A container-grown eggplant is as ornamental as other colorful annuals.Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey
Thai purple eggplant is easy to grow in a container garden and produces long skinny fruit.Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey
If you’ve never grown an eggplant, what’s stopping you? There are so many different varieties of eggplants, there’s sure to be one that fits your taste.
American shoppers are most familiar with the purple pear-shaped eggplants available at grocery stores. But there are dozens of different varieties, in all shapes and colors, that make eggplant especially attractive.
Even if you garden in a small garden bed, or grow your vegetables in containers on the patio or balcony, you can grow eggplant. Some smaller cultivars, like ‘Fairy Tale’ grow on plants that reach just a few feet tall.
Gardeners typically grow their eggplants from transplants found at the garden center. Most take between 60-100 days until the first harvest. For best results, plant a shorter season type so you can start enjoying eggplant in as little as two months.
Wait to plant until the weather is reliably warm at night, a consistent 55 degrees. Just like tomato transplants, eggplants need to be hardened off before planting. Slowly acclimate plants to the outdoors over a week or so.
Plant one eggplant per container, 2-gallon minimum. Fill the container with a high quality potting soil that will drain quickly. Add a balanced, slow-release fertilizer at planting and then every few weeks during the season, especially when plants start to bloom.
Water deeply and consistently, but don’t overwater. Eggplants need to dry slightly between waterings Mulch with straw, leaves or pesticide-free grass clippings to help maintain soil temperature. If necessary, stake or use a tomato cage to prevent branches that are heavy with fruit from breaking.
One mistake eggplant gardeners make is waiting to harvest the fruit until they’re as large as those found in grocery stores. If left on the plant too long, eggplants lose their sheen, become seedy and won’t be as tasty to eat.
To avoid that problem, use pruners or a knife to clip the fruit from the plant while still shiny and a bright color, even if they’re small. Leave about one inch of stem and calyx attached to the fruit.
Handle the fruit with care to prevent bruising. Use within a few days to enjoy the flavor while at its peak.
Eggplant is a versatile vegetable and is best used fresh from the garden. It can be grilled, fried, stuffed, baked, roasted, sautéed or stir fried. Two ways to preserve eggplant include pickling or freezing in pre-cooked casseroles.
What are your favorite eggplant varieties?
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