an aubergine growing on its plant

Aubergines – Growers Guide

Aubergines, popularly known in many regions as eggplants, are a versatile and delicious vegetable, adding both flavour and texture to numerous dishes around the world. Growing them at home not only ensures a fresh supply but also gives gardeners a sense of accomplishment. Here’s how you can cultivate these purple wonders in your own backyard.

Understanding the Aubergine

Aubergines trace their origin back to South Asia, with a rich history that spans various cultures and cuisines. Apart from their characteristic deep purple variety, aubergines come in shades of white, green, and striped patterns. Nutritionally, they are packed with fibre, vitamins, and antioxidants, making them a staple in healthy diets.

1. Choosing the Right Variety for Your UK Garden

The United Kingdom presents a unique gardening climate, often cooler and more temperate than many of the native regions of aubergines. This makes selecting the right variety essential for success. Below, we delve deeper into the types of aubergines best suited for the UK’s conditions, ensuring that growers have productive and rewarding gardening experiences.

Understanding UK’s Climate:

The UK generally has a maritime climate, characterized by mild temperatures and regular rainfall. However, there are differences between regions, from the milder South to cooler Scotland. Southern England typically enjoys a longer growing season, whereas the northern regions might experience cooler summers and a shorter growing season.

Key Characteristics for UK-friendly Aubergines:

When choosing a variety suitable for the UK, look for:

  • Shorter growing seasons or “days to maturity” on seed packets.
  • Disease resistance, especially to common aubergine diseases in cooler climates.
  • Compact growth for those who might rely on greenhouses or indoor growing spaces.

Recommended Varieties for the UK:

‘Ophelia’: A compact variety ideal for containers or small gardens. ‘Ophelia’ produces small, bite-sized fruits and is known for its prolific nature, making it great for UK gardens.

‘Bonica’: A resilient variety, ‘Bonica’ is resistant to many common aubergine diseases. It yields large, traditional purple fruits and is known to perform well even in less-than-ideal UK summers.

‘Black Enorma’: As the name suggests, this variety produces large, bulbous fruits. It’s particularly suited for the warmer southern regions of the UK but can also thrive in the North with a bit of extra care, such as starting seeds indoors or using a greenhouse.

‘Moneymaker’: This variety is a classic choice for the UK. Renowned for its reliability, ‘Moneymaker’ yields a decent crop of traditional-looking aubergines. It’s versatile enough for both outdoor and greenhouse cultivation.

‘Slim Jim’: An Asian variety that produces elongated, slender fruits. ‘Slim Jim’ matures quickly, which is a significant advantage in the UK’s shorter growing season.

Experimentation and Adaptation

While the above varieties come recommended for the UK, gardening always involves some experimentation. Local soil conditions, microclimates, and individual gardening techniques can influence results. It can be beneficial to speak with local growers or visit a nearby nursery for advice tailored to your specific region. They might have insights into newer varieties or particular strains that have proven successful in your area.

2. Site and Soil Preparation

Aubergines thrive in full sun, requiring at least 6-8 hours daily. The soil should be well-draining, with a pH level between 6.2 and 7. Incorporating compost or organic matter can enhance the soil’s fertility and texture.

3. Planting

Growing aubergines successfully largely depends on getting the timing right. Since they’re heat-loving plants, it’s crucial to ensure they aren’t exposed to cold conditions, which can stunt their growth.

Sowing Indoors:

When: Start sowing aubergine seeds indoors about 8-10 weeks before the last expected frost date. In temperate climates, this typically means starting seeds between January and February.


  • Use seed trays or small pots filled with seed-starting mix.
  • Plant seeds about ¼ inch deep.
  • Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
  • Place in a warm location, ideally between 70-80°F (21-27°C). Consider using a heat mat to maintain consistent temperatures.
  • Seedlings should emerge in 7-14 days.
  • Once seedlings develop a couple of true leaves, they can be transplanted to larger pots if needed.

Hardening Off:

Before transplanting young plants outdoors, it’s essential to acclimate them to outdoor conditions, a process called ‘hardening off’. Start this process about 2 weeks before your planned transplant date.


  • Begin by placing seedlings outdoors in a shaded location for a few hours, then bring them back inside.
  • Gradually increase the amount of time they spend outside over a week, introducing them to direct sunlight.
  • Ensure you bring them inside or provide protection if temperatures drop or if there’s a risk of frost.

Transplanting Outdoors:

When: Aubergines should be transplanted outdoors when the danger of frost has passed and nighttime temperatures consistently stay above 50°F (10°C). In many regions, this will be around late April to early June.


  • Choose a sunny location with well-draining soil.
  • Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball of the seedling.
  • Place the plant in the hole, ensuring it’s at the same depth as it was in its pot.
  • Fill in with soil and water thoroughly.

Direct Sowing Outdoors:

In warmer climates where frost is rare or non-existent, aubergines can be sown directly outdoors.

When: This is typically done in early spring, but after any risk of a cold snap.


  • Prepare the soil by loosening it and mixing in compost or organic matter.
  • Sow seeds about ¼ inch deep, spacing them about 18 inches apart.
  • Water thoroughly.
  • Once the seedlings have grown and have a few true leaves, thin them to about 24-30 inches apart to give them room to grow.

