From Greek-style moussaka to spicy brinjal pickle, aubergines are a fabulous and nutritious ingredient for the kitchen and attractive plants to grow with their beautiful purple, pink or white flowers followed by ornamental egg-shaped fruits in a range of colours, many with glossy skins.
The most important thing to bear in mind when growing aubergines, or egg plants as they’re widely known, is that they love plenty of heat. They thrive on sunny patios but do best under the cover of a greenhouse or polytunnel in cooler parts of the UK.
What you need:
- Aubergine seeds, young plants or grafted plants
- Small pots (9cm/4in), seed trays or cell trays
- Larger pots or tomato grow bags for growing on young plants
- Multipurpose compost
- Cane supports and plant ties for standard-sized aubergines
- Plant labels if planting different varieties
- Tomato food
Nice to have:
When to sow:
January - April (indoors).
When to plant out:
May - June.
When to harvest:
July to October, depending on cultivar.
Choosing your aubergines
Aubergines come in a range of sizes, shapes and colours. Choose between pear, egg and ball-like fruit in deep purple, pink, white or pink-flecked shades. The stems of some plants are very spiny, others less so, making them easier to pick. Growers can plant early varieties or later cropping cultivars. Aubergines generally love full sun but some can be grown in partial shade.
Compact, standard and grafted aubergines
Standard forms of aubergines are between 60 and 75cm (24 – 30in) high while compact cultivars are a better choice for smaller spaces. Grafted aubergines, on which the stems of one plant are attached to the roots of another, are a little pricier but produce higher yields and faster harvests and have greater resistance to diseases such as mildew and nutritional disorders.
How to grow aubergines
Aubergines can be grown from seed in warm environments. At least 18°C is needed for germination, so a heated greenhouse or propagator, an airing cupboard or a sunny windowsill in a warm room are essential. A great alternative is to buy aubergine plants when the weather has warmed up.
- Sow aubergine seeds from February to April, or from January if they’ll be growing in a heated greenhouse. Don’t start plants that will be growing outdoors until March. Sow individually in 9cm (4in) pots or cell trays, or sparingly in seed trays. Place seeds onto pre-watered compost and cover with 1cm (1/2 in) of sieved compost or vermiculite.
- Cover with cling film or clear plastic.
- Place in a warm spot, ideally between 18 and 21°C (65 - 70°F).
- Remove the covering once the seeds have germinated and keep the compost moist. Make sure those germinated in the airing cupboard are moved to a warm, light place.
- If growing in seed trays or cell trays, prick out seedlings when they reach 5cm (2in) and place in a 9cm pot filled with good quality compost.
- Grow on at 15 - 18°C (60 - 65°F) until late May to June.
- Prepare plants due to be grown outside by hardening them off (placing them outside when conditions are suitable) for two weeks before their final move. Warm the soil with a cloche during this time.
- Plant in final growing position between late May to June. Make sure all risk of frost has passed if growing outside. Plant in a large pot, at least 20cm (8in), in a sheltered sunny spot or in a greenhouse. If growing in a growbag or greenhouse bed, or in the ground in particularly warm parts of the UK, space plants 45cm (18in) apart. Outdoor-grown plants may benefit from a cloche to keep them warm early on.
How to care aubergines
Water the compost regularly to keep it moist. A bucket or tray of water can be placed in a greenhouse or polytunnel or plants can be misted regularly to maintain humidity. Feed every 10 to 14 days with a good quality potassium-rich fertiliser, such as a tomato feed, once the first fruits begin to form.
How to train aubergines
Encourage plants to produce fruit on their lateral branches rather than from their central stem. Encourage side shoots on standard-sized cultivars by removing the growing tip when the plant reaches around 30cm (1ft). Restrict the number of aubergines on larger-fruited cultivars to five or six by pinching out the smallest ones and any new flowers. Use a cane and plant ties to stake taller plants.
When to harvest aubergines
July to September is the usual time for harvesting, although early-fruiting cultivars can be ready from June. Size depends on the variety being grown. Pick aubergines when ripe and while their skins are still glossy (if appropriate) to avoid the development of a bitter taste – generally they’re ready at around 20 weeks after sowing. Some cultivars are best eaten slightly under ripe.
Pests and diseases
- Glasshouse red spider or two-spotted mite covers plants in a tight web, which can cause leaves to drop. Reduce the risk by maintain humid conditions as this pest thrives in hot and dry conditions. Biological controls can be used in greenhouses or polytunnels.
- Sap-sucking whitefly and aphids produce a sticky liquid that encourages the growth of a sooty mould. Use biological controls or sticky traps when growing under cover. Aphids can also be squashed. Marigolds can be grown near aubergines to deter whitefly.
- Powdery mildew can develop in dry environments with poor air circulation.
- Verticillium wilt is a fungal disease spread in contaminated soil. Keep weeds under control as some can host this infection. Destroy affected plants.