Welcome to your go-to guide for growing eggplant in containers. For some, eggplant (also known as aubergine) may seem bland or possibly even mushy, but it’s a versatile vegetable that can be enjoyed in many different dishes and cuisines. Some of the most popular Italian recipes use eggplant as the main ingredient, but it’s also enjoyed in Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and Middle Eastern dishes.
This is a perennial that enjoys full sun and some days with a lot of heat. If you learn how to grow it properly in containers, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy a rich, bountiful harvest. Read on to learn how to get your garden started today.
There are many varieties of eggplant to choose from. They range in colors from white to dark purple, as well as violet and striped. The flowers are also gorgeous, which makes it a joy to grow them. Here are some of the easiest (and tastiest!) eggplant varieties you can grow.
Sicilian heirlooms have striped skins that can range from dark purple and white to rose and white. Sometimes they are called “graffiti”. They are the perfect variety for eggplant Parmesan, or try them stuffed with meat or rice. If you’ve had bitter-tasting eggplant before and didn’t like it, try the “Rosa Bianca” variety and you might be surprised!
These eggplants are long and thin and have very dark, glossy skin. They’re the sweetest-tasting eggplant variety and have a creamy texture that melts in your mouth. The skins are thin, so they don’t need to be peeled. These beauties are perfect for stir-fries. Try the “Ichiban” variety—it’s prolific and perfect for containers.
Indian Eggplants are short and squat, they are great for stuffing or using in curries. Try the “Ratna” variety, which is the most typical and well known. Get more Indian eggplant varieties here.
If you don’t have a lot of space, try a dwarf variety like “Fairy Tale”. At maturity, the plants range from 1 to 2 feet in height and the fruits are about 5 inches long. They can be grown in smaller pots, and seem to do better in cooler climates because they don’t require as much energy as larger fruits do. They’re perfect for grilling, and have sweet, creamy flesh.
“Patio Baby” is another great dwarf variety. It produces small black fruits, and can be grown in a 1-gallon container on even the smallest balcony.
Eggplants can grow rather large, so it’s a good idea to start with a large pot so it has lots of room to grow. A 5-gallon pot that’s at least 12 inches deep is recommended. Each eggplant requires 12-14 inches of space. If the eggplant really thrives, you may need to transplant it into a larger pot as it grows.
If you live in a cooler climate and still want to plant eggplant, you can try my method. I’ve had great success with getting a better yield by using black plastic pots. They retain more heat than lighter-colored ones, and keep the soil warmer, which is what the plant needs in order to fruit.
You can also try growing eggplants in an upside-down bottle planter, as pictured in the video above. This method works well for tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers too. If you’re really short on yard space, this “hanging garden” technique is invaluable! You can grow tons of vegetables without taking up valuable land.
You can start growing eggplant in containers either from seeds or plant starts. In general, they do best in zones 5-12, and will grow as a perennial in zones 10-12. It’s absolutely possible to grow eggplant in colder climates, however, and you’ll find several tips throughout this article for how to do so.
First, be sure to use a good quality potting mix. It’s also a good idea to add some compost or aged manure to the pots, since eggplants are heavy feeders.
Plant your eggplants with tomato cages: they’ll need the extra support as they grow. If you don’t want to use a cage, insert a heavy-duty stick or stake that you can then tie the plant to in order to support the growing fruits. Otherwise, top-heavy fruits can break the stems and destroy your plant.
If you’ve never grown eggplant before, it’s a good idea to begin with plants rather than seeds. Your local garden center should have good ideas of which varieties are all purpose, and which grow best in your climate.
The beauty of container gardening is that typical planting times can be altered. You can just move the pot around as needed to create the best growing environment. That said, eggplants do need a significant amount of heat and sunlight to fruit. If you don’t live in a warm climate, wait until all danger of frost has passed before planting it.
Planting from Seed
To start eggplants from seed, the temperature needs to be at least 68 F (20 C). If you wish to plant eggplant from seeds be sure to plant 2 seeds in each container, as this will likely ensure at least one will grow. They should germinate in 7-14 days.
Once the plants have sprouted and have at least four leaves, they can be transplanted into the desired containers.
Sunlight and Water
Eggplants need at least 6 hours of full sun to produce fruit. That said, they will be more prolific if they get 10 hours’ worth.
Water well without letting the soil become soggy. Be sure that there is enough drainage on the bottom of the container in order to prevent root rot. Consistent watering is the best approach. If it gets very hot where you live, you may need to water twice a day because container soil can dry out more quickly than in a traditional garden or raised bed.
Eggplants like to grow in temperatures above 50 F. If you live in a warmer climate or can bring your container in on colder days, you don’t have to worry too much about it. Just know that eggplants cannot be grown completely indoors, as they need to be fertilized by bees in order to produce fruit.
Eggplants are heavy feeders and do better if you add fertilizer every 2 weeks during the growing season. Use aged manure or blood meal for organic growing.
Diseases and Pests
The good thing is that most pest and disease problems don’t affect plants grown in containers. The most common problems facing your eggplant are flea beetles, verticillium wilt, and powdery mildew. Try this homemade spray to control flea beetles. If your plant gets powdery mildew, try neem oil on the leaves. This oil is also helpful for getting rid of other garden pests.
If you’re growing bush beans, tarragon or thyme, place them near your eggplants, as they’re helpful companion plants.
Sing to Them
Many anecdotal references show that singing to your plants helps them to grow better. Although there is no hardcore science to back that claim, there is a study that showed plants perform certain behaviors based on sound. For example, in 2014, scientists reported that the mere sound of caterpillars chewing was enough to cause thale cress plants to release more defensive chemicals.
Think your heat-loving eggplants would love the Mambo Italiano? Think again. Apparently, plants that were played loud, fast, fiercely intense music actually wilted and sometimes even died. Plants that listened to lullabies or classical music thrived.
It does makes sense, in a more practical way. A gardener who spends time every day talking or singing to their plants is keeping a close eye on them. Therefore, they have the best chance to thrive in the garden when well-tended.
Harvesting and Storing
Eggplants usually reach maturity in 60-80 days. Their skins will look glossy and the fruits plump. Cut the fruits at the stem with a sharp knife or shears, leaving about an inch of the stem. If you try to pull the fruit, they won’t come off.
Store your harvested eggplants for up to two weeks at room temperature in humid conditions, where the temperature doesn’t fall below 50 F. Don’t puncture the skin or it’ll rot quickly.
Saving their seeds can be a bit challenging, but this guide should help if you want to save your eggplant seeds for future planting.
How to Eat Eggplant
There are many delicious ways to enjoy eggplant. Try it grilled, roasted, breaded, fried, or baked. As mentioned, eggplant parmesan (parmigiana) is a classic favorite that everyone can enjoy.
If you’ve e only tasted bitter eggplant dishes in the past, then try the Italian way to prepare it for cooking. Cut it in the manner in which you’ll be preparing it (in cubes, in slices, etc.) then sprinkle with salt and allow it to drain in a colander for about 30 minutes. Then rinse the salt off and squeeze out all the excess water.
If you need more inspiration for how to enjoy eggplant, you are sure to find several recipes to try here.