Aubergines are becoming increasingly popular, with the introduction of new cultivars with smaller fruits that crop more readily. Sunshine and warmth are the keys to success, so these tender plants do best in a greenhouse. Sow seeds early in the year in warm conditions indoors – even in an airing cupboard.
Jobs to do now
- Harvest fruits
- Water plants with tepid water
Month by month
Sow in pots or modules filled with seed compost from February onwards. If the plants will be growing in a heated greenhouse, you can start them earlier, in January. If they will be growing outdoors, delay sowing indoors until early March, as these tender plants mustn’t be moved outside until after the last frost.
Keep the pots or modules at 18–21°C (65–70°F), either in a heated propagator or a warm location indoors.
If germinating seeds in an airing cupboard, check daily and remove as soon as seedlings appear. Then place on a warm, bright windowsill.
If you don’t have room to grow from seed indoors, young aubergine plants are now widely sold in garden centres in spring. Grafted plants are also available – these grow strongly and usually cope better with cooler conditions outdoors.
Aubergines need a lot of warmth and sun to crop well, so are best grown in a greenhouse. They can be grown outside, but rarely do well except in mild areas or very warm summers.
Grow initially in 9cm (3½in) pots, then when the roots fill the pot, transfer to 23cm (9in) pots at the following times:
in April if growing in a heated greenhouse
in early May if growing in an unheated greenhouse
in late May/early June if they will be growing outdoors
Aubergines can also be planted in the ground in warm areas of Britain:
Choose your warmest, sunniest, most sheltered position, ideally against a sunny wall.
Warm the soil with polythene or cloches two weeks before planting, once there is no danger of frost
Space plants 60cm (2ft) apart
Cover young plants with cloches or fleece for a further two weeks until acclimatised
Plants need staking, as they can grow tall and top-heavy. Tie in the main stem as it grows
When plants are 30cm (1ft) high, pinch out the tip of the main stem, to encourage sideshoots
Water regularly and feed with a high potassium liquid fertiliser every two weeks once the first fruit starts to form
Mist the leaves regularly (at least twice daily) with tepid water to discourage red spider mites and improve fruiting
Remove any further flowers once five or six fruits have started to form – cultivars that produce small or round fruits can be allowed to produce many more
Glasshouse red spider or two spotted mite
Leaves become mottled, pale and covered in webbing, on which the mites can be clearly seen; leaves also drop prematurely.
They thrive in hot, dry conditions, so mist plants regularly. Use biological control in the greenhouse.
Small white flies suck sap and excrete sticky ‘honeydew’ over the plant, encouraging the growth of sooty mould.
Use biological control or sticky traps in the greenhouse.
Look for colonies of greenfly on the soft shoot tips of plants or on leaves. They suck sap and excrete sticky honeydew, encouraging the growth of black sooty moulds.
Use your finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies or use biological control in the greenhouse.
Harvest fruits individually as soon as they are ripe, with a glossy skin – usually from August onwards.
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