You can grow eggplants from seeds or seedlings, and in the ground or in pots. In fact, if you live in a cooler climate, eggplants are happier in dark pots, which can be 10 degrees warmer than your soil temperature. In the ground, they can also benefit from row covers to keep the soil warm. Whatever you do, wait until the soil is consistently at least 50 degrees F before planting seedlings, with daytime temperatures in the 70’s.
Seed Planting Process
Eggplants are best grown from seed, indoors, before being transplanted into the garden, unless you are in a particularly warm, humid climate.
Sow your eggplant seeds indoors six to eight weeks before your expected last frost date. For best results, soak your seeds for 24 hours before you plant them, and use a seed-starting soil for the cleanest soil.
Seeds will germinate if they are kept consistently at a temperature between 60 to 90 degrees F. In 10 days, your seedlings will sprout. It’s recommended to use a seedling tray with a greenhouse cover to keep them warm and humid until they sprout, preferably with a heat mat and grow light.
Once your seedlings emerge, they are going to need plenty of light. Put them by a sunny window or turn on grow lights about 4 inches above your seedlings. Leave the lights on for 16 hours, off for eight hours. Don’t leave the lights on 24/7; most plants need a little darkness to grow.
Once your seedlings begin to grow, you’ll want to harden them off before you transplant them to your garden. So, about three to four weeks after you plant the seeds, give your new seedlings a little sheltered outside time, starting with an hour or two a day in indirect sunlight, progressing to a full day outside. Bring your seedlings in for the night after each outdoor foray. This process helps strengthen the plant’s cells, giving them a better chance of thriving when you transplant them.
Prepare an area that is full sun with a soil pH of 5.5 to 7.0. Your garden soil temperature should be at least 50 degrees F before you set your seedlings out. When your seedlings are ready for the outdoor garden, have planting holes ready for them that are spaced 18 to 24 inches apart in rows that are at least 24 to 36 inches apart. Pop the seedlings out of their little containers and put them right into their outdoor home.
Cover the roots and attached soil with fresh garden soil and give them a good drink of water. Mulch around your plants to help keep the soil warm. If you’re concerned about pests moving in on your young plants, put a row cover over them.
Sowing directly in the garden
Unless you are in a warm, humid, tropical-like climate, eggplants don’t generally survive being planted directly in the garden.
The reason is because they need consistent heat to germinate and thrive, so while you may be able to plant a seedling in 50-degree F soil, you may not be able to do the same with a seed. While the soil may be warm enough, it’s not consistent enough at that temperature to be nutritive to the seed to get it to grow.
However, if you do live in a warm, humid climate, you can certainly plant your seeds directly.
Prepare an area that is full sun with a soil pH of 5.5 to 7.0. Eggplant loves soil that is moisture-retaining, so you’ll do well to add an inch or two of compost to your planting area. Your eggplants want to be well-watered and warm, which is why they do so well in warm climates. Without these two things, they will be smaller and more bitter tasting.
Create 1/4-inch planting holes that are spaced 18 to 24 inches apart in rows that are at least 24 to 36 inches apart. Plant two or three seeds at a time in each hole.
By planting more than one seed in each hole, you’ll likely have a better chance at successful germination, and if you do, you’ll be thinning out seedlings once they’re established.
Cover your seedlings with soil and water them. They should germinate within 10 days. When your plants are a few inches tall, you should thin them out, or remove the extra plants.
Have you tried growing eggplants from seeds or seedlings? Which method do you prefer—and why? Please share your experiences with us.