Since starting to evaluate container-grown vegetables in 2008, the varieties of eggplant in our program have consistently performed superbly. While there are only limited varieties that have been bred specifically to be compact, thus are compatible with container culture, they all look great, yield copious amounts of delicious fruit and fit every definition of ideal container plants. Container eggplants mix especially well with ornamental plants due to their colorful fruit and showy purple flowers.
Unlike more standard garden varieties, you may have to hunt around for these varieties or start the plants yourself. Look for varieties that are labeled "compact" or "for containers". Most of the eggplant varieties that you will find in garden centers have been bred for large purple to black fruit on tall plants. These taller plants require trellising, especially as they start to ripen fruit. In our trials, we looked for compact varieties that required little to no trellising. While all of the varieties that we've tested could do without support, for growing upright plants it‟s advisable to use two-ring tomato cages.
Maturing Bambino fruit shown in a typical ripening cluster
Specific recommendations for growing container eggplant:
- Use one plant per 12-14" container. Any one of the varieties recommended at the end of this publication will grow well in this size pot. You can also plant up to three plants in a 20" pot.
- Fertilize eggplants well. Apply a timed-release, pelleted-fertilizer such as Osmo-cote at planting, following label directions based on pot size. Reapply the pelleted fertilizer after 10-12 weeks. Fertilize weekly with a soluble fertilizer. Until the plants start to flower use a balanced fertilizer with a 1-1-1 ratio such as 20-20-20 or 20-30-20. Once flowering starts switch to a high potassium blend such as 9-15-30 or any fertilizer with a 1-1.5-3 or 4 ratio. Most good tomato fertilizers fit the definition of high potassium.
- Keep the flea beetles under control. Their damage can vary from creating lots of small holes in your leaves to, as the population grows, dramatically reducing the leaf area and, consequently, the fruit yield. Carbaryl (Sevin) and, for organic growers, Pyrethrum do a good job of controlling flea beetles. In both cases, apply a liquid formulation after sundown for minimizing the damage to pollinating bees, mainly bumblebees. Always follow all label directions when using any pesticide.
- Container eggplants do not require support, but will benefit from two-wire tomato cages installed at or shortly after planting. In our trials, they did a pretty good job staying upright until late into the harvest season when the plants were heavy with fruit. At that point it is very difficult to install the cages without damaging plants.
- Harvest the fruit as they ripen to encourage more fruit. Most of these container varieties will tolerate harvests of fruit over a wide size range.
Compact plants with purple and white-striped, slender fruit. Our tasters found the flavor excellent with a creamy texture. High yielding and great looking plants. An All-American Winner. (see fruit right)
White fruit, 6-7" long, with a mild flavor and very creamy texture. High yielding and container-friendly.
The most compact of the eggplants in our program so far. Very high yielding with dark purple to black 2-3" fruit. Excellent creamy texture with a mild flavor. Shortest days to harvest of all our container eggplants at just over 45 days. Excellent container plant and the fruit are perfect for stir frying or grilling.
Dark purple, glossy, elongated fruit that are ready to harvest anytime from 2-8" long. Great, creamy texture with a rich, sweet, eggplant flavor. Excellent container plants, but they do get tall enough that support wires are helpful at the peak of the harvest season.
Nearly seedless, white, elongated fruit that are ready to harvest from 3", but can be left on the plant to get to 8" and are still usable. Great, creamy texture with a rich, sweet, eggplant flavor. This All-America Winner makes a great container plant.
Ripe Hansel fruit
Prepared by Steve Bogash, retired extension educator. The evaluation of these vegetables is largely due to the labor of the Penn State Extension, Franklin County Master Gardeners and the staff of the Penn State Southeast Research and Extension Center. Of special note is the work of Hillary Snavely, Summer Horticulture Intern 2009, and Donna Berard, Franklin County Master Gardener.