Eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a warm-season vegetable that grows best when temperatures are between 70 to 85 °F. It generally has a long growing season and grows slowly during cool periods. Plant in the spring after the last chance of frost and the soil has thoroughly warmed. Set out 6 to 8-week-old transplants to get a head start toward harvest. Seeds germinate quickly at soil temperatures between 70 to 90 °F.
|Piedmont||May 1-June 30||July 1-15|
|Central||April 10-June 15||July 15-Aug 1|
|Coastal||Mar. 25-Apr.30||Aug 1-31|
Piedmont: Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Chester, Edgefield, Fairfield, Greenville, Greenwood, Lancaster, Laurens, McCormick, Newberry, Oconee, Pickens, Saluda, Spartanburg, Union, and York counties.
Central: Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun, Chesterfield, Clarendon, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Kershaw, Lee, Lexington, Marion, Marlboro, Orangeburg, Richland, and Sumter counties.
Coastal: Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, and Williamsburg counties.
Purchase eggplant transplants from a reputable garden center to ensure the plants are the best quality. Do not purchase tall, spindly plants or plants with blossoms. Blossoms on the transplants will slow their growth after transplanting and may result in lower yields. Space plants 2 to 2½ feet apart in rows that are 3 to 4 feet apart.
Standard Italian eggplant varieties produce oval-shaped, glossy, purple-black fruit that is 6 to 9 inches long. Asian eggplant varieties vary in color and shape (elongated, oval, or round), have thinner skin, and more delicate flavor. Specialty eggplants come in a variety of other shapes, sizes, and colors, including red, orange, white, and green. The following list includes just a few varieties recommended for South Carolina.
Italian types: Black Magic, Classic, Dusky, Epic, Night Shadow, Santana
Asian types: Ichiban (purple, elongated), Calliope (white and purple, oval), Kermit (green and white, round)
Specialty: Casper (white, elongated), Ghostbuster (white, oval), Gretel (white, mini, elongated), Hansel (purple, mini, elongated), Millionaire (purple, elongated)
Eggplant requires moderate amounts of fertilizer. A soil test is always the best method of determining the fertilization needs of the crop. For more information, see HGIC 1652, Soil Testing. Follow the results of a soil test to maintain a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5.
Apply preplant fertilizer according to soil test recommendations. Broadcast the fertilizer evenly and incorporate it into the soil by tilling or discing to a depth of around 6 inches. Working the fertilizer into the soil ensures that the nutrients are available to the plants when they are transplanted.
Side dress plants with 5 pounds of calcium nitrate (15.5-0-0) per 1000 square feet or 300 feet of row three to four weeks after planting. For smaller gardens, use ½ pound of calcium nitrate fertilizer per 100 square feet or 30 feet of row. A pint is roughly equal to a pound for most fertilizers. Side dress another 5 pounds per 1000 square feet or ½ pound per 100 square feet three to four weeks after that. To avoid burning the roots, place side-dress fertilizer 4 to 6 inches away from the plants. If fertilizer is broadcast, avoid burning the plant foliage by watering overhead after the application to wash any fertilizer granules off the leaves.
Water the garden to provide a uniform moisture supply to the crop. Water sufficiently to moisten the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches. The critical period for soil moisture is during fruit set and fruit development. Mulching can help retain consistent soil moisture, conserve water, and reduce weeds.
Harvesting & Storage
Eggplants should be ready for harvest in about 65 to 80 days after transplanting, depending on the variety. When starting from seed, expect 100 to 120 days to reach maturity. Eggplant may be harvested at any time after they have reached sufficient size but should be removed from the plants before the flesh becomes tough, and seeds begin to harden. Italian eggplant should be large, shiny, and a uniform purple color. When the side of the fruit is pressed slightly with the thumbnail, and an indentation remains, the fruit is ripe.
Japanese eggplant may be ready to harvest when the size of a finger or hot dog. Typically, eggplants are harvested at least once per week, sometimes twice. The stems of eggplant are tough and heavy; therefore, harvest the fruit by cutting stems with a sharp knife or hand pruners.
Harvested eggplant will store in the refrigerator for a week. The optimal conditions for storage are temperatures of 45 to 50 °F and 90-percent relative humidity.
The major pests that feed on eggplant include flea beetles, Colorado potato beetles, aphids, whiteflies, hornworms, and mites. Other commonly seen pests and diseases in the home garden include root-knot nematodes, Phytophthora blight, bacterial wilt, Southern blight, and Phomopsis blight. For more information on eggplant pests and pest management, see HGIC 2224, Eggplant Insect Pests and Diseases.