Aubergines (Solanum Melongena), also known as brinjal, or eggplant, are part of the nightshade family. While they are often called ‘aubergine’ as a result of the dark purple color of the most common varieties, they come in many other shapes and colours too. Aubergines can also be white, striped, or green!
They are typically cooked and treated as a vegetable despite their ‘fruit’ status and are used in many savory Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes.
How to Grow Aubergines
You can either grow your aubergines from seed or buy seedlings. If you are buying young seedlings from a garden center, do not be tempted by the ones with flowers on, as these will result in a lower yield at harvest. Choose compact and densely leaved starter plants for the best shot at a bountiful harvest.
If starting from seed, aubergines will need a warm base to germinate in. Germinate in damp paper in a warm environment, such as by a radiator or in an airing cupboard. Once shoots have appeared, transfer them into a propagator or into peat pots and place indoors on a hot and sunny windowsill. If you don’t have somewhere that received enough warmth from the sun, you may need a heated propagator.
If you don’t have a heated propagator but are in a cooler climate, consider growing aubergines in a greenhouse or a cold frame. If you don’t have any of these available and want to plant them directly outside, it is vital to wait until the soil temperature is hot enough. You’ll need the soil to reach somewhere in the range of 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit (21-32 degrees Celsius) before it is safe to put the plants in the soil. Cool temperatures will seriously damage young seedlings, so take a cautious approach as to when it is time to plant out into the garden.
Planting Your Aubergines
If growing outdoors, choose a raised bed or container and use black plastic as a covering on the soil you are using to help to heat it up. Consider covering young seedlings with glass or clear plastic to help trap heat and protect them from the elements until the sun is sufficiently and consistently hot enough to provide the conditions the plants need to thrive. This doesn’t need to be expensive – for example, you can cut a 2L bottle in half and use each half to cover a seedling.
Always plant out your aubergines in full sun, in a warm spot where the soil temperature will build and retain heat and ensure the plants are well protected from strong winds. Fertilize the soil in your container or raised bed about a week in advance of planting to a depth of around six inches. Use organic material, such as manure or frass. Ideally, soil pH should be between 5.8 – 6.5 for best results and be of an easily drained, sandy base. Use liquid fertiliser and compost as needed to maintain high-quality soil.
If planting in raised beds, the young plants should be planted around 2.5 ft apart to give them sufficient room to grow, in rows that are between three and four feet apart.
Caring For Your Aubergine Plants
As soon as the aubergine plants are established and growing, train them up a stake, planted alongside them, to offer support, as they will collapse with the weight of the fruit without one. Once the plants are around 12″ tall, snip the tips from the main stem to help ensure clean, upright growth.
Once they are established, take care not to overwater, as they prefer dryer conditions than many plants. As they grow, they will produce a clutch of pale pink or white flowers. Shortly after pollination, the aubergine fruit will begin to appear, At this stage, water the plants more regularly to help ensure a good harvest. If you are living in dry conditions, water thoroughly once or twice a week, but give the soil time to dry out between waterings.
Consider mulching your aubergine plants to help retain moisture without soaking them. While they prefer a dryer soil, the leaves and fruits like high humidity, so either gently mist the leaves daily in the morning or evening. Alternatively, you could set out buckets of water between the plants to encourage more humid conditions.
Once the fruit has appeared, use a calcium nitrate fertiliser alongside the plants, but avoid applying it directly to the roots. Repeat the process after a fortnight to ensure maximum growth of your harvest. Towards the end of the growing season, start pinching new flowers off the plant to help focus growth on your existing fruits and to speed up the ripening process.
Aubergine plants can also be grown in pots, which, in a cooler climate, can help accelerate the necessary heat that is needed in the soil and maintain it in less consistent conditions. Choose a dark-coloured pot (it’ll retain heat better), with a capacity of at least five gallons.
Once the eggplants are ready to be harvested (around 70- 80 days after planting out and 100-120 days from germination), look for shiny, well-rounded fruit with plump, smooth skin. Fruit needs to be cut, rather than pulled off the plant. Cut close to the stem, leaving about an inch of growth.
