Growing Guide - Aubergine

Growing Guide AubergineGrowing aubergine – or eggplant as our American and Australian friends call them – is one of the best things you can do in your garden. Simple to sow, plant, and harvest, aubergines will present even novice gardeners with few problems if the necessary care is given.

Aubergine is a fruit – although most people in the kitchen use it as a vegetable – which is native to the Southeast Asia region and comes in many shapes and sizes. It possesses a zesty flavour and wondrous purple shade which is why they're so popular all over the world. From hummus-like baba ganoush to delicious curries, you'll find aubergine makes its way into plenty of great recipes due to its distinct, delicious taste.

It's not all about taste with aubergines, however. They're packed full of goodness which makes them a feel-good food too. Some of the benefits of eating this fruit are:
  1. Great source of antioxidants
  2. Helps to manage and control blood sugar
  3. Can help with cholesterol management
  4. Weight management
  5. Improved health in general
As you can see, there are plenty of great reasons to grow aubergine and their purple hue will add wonderful colour to your outdoor space. Before you decide to grow them in your garden, however, we want you to get to know them. Here are some quick-fire questions and answers about growing aubergine.

How to grow aubergines?
Sow aubergine seeds indoors early in the year before planting out in spring. They require a fair amount of basic care and attention whilst growing and will be ready to harvest in late summer. For a more in-depth guide be sure to read more below.

How tall do aubergine plants grow?
Aubergine plants are modest growers and reach up to around 90cm with the best growing conditions.

Can you grow aubergines in the UK?
Although they thrive in warmer climates, aubergines can still be successfully grown in the UK. The biggest threat they face is cold temperatures and frost, so knowing when to plant them is key to growing aubergines in the UK. We'll go into more detail on this topic below.

Can I grow aubergines in pots?
Yes. The most common process for growing aubergines from seed is in a pot or modules before planting them into the ground or a larger pot outside once they've germinated.

When to grow aubergines

Aubergines are harvested late in summer and autumn which means you'll begin the growing phase anywhere between January and April. If you're planning on planting them outside, then holding off sowing until March or April will ensure the frost has passed before they're ready to be planted outdoors.

You'll then begin planting your aubergine plants outside between May and June so they're ready to be harvested between July and October – so long as you've cared for them properly! 

How to sow aubergines

To sow aubergines, you'll need seeds, pots or modules and seed compost. Those growing aubergines in a polytunnel or heated propagator can sow in January and those planning on growing them outside should sow them indoors in early March and leave them in a sunny spot.

The process of sowing your aubergine seeds couldn't be simpler. Fill your pots with your compost and pop your seeds beneath the top layer and add water. After around 10 days to two weeks, you should see the aubergine seedlings begin to appear. Once this happens, take out the individual seedlings and plant them in their own 9cm pot filled with compost.

When to plant out aubergines

You'll know when to transfer your aubergines outdoors when their roots outgrow their 9cm pots. At this time you'll want to either transfer the aubergine plants into 23cm pots or directly into the ground.

If you're growing your plants in the ground, then you'll need to ensure you're putting them in your warmest, sunniest spots as aubergines thrive in these conditions. If you're struggling to find a spot that can give the aubergines this, then a polytunnel can help to provide the necessary conditions for them.

The process for planting aubergines in the ground is as follows:
  1. Warm the area of soil you're going to plant them in with a cloche or polytunnel at least two weeks before planting. This should be done only after the last frost has passed.
  2. Dig holes at least 60cm apart and plant aubergines in the holes, then water well.
  3. Young plants should be covered with a cloche or fleece for an extra two weeks, so they can acclimatise to the outdoor UK temperatures.

Plant care for your aubergines

Aubergines need the same amount of attention as other plants when growing, so be attentive to their needs and do the following for a greater chance of a successful harvest:
  1. Water regularly and apply high potassium liquid fertiliser fortnightly once the first fruits begin to appear.
  2. Provide support using stakes to prevent the plant from falling over when it gets taller.
  3. Pinch out the tip of the main stem once the aubergine plant height reaches 30cm tall. This will encourage side shoots which can grow more fruits ready to be harvested.
On top of these aubergine plant care tips, you must also be aware of the following external threats which could impact the lifespan of your fruits:

Red spider mites
These pests eat plant sap which can cause leaves to appear mottled and plant death if not treated. Should they appear, you'll find it easy to spot them. There will be webbing on the leaves and irregular markings will appear.

Red spider mites thrive in hot and dry conditions, so the best prevention is to mist your plant twice a day. Misting is also great for general plant growth too.

Blossom end rot
Instigated by a calcium deficiency, blossom end rot causes your aubergine fruits to develop spots which can merge into leathery, dark brown areas. Common causes of this issue are dry soil or applying fertiliser to dry soil.

Water plants regularly, and ensure you always water before applying fertiliser, to prevent this from affecting your aubergine plants. This will ensure they can get the calcium they need through their roots.

Sometimes referred to as thunderflies, thrips are another form of pest that may attack your aubergine plant. These are no bigger than 2mm in size, but leaves can be killed as they feed on them. Thrips can be hard to see, so if your leaves begin to die but you don't know why then we recommend using a magnifying glass to investigate. These pests are yellow, black or brown in appearance. If you see any, then they should be quickly removed. 

The easiest way to remove the threat of thrips is to increase the humidity around the plant by misting it with tepid water, and removing any dead leaves that can carry them and other pests.

When to harvest aubergine

You'll know when to harvest your aubergine because it will have glossy skin and be firm when you squeeze it. This should occur between July and October depending on when you sowed them.

Once they're ready to be picked, pop your gardening gloves on and handle the aubergine with care as they can bruise quite easily. Next, take your knife or pruners and cut the stem just above the aubergine's calyx (the cap at the top of the fruit).

Take your harvested aubergines inside and give them a good clean with fresh water before consumption. The aubergine can then be stored in either a fridge or cool cupboard space for up to six days before it will start to go off. Aubergine can be frozen if you wish and will last roughly six months.

Start growing your aubergine in a polytunnel today

If aubergine seems like the ideal fruit-growing project for your garden, then get started today. We recommend growing them in one of the polytunnels we have available here at Premier Polytunnels. This is because they'll provide the warmth and humidity aubergines need to thrive and grow into the lovely, juicy fruit that's so versatile when you cook it.

Got a question about planting aubergines in one of our polytunnels? We're happy to help. Call us on 01282 811250 or email and we'll be available to assist with your query.

Be sure to check out our other blogs for more growing guides to turn your outdoor space into a gardener's dream.
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