Eggplants thrive in summer heat! Just like tomatoes, eggplant is a member of the nightshade family. The beautiful purple flowers turn into (mostly) large purple fruits that can substitute for meat in many dishes.
Eggplant seeds germinate best at temperatures above 75oF, but can also be started indoors on a heat mat. If starting in a seed tray, plant your seeds 1/4” deep and 1-2 seeds per cell. If starting outdoors, space your seeds 12-18” apart. Eggplants can get quite large, so choose a place with lots of breathing room, away from other nightshade plants, like potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes (as they can share diseases and pests). If your temperatures in summer regularly reach 100oF, pick a spot with partial, preferably afternoon, shade. Consider using a tomato cage to help support the plant as it grows taller (a stake can be used instead). Eggplants will flower all summer long and into fall, dying with the first freeze.
Eggplants are heavy feeders, and need consistent watering, especially when setting fruit. Start with a well balanced fertilizer, then side dress every 6 weeks throughout the growing season. Companion plants to eggplants are nitrogen fixers, like southern peas and bush beans. Consider adding phosphorous when flowers appear to promote blooms over foliage growth.
As the fruit develops, watch its color. Most purple varieties should be a glossy deep purple, with no brown streaks. Once the eggplant turns dull, it is overripe. Cut the stem just above the cap to harvest. Many eggplant fruits can get quite large, up to 8” long, but picking smaller isn’t usually an issue and doesn’t adjust the flavor much. If the fruit is blocked by a branch, it can grow in a strange shape, and can be more susceptible to damage. Like peppers and tomatoes, eggplants can get “sunburned” by direct sunlight. Consider a shade cloth if your plants are not in afternoon shade.
Eggplants do very well in containers. Start them out in a small container and move up with the plant. 10-20 gallon pots are good final sizes for most eggplants, but you can go bigger. Just be sure to add more nutrients into the soil for larger pots!