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27 January 2021

How to grow aubergines

Aubergines are becoming increasingly popular and will do well in a greenhouse or sunny spot outdoors.
Aubergines
CT
Ceri Thomas

Aubergines produce their crops most reliably when grown in the greenhouse, but can be grown in a pot in a sheltered, sunny spot outdoors.

How to grow aubergines: month by month

January February March April May June


SOWING SOWING SOWING PLANTING PLANTING
July August September October November December
HARVESTING HARVESTING HARVESTING





Best aubergine varieties

Best Buy aubergines
What it looks like Variety name Yield from five plants
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4.4kg
This previous Best Buy and RHS AGM was one of the tastiest we grew, with a pleasant savoury flavour, plentiful creamy flesh and no bitterness. Although we only got four aubergines from each plant, the short, round fruit weighed in at 200g each, making them the second heaviest in our trial batch. It could be harvested from early July. In a previous trial, we found that it was one of the best varieties for growing outside in patio pots.
What it looks like Variety name Yield from five plants
Member content
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8.4kg
This previous Best Buy and RHS AGM was by far the best standard purple aubergine variety in our trial. It was the first variety to be ready to harvest, in early July. Each plant produced eight attractive large, dark, glossy fruits 17cm-long and weighing an average of 222g.The thin skin turned glossy brown when it was cooked and broke down in the mouth easily. The creamy flesh remained firm and meaty, and had a pleasant, sweet taste and no trace of bitterness.
What it looks like Variety name Yield from five plants
Member content
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7.3kg
We got a good yield of nine small standard-shaped fruits per plant. The first fruit were ready to harvest just 49 days after potting the plant into its final pot in early July, and it showed less evidence of red spider mite damage than other Best Buys. There was some variation in the shape of these fruit, which typically weighed 158g, and had a bland aubergine taste with no bitterness. Watch out for the long cap which needs trimming off carefully to avoid its hard spikes.
What it looks like Variety name Yield from five plants
Member content
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8.1kg
Although it suffered from red spider mite, it still managed to produce a large crop of thin, 16cm-long curving fruit; yielding 24 aubergines per plant. The plants were ready to harvest from early July and produced a very uniform crop of glossy purple fingers with rounded tips, which are perfect for chopping into consistently sized rounds. A good choice if you want something that tastes a bit different, it has a fresh flavour and juicy texture with a slight element of bitterness coming from the skin.

How we test aubergines

We sowed 12 seeds of each variety indoors in mid-March and pricked them out into 9cm pots from mid to late April. We recorded how many of the seeds germinated and how well the seedlings grew as we potted them on into 10.5cm pots. We moved the five strongest plants into their final 24cm pots towards the end of May. The aubergine plants were kept inside a polytunnel throughout the trial and we used drip irrigation to ensure that they were watered regularly. We started feeding the plants weekly with liquid plant feed once they produced their first flowers and noted how long it took for their first fruit to be ready to harvest. We monitored the weight and number of fruits that the plants produced, checking how uniform in size and colour they grew until the end of September. We also kept an eye out for the signs of problems with red spider mite and powdery mildew. Finally, our Which? Gardening experts conducted a taste test, rating the fruit’s appearance when raw and cooked, and assessing the taste, texture and bitterness of each variety.

When to sow

Sow the seeds from February to April, placing seeds 6mm deep into a pot or tray of Best Buy compost for sowing seeds. Keep them moist and at a constant temperature of 20°C. Seedlings should germinate within 8-21 days. They can be moved to individual pots of a Best Buy compost for raising young plants when they have two strong leaves - roughly 10-14 days after they germinate.

As the seedlings get larger, gradually reduce the temperature to 14°C minimum at night and pot them on into larger pots (2L), using a Best Buy compost for containers. They need good light and heat so you may want to look into LED grow lights to avoid your plants becoming leggy and weak.

Grafted plants

Grafted plants are more expensive but they are more vigorous than seed-raised plants and tend to produce a more reliable crop of good-sized aubergines. They arrive as small plug plants in early April, a little later than if you buy non-grafted plants, because of the time taken while grafted stems are joining to their new roots in the nursery. Pot them on immediately into a 7cm pot, and keep them as warm as possible. By late April you can repot to a 10cm pot, ahead of transplanting into their final position 10 to 14 days after that.

Caring for your plants

Planting

When the last frost date in your area (usually mid- to late May) has passed and then you can plant in an unheated greenhouse. They can go in large pots, growing bags or in the ground. If  planted in a large pot, use a Best Buy compost for containers and mix in a Best Buy controlled-release feed. They should go in about 45-50cm apart.  Plants can go in deep, as with tomatoes you can bury about 5cm of stem. 

If growing plants as cordons (ie on one stem), you can place two strings with knotted ends in the planting holes to act as a support. 

Plants for growing outdoors can be put outside about two weeks after those under cover. Aubergines are very sensitive to frost, though, so if fruits are still developing in September, move outdoor plants back under cover at night.

Training as a cordon

Just like with tomatoes, you can train aubergines as a cordon (ie one stem) so that the plant's energy is channelled into making fruit. Remove the sideshoots that appear between the main stem and the leaves.

Watering 

Water about two or three times a week in summer for plants in the ground; daily for plants in pots or growing bags, which dry out more quickly. Try to water at ground leaves rather than wetting the leaves. Feed fortnightly with a liquid fertiliser, such as tomato feed, after the first flowers form.

How and when to harvest

Harvest in: July to September

Unripe fruits tend to be softer. Ripe fruits are harder and the skin changes from glossy to matt. When they’re ready, cut them off.

Common growing problems

Red spider mite

Inspect the undersides of the leaves for the characteristic flecking left by red spider mite and look for pale, mottled leaves and fine webbing. If they do appear, use a biological control agent, such as phytoseiulus or amblyseius. These predatory mites will feed on the pest and deal with the problem for you.

Read more about red spider mite.

Blossom end rot

Blossom end rot causes large circular blotches at the bottom of the fruit. Water plants regularly through the hottest period to prevent this from happening.

Read more about blossom end rot.

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