Harvest at least once or twice a week, until all the fruits are gone.
While most people treat aubergine as an annual and simply dig over at the end of the growing season, if you live in a sunnier, drier climate, you may wish to try growing aubergines as a perennial. If so, cut the stalks right back, mulch the ground well, and ensure that they are covered over with gardeners’ fleece or plastic if there is even the slightest risk of frost.
Storing and Using Your Aubergine
Once harvested, aubergines may be kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Depending on the variety, you can use aubergine for cooking a wide variety of dishes. One popular one is baba ganoush, an eggplant puree made with tahini and olive oil. This is a lovely dip for a sharing plate.
Additionally, the larger varieties work well simply washed, sliced, and grilled on the barbeque. They also form a key component in Greek moussaka or Italian eggplant parmigiana. Smaller varieties of aubergine may be cooked whole in curries, stews, and casseroles.
They may also be sliced and frozen, or preserved in herbed olive oil for a delicious and very Italian appetizer.
While some people believe that aubergine needs to be brined or covered with a layer of salt before cooking, to remove any residual acidity, others believe they are just as tasty without. Experiment for yourself and see which you prefer!
You might only find one or two different varieties in the supermarket, but once you start growing your own, you’ll find you have many more options available to you. Some of the more popular aubergines that you may wish to add to your garden include:
- Globe – these are typical American eggplants. Popular varieties include: ‘Black Beauty,’ ‘Black Magic,’ ‘Early Bird‘ and ‘Purple Rain.’
- Graffiti – this is a Sicilian variant, characterized by a deep red and white haphazardly-striped skin.
- Japanese and Chinese – these look like purple zucchini in size and are perfect for stir-fries as they have flesh that is more tender and less dense than other aubergines. Look for ‘Ichiban,’ ‘Pingtung Long‘ or ‘Little Fingers‘ varieties.
- Indian – Also known as brinjal, these are a tiny variety, and are much rounder than typical eggplant. They taste much less sweet than their bigger counterparts.
- Thai – small and green, these have a very different texture to typical eggplant. These are denser in texture, making them good for holding their shape in slow cooking recipes. They can have a bitterness to them and we recommend removing the seeds.
- Italian – these are very similar in appearance to Globe eggplants, but grow smaller and have a sweeter-tasting flesh.
- White – These grow to about the same size as Italian aubergines, but as the name suggests, the skin and flesh of these is a pale, creamy white.
- Green Apple – as the name suggests, these are rounder than regular aubergines and have a more dense-textured flesh.
- Fairy Tale – these are tiny little tender aubergines, often striped in shades of pink, purple and white. These are best cooked and eaten whole.
- Rosa Bianca – another multicolored variety, plump, round and striped pink and white, these aubergines are very mild in taste.
Aubergines are generally pretty resilient, but they may suffer from the following infestations or issues. Identify the problem and treat accordingly, organically, where possible.
- Colorado potato beetle
- Flea beetles
- Tomato hornworms
- Lace bugs
- Red spider mite
- Root knot nematodes
- Powdery mildew
If flowers form, but fruit does not follow, or fruit remains stunted in size, it is likely a result of too cold a temperature. Check soil temperature and the growing position, as a cold wind can chill even the sunniest spot.
Your Questions Answered
Is Growing Aubergines Difficult?
Aubergine growing isn’t always easy, but the good news is that once they are established, they are relatively easy to care for. Just make sure you give the plants plenty of care and attention while they are young and choose a good spot because they are particular about their growing conditions.
How Long Does it Take to Grow Aubergines?
Your aubergine plant will take between 100-120 days to grow to maturity from seed, or around 70-90 days if grown from a young seedling. Aubergines are a warm-weather crop, and cannot be planted out until after the last frost has passed. They can be started from seed in pots indoors, around 8 weeks before the estimated end of the frosts for the year.
What Companion Plants Should I Put With My Aubergines?
Aubergine plants are great grown with other nightshades, such as peppers (capsicum), chilli or tomatoes, as they all prefer very similar conditions. Otherwise, they can be grown alongside spinach and potatoes to help reduce any potential pest issues.