Aubergines are becoming increasingly popular and easier to grow, with newer smaller-fruited cultivars available that crop more readily. Aubergines are tender plants that need lots of warmth and sun to crop successfully in the UK. They can be grown from seed indoors or bought as young plants and produce attractive purple, mauve, pink, red or white fruits that can be egg-shaped, round, or long and thin. Varieties with smaller fruits are often more successful in the UK. In good growing conditions, plants can produce up to eight fruits by the end of summer.
Month by Month
There are many varieties of aubergine to choose from, producing glossy fruits in an attractive array of colours, from dark purple, through mauves and pinks, to white or green, and various sizes and shapes. Smaller-fruited varieties are more likely to crop successfully in the UK climate.
For the best chance of a good harvest, look for varieties with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which shows they performed well in trials. See our list of AGM fruit and veg for recommended varieties of aubergine and many other crops.
It’s also well worth visiting the veg plots at all the RHS gardens, where you can see many crops, including aubergines, being grown. It’s a great way to compare different varieties and growing methods, and pick up useful tips and inspiration.
What and where to buy
Aubergine seeds are widely available in garden centres and from online seed suppliers.
If you don’t have room to grow from seed indoors, plug plants and young plants are available from similar sources in spring, although the choice of varieties will be more limited.
Grafted aubergine plants are also available, mainly from online suppliers – these are more expensive to buy, but should grow strongly and cope better with cooler conditions outdoors, producing a large crop.
Aubergine seeds must be sown indoors, in late winter or early spring, as they need warmth and a long growing season.
Sow aubergine seeds in small pots or modular trays 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’ll be growing outdoors, delay sowing indoors until early March, as these tender plants mustn’t be moved outside until after the last frost.
Aubergine seeds need at least 21°C (70°F) to germinate, either in a heated propagator or in a warm location indoors. You can even germinate seeds in an airing cupboard, but check daily and as soon as seedlings appear, move them to a warm, bright windowsill.
Keep the plants in good light at 16–18°C (60–64°F) and water regularly.
Aubergines growing in a greenhouse
Move young aubergine plants into slightly larger pots regularly once their roots appear from the drainage holes.
Then transfer indoor-raised plants or bought plants into their final growing position 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, after hardening them off carefully
To transplant them into a large container or growing bag, in a greenhouse or outdoors:
Choose a pot at least 30cm (1ft) in diameter and fill with multi-purpose compost, then plant one young aubergine in the centre.
Alternatively, plant two into a standard growing bag.
Water thoroughly and insert a bamboo cane for support.
For outdoor growing, place the container or growing bag in a really warm, sunny spot, such as on a south-facing patio or beside a sunny wall, and cover with fleece for a couple of weeks to help the plants settle in.
To transplant into the ground:
Choose your warmest, sunniest, most sheltered spot, with fertile, free-draining soil
Space plants 60cm (2ft) apart, firm in and water well
Insert a cane for support and spread mulch over the soil surface
Cover the plants with cloches or fleece for a further two weeks until acclimatised
Aubergines transplanted outside supported by canes
Aubergine plants benefit from regular attention, including watering, misting and feeding, to produce a successful crop. Some plants develop small spines on the stems, so take care when tending them.
Water aubergine plants generously and consistently throughout the growing season. Plants in containers are particularly susceptible to drying out and may need watering at least once a day in hot weather. An automated drip irrigation system may be useful to ensure consistent watering.
Also, mist the leaves regularly (at least twice daily) with tepid water to discourage red spider mites and improve fruiting. Or, on hot days, damp down the greenhouse in the morning by pouring a can of water over the paved floor, so it evaporates during the day, raising the humidity.
Apply a thick layer of mulch, such as well-rotted manure or garden compost, around aubergine plants to help hold moisture in the soil or potting compost and deter weeds.
Once the first flowers appear, give aubergine plants a high potassium liquid fertiliser, such as tomato feed, every two weeks.
Pinching out shoot tips
When aubergine plants are 30cm (1ft) tall, pinch out the tip of the main stem to encourage side-shoots. This creates bushier plants that should produce more fruits.
Aubergines can form large, top-heavy plants, so insert a sturdy bamboo cane once they are in their final container and tie in the main stem as it grows.
You may need to add more canes to support the side-shoots once fruits start to form, particularly if you have a heavy crop or large fruits.
To ensure successful pollination in a greenhouse, open the door and vents on warm days when plants are in flower, to help pollinators reach them. Misting the flowers also aids self-pollination, or you can hand pollinate with an artist’s paintbrush.
With larger-fruited varieties, once five or six fruits have started to form, remove any further flowers. Cultivars with small or round fruits can be allowed to produce many more.
To encourage fruits to ripen towards the end of the season, remove any new fruits that start to form after late summer, as they are unlikely to ripen.
With outdoor plants, protect them with a double layer fleece if the fruits aren’t ripe by late September, or move potted plants indoors if possible before night-time temperatures drop.
Use harvested fruits soon as possible, when full of flavour and nutrients – make the most of being able to enjoy them far fresher than any you can buy in the shops. If necessary, aubergines can be stored in a fridge for a few days.
Aubergines can be grilled, baked, sautéed and stir-fried, and used in a wide range of Mediterranean, Asian and Indian dishes.
Aubergines are tender plants that need lots of sun and heat to crop well. Lack of fruit may be due to poor summer weather or a location that is too cold, especially when grown outdoors. They need the hottest, sunniest position and a long growing season – at least five months from sowing to harvesting. Aubergines also need regular watering and feeding throughout the summer to fruit successfully – see Ongoing care, above.
Keep watch for greenhouse pests such as red spider mites, whitefly and aphids and take action straight away, before they multiply. Biological controls are available to keep them in check.
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