Eggplant: Indoor Sow Vegetable and Plants
How to Sow and Plant
- Sow eggplant seeds indoors 8 weeks before the last frost in spring using a seed starting kit.
- Sow seeds ¼ inch deep in seed-starting formula
- Keep the soil moist at 75 degrees F
- Seedlings emerge in 10-21 days
- As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
- Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
- If you are growing in small cells, you may need to transplant the seedlings to 3 or 4 inch pots when seedlings have at least 3 pairs of leaves before transplanting to the garden so they have enough room to develop strong roots
- Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.
Planting in the Garden:
- Select a location in full sun with good rich moist organic soil. Make sure you did not grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplants or potatoes in the bed the previous year to avoid disease problems.
- Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
- Eggplants should be set 2-3 feet apart in a row with the rows spaced 3-4 feet apart.
- Dig a hole for each plant large enough to amply accommodate the root ball.
- Carefully remove the plant from its pot and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root development.
- Fill the planting hole with soil to the top and press soil down firmly with your hand leaving a slight depression around the plant to hold water.
- Use a plant tag as a location marker. This is particularly important if you are trying different varieties. It is very difficult to tell which variety is which from the foliage.
- Water thoroughly, so that a puddle forms in the saucer you have created. This settles the plants in, drives out air pockets and results in good root-to-soil contact.
- Eggplants may also be planted in containers. Use a container at least 18-24 inches wide and deep and use a commercial potting mix rather than garden soil.
How to Grow
- Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating.
- Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. This is especially important for tomatoes as their roots may be easily damaged when weeding, and this can lead to blossom end rot.
- Keep plants well-watered during the growing season, especially during dry spells. Plants need about 1-2 inches of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It's best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
- Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
Harvesting and Preserving Tips
- Pick regular-sized eggplants at 4-5 inches long, 60-70 days after transplanting into the garden. Look for firm fruits, with a glossy shine. Dull skin is a sign that the plants are overripe. Overripe fruit turn brownish and the flavor may be bitter.
- Hold firmly at the blossom end and cut with a knife or pruners. When cutting the fruit, leave 1 inch of stem attached. Eggplants are prickly at the stem end so handle with care.
- Use eggplants immediately after harvesting. If you would like to freeze some for later use, cook the fruit first and then freeze.
- Eggplant makes a great substitute for meat in many dishes.
Common Disease Problems
Leaf Spots: These are caused by various pathogens. Spots on the foliage may appear in cool, moist weather and plants may become defoliated. Burpee Recommends: Provide sufficient space between plants for good air circulation, avoid overhead watering which can spread the fungus spores, keep a clean garden, remove and discard all diseased plant material and rotate crops. Use a mulch to prevent spores from splashing from the soil onto plants. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Phomopsis Rot: Large, sunken tan or black areas appear on the fruit and leaves may be spotted and eventually turn brown. Burpee Recommends: Remove and discard plants and do not use them as compost. Rotate crops.
Root Knot Nematodes: Microscopic worm-like pests that cause swellings (galls) to form on roots. Plants may wilt or appear stunted. This is a serious problem in many Southern states. Burpee Recommends: Do not plant into infested soil. Grow resistant varieties. Try planting ‘Nema-Gone’ marigolds around your plants.
Verticillium: This fungus causes a wilting of the leaves and stems on several bran
ches. Leaf margins cup upward, leaves turn yellow and drop off. If fruit is produced, it is usually smaller than normal. It will enter the plant through the roots, migrate up the stem and plug a plant’s transport vessels. It is transmitted in the soil. It can also be spread by water and tools. Burpee Recommends: Practice at least a 4 year crop rotation. Remove and burn crop debris. Plant resistant varieties.
Walnut Wilt: Walnut Wilt causes overall wilting of plants, or dwarfed growth, in close proximity to living walnut tree. Some or all plants in a planting may be affected. Burpee Recommends: Do not plant eggplants near Black Walnut trees. These trees exude a toxin from their roots which kills many plants.
Common Pest and Cultural Problems
Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps which feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.
Colorado Potato Beetle: This insect is especially harmful at the larval stage. The larvae are plump, reddish orange soft bodied insects with dark heads and black markings. Adults are large beetles with yellow and black stripes. Burpee Recommends: Hand pick the larvae and destroy. Look for egg clusters on the undersides of the leaves and destroy. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pesticide recommendations
Flea Beetles: These small hopping beetles feed on plant foliage and may spread diseases. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different plant family. Use floating row covers to prevent damage to young foliage.
Leafhoppers: Leafhoppers cause injury to leaves and stunt growth. They also spread disease. Burpee Recommends: Remove plant debris. Use insecticidal soaps. Consult your Cooperative Extension Service for other insecticide recommendations.
Tomato Horn Worm: Large, green caterpillars which can quickly devour foliage. Burpee Recommends: With sturdy gloves on, hand pick and destroy them. HOWEVER if you see white projections coming from the back of the caterpillar, do not destroy it. These are the egg cases of a parasitic wasp that will destroy the caterpillar. These wasps should be allowed to remain in your garden.
Why are my eggplants yellow? Eggplant come in many colors- one of those colors is yellow. Either the variety is reverting back to another color, or pale eggplants tend to over ripen into yellow. Yellow is associated with a more bitter eggplant but this is because the eggplant is over ripe. A young yellow eggplant tastes as mild as any other eggplant.
Why are my eggplants so bitter? Stressed or over ripe eggplants tend to be bitter. Water and harvest often.
Why are my plants so small and growing slowly? Eggplants are sensitive to the cold. Either a transplant has been planted into cold soil, or a young plant has experienced cold weather, or a transplant that became root bound before being planted may be stunted for a short while or for the full growing season.
Can I grow eggplants in a container? Yes, eggplants are good for containers at least 18-24 inches in diameter and deep. They are beautiful plants that will look great on the patio, even in the flower border.
Why haven’t any of my eggplant seeds germinated when all my tomatoes are up? Tomato seed germinates in 7-10 days while eggplant can take 21 days.