Eggplant Growth Stages

I often feel like one of the only people considering eggplant their favorite vegetable. While I can admit that there are more versatile veggies out there — tomatoes, in particular, come to mind — there’s something about a hearty grilled eggplant that can’t be beaten.

Eggplants may not be the most popular garden crop, but they are surprisingly easy to grow. Even if you’ve never grown eggplant before, I’m willing to bet you have lots of experience with one or more of its family members! And that means you more or less already know how to grow this iconic purple vegetable.

In this article, I break down the most essential eggplant growth stages and tell you what to expect when growing this crop.

Conditions for Growing Eggplant

Eggplants are closely related to tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. Anyone who can grow these veggies should have little issue adding eggplants to their garden rotation. 

Like its relatives, eggplant is a warm-season crop that withers at the slightest hint of frost. It needs consistent daytime and nighttime temperatures of 70 to 90°F to grow and produce a bountiful harvest. Most eggplants are planted in the spring and harvested later that summer. Cool-climate gardeners typically start seeds indoors to ensure enough frost-free days in the growing season.

Your eggplant needs at least 6 hours of sun per day to thrive. Use rich, well-draining soil with a slightly acidic pH for the best results. If tomatoes are already part of your garden, I recommend just copying their growing conditions for eggplant. The two veggies are so similar that this is often the easiest solution.

Although I’ve already commented on the similarities between eggplants and tomatoes (and their other cousins), I have a warning about growing these vegetables altogether: You need to be particularly vigilant about pests and diseases that target nightshade family members. 

Unfortunately, diseases like verticillium wilt will happily jump from eggplant to tomato and back again if the plants are grown in the exact location. The best way to prevent widespread issues in your vegetable garden is to practice crop rotation based on plant family — i.e., don’t plant eggplants anywhere you grew potatoes, tomatoes, or peppers in the past three years or vice-versa.

Eggplant Growth Rate

The average eggplant has a mature height of 18 to 36 inches and can grow just as wide. Larger cultivars can quickly grow 3 to 4 inches per week during the peak season! 

Eggplants tend to be bushy rather than tall and, unlike some relatives, do not climb. However, some eggplants still benefit from support, especially when they reach fruit-bearing age (individual eggplants can weigh up to 5 pounds). 

Another thing to note is that eggplants are usually classified as indeterminate. Instead of producing a big harvest at once, eggplants flower and set fruit intermittently throughout the season. 

Growth Stages of Eggplant

Eggplants take about 100 to 120 days to grow from seed, according to Clemson University. Meanwhile, eggplants grown from young transplants may mature in 65 to 80 days, offering a quicker harvest for impatient or cool-climate gardeners.

Different eggplant varieties are commonly grouped by their geographical origin. Some of the most famous examples include:

  • Chinese eggplant
  • Japanese eggplant
  • Italian eggplant
  • Thai eggplant
  • Indian eggplant

These categories have distinct appearances and flavor profiles but can — more or less — be substituted for each other in recipes. (Personally, Japanese eggplants are my favorite.) Quite a few unique varieties, such as the white eggplant, stand on their own.

eggplant growth stages

The eggplant life cycle varies very little from one type to another. However, I have found that some varieties mature a bit faster on average, so that’s something to keep in mind.

1. Seed Germination

Eggplants are very easy to start from seed. All they need is the correct moisture level, temperature, and some time to germinate and start growing. In the right conditions, eggplant seeds germinate in about 7 to 14 days. 

You can sprout eggplant seeds at temperatures from 60 to 95°F. The ideal temperature is usually about 85°F. In my experience, keeping the temperature reasonably consistent is more important than hitting this number on the dot.

Germination is a complicated process that requires a nearly microscopic approach to truly understand. But for our purposes, eggplant seed germination can be described in just a handful of steps: 1) Imbibing moisture through the seed coat, 2) rapid cell division within the seed, 3) emergence of the radicle or primary root, and 4) emergence of the hypocotyl and cotyledons.

Note that all seeds have an ‘expiration date’ set by Mother Nature. Eggplant seeds last, on average, four years in storage before the germination success rate steeply declines. With that said, fresher sources tend to yield the best results.

2. Seedling

Eggplants belong to a large group of plants called dicots. One of the distinguishing traits of these plants is that they have two cotyledons (hence the name dicot).

eggplant Seedling

Cotyledons are the seedling’s very first leaves. They’re unique from other foliage because they develop in the seed’s embryo. The seedling relies on its cotyledons as a rich energy source while it works to sprout and produce new growth.

The leaves that emerge after the cotyledons are commonly called the seedling’s first true leaves. These leaves will look like those of an adult eggplant, only smaller. 

Your eggplant seedling should have at least two sets of true leaves within 14 or 21 days of sprouting. The cotyledons will likely die off shortly after the first true leaves appear. Though you can’t see it, the root system is also complex at work during this time, getting more extensive and more dense.

3. Vegetative Growth

After the seedling stage comes a period of rapid vegetative growth; a plant needs to get big and strong to produce a hearty harvest by the end of the season.

The more branches and leaves an eggplant produces, the better it can photosynthesize and support the weight of the coming fruit. However, there is a point where excess vegetative growth can detract from vigorous flowering and fruit set. 

Vegetative Growth

A combination of consistent moisture and good nutrition is vital at this stage. Eggplants need 1 to 2 inches of water per week on average. I recommend a fertilizer with an NPK ratio of about 5-10-10 — this low-nitrogen ratio is far less likely to trigger excessive vegetative growth later in the growing season.

During this period, you can think of the leaves and roots mirroring each other. Eggplant roots grow 24 to 48 inches deep when the plant matures. A deep, healthy root system supports good fruit production and helps the plant survive dry conditions.

4. Flowering

Eggplant flowers are, unsurprisingly, very similar to those of tomatoes and other nightshades. Most varieties boast white or lilac petals that, according to the University of Missouri, bloom for 2 to 3 days.

eggplant Flowering

The first flowers can appear as early as 60 days after germination. If the conditions are right, an eggplant will continue flowering throughout the growing season. In most regions, this means new flowers can bloom until the first fall frost (of course, those late flowers won’t have enough time to produce fruit).

5. Pollination

You won’t get any eggplants unless the flowers are successfully pollinated. Fortunately, eggplants have ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’ flowers, meaning each plant has everything to pollinate itself.

The structure of eggplant flowers is also well-suited to self-pollination. It’s common for eggplants to pollinate themselves when jostled around by a light breeze or visiting insects. 

Regarding this year’s harvest, it doesn’t matter where the pollen that pollinates an eggplant flower comes from. However, if you want to save seeds from your garden to plant in future years, you’ll probably want to pay attention to who pollinates who.

6. Fruit Development

Eggplants ripen incredibly fast, considering how big they are! It takes as little as 7 to 14 days for the fruit to mature after flowering.

You can watch this happen in real-time: The pollinated flower will appear to whither and close back up, only to quickly be replaced by a small eggplant fruit. This fruit will grow rapidly over the following days.

When to Harvest Eggplant

Take a good look at your eggplants before deciding to pick them. Ripe eggplants should have firm, glossy skin (colour varies from one variety to another).

Double-check the quality of the fruit by cutting it into one that looks ready. The inner flesh should be firm and cream-colored, and the seeds should be too small to clearly see.

For more insight into growing eggplants, here’s an article about Companion Plants for Eggplants.

FAQ Eggplant Growth Stages

How many eggplants can you get from one plant?

While the average yield per plant is about 6 to 8 eggplants, some high-yield varieties can produce as many as 12 fruit per plant! Total gain depends on many different factors, so there may also be times when a single plant only has a couple of fruit.

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.