feet tall. Stake these larger kinds to keep the fruit off the ground. To stake plants in a bed, drive 3-foot stakes into the ground after every third plant around the perimeter of the bed. When the plants are 10 to 12 inches tall, tie sisal twine (which can be composted later) to the first stake, and string it around each stake until all of the stakes are connected. Tie the twine around the bed once at 10 to 12 inches from the ground and, as the plants grow, again at 18 to 20 inches. The plants won't fall over, and the fruits will be straight.

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