Remember, aubergines are heat-loving plants, so ensuring they have warmth, especially in their early stages, is crucial to their success. If you’re unsure about the last frost date in your area, local gardening centers or agricultural extensions can often provide guidance.

4. Watering and Fertilization

Watering should be regular but moderate. Soil should be kept moist, not waterlogged. Over-watering or letting the soil dry out can stress the plant. A balanced fertilizer, preferably a 10-10-10 mix, can be applied to boost growth.

5. Pest and Disease Management

Aubergines can attract pests like aphids and red spider mites. Regularly inspect plants and treat infestations early. Organic options like neem oil can be effective. Diseases to monitor include verticillium wilt and blossom end rot. Rotating crops annually can help in disease prevention.

6. Supporting the Plant

Aubergines, though slightly more temperamental than some other garden vegetables, can be incredibly rewarding to cultivate with the right care. Proper attention to their needs at each stage of growth ensures healthy plants and a fruitful harvest. Here’s a deep dive into the nuances of aubergine plant care:

Soil and Nutrition:

Soil Type: Aubergines prefer well-draining soil, which prevents root rot and other diseases. Sandy loam to loamy soil is ideal.

pH Level: A slightly acidic to neutral pH of 6.2 to 7.0 is optimal.

Nutrition: Incorporate compost or a well-decomposed manure into the soil before planting. As the plants start to flower, consider adding a potassium-rich fertilizer to encourage fruiting.


Consistency: Aubergines are sensitive to water stress. Aim for consistently moist soil, but avoid waterlogging, which can suffocate roots and foster disease.

Method: Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are ideal because they deliver water directly to the roots and keep foliage dry, reducing disease risk. If hand watering, do so early in the day to allow any wet foliage to dry before evening.

Sunlight and Temperature:

Sunlight: They require full sun, meaning at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. This not only fuels their growth but helps in fruit maturation.

Temperature: Aubergines are heat lovers. They thrive in temperatures between 70-85°F (21-29°C) during the day and no lower than 60°F (15°C) at night.

Pruning and Training:

Pruning: Regularly prune lower leaves to increase air circulation, which can prevent fungal diseases. Also, consider removing any shoots that form below the first fruit cluster.

Training: Stake or cage aubergine plants when they’re young. This not only supports their weight as they grow but also keeps the fruit off the ground, reducing the risk of pest infestation and rot.


Most aubergine varieties are self-pollinating, meaning they don’t require another plant to produce fruit. However, to ensure good fruit set, consider gently shaking plants or tapping the flowers to release and distribute pollen.

Pest and Disease Management:

Pests: Watch for aphids, spider mites, and flea beetles. Employ beneficial insects like ladybugs, which are natural predators to many pests. Sticky traps can help capture flying pests.

Diseases: Beware of verticillium wilt, blossom end rot, and various fungal infections. Proper spacing, crop rotation, and avoiding wet foliage can help minimize these issues.

7. Harvesting

Aubergines are ready to harvest when they’re firm to the touch but their skin is still shiny. The specific size will vary depending on the variety. Overripe fruits can become bitter, so monitor them closely. Use scissors or pruning shears to cut the fruit, leaving a short stub of the stem attached.

Signs of Maturity:

  • Colour: One of the most reliable indicators of maturity is the fruit’s color. Depending on the variety, look for a deep purple, white, or streaked pattern that matches the expected hue of the mature fruit.
  • Sheen: A glossy, shiny skin often indicates that the aubergine is ready to harvest. A dull appearance can be a sign of over-maturity.
  • Firmness: The fruit should feel firm but give slightly under gentle pressure. If it’s very hard, it might be underripe; if too soft, it might be overripe.

Size Considerations:

While size can be a decent indicator, it’s essential to know the expected mature size for the variety you’re growing. Some aubergines are best harvested when they’re small, while others can grow much larger without compromising taste or texture.

Harvesting Techniques:

  • Using Tools: It’s advisable to use sharp scissors or pruners to harvest aubergines. This ensures a clean cut and reduces potential damage to the plant.
  • Hand Harvesting: If you’re harvesting by hand, grip the fruit firmly and twist it off the plant. Be cautious, as the stem can be quite spiky.
  • Stem Length: When cutting the fruit, leave about an inch of stem attached. This not only helps prolong the aubergine’s freshness but also makes handling easier.


Regular harvesting encourages the plant to produce more fruit. Depending on your region’s temperature and the specific variety, you might find yourself harvesting aubergines every few days during the peak season.

Post-Harvest Handling:

  • Handling Care: Aubergines can bruise easily. Handle with care, and avoid piling them too high or placing them under heavy objects.
  • Storage: If not consuming immediately, store aubergines in a cool place. They can be kept in the vegetable crisper of your fridge for up to a week. Avoid storing them with fruits like apples or tomatoes, which produce ethylene gas, as this can cause the aubergines to spoil faster.

Taste Test:

If you’re unsure about the best harvest time, pick one fruit and taste it. The flesh should be creamy with a pleasant, slightly fruity flavor. Overripe fruits can be bitter and have a spongy texture with many seeds.

8. Common Growing Problems and Solutions

Yellowing leaves might indicate a watering issue or nutrient deficiency. If the plant isn’t bearing fruit, it could be due to inconsistent temperatures or inadequate pollination. Monitoring and adjusting care routines can address most issues.

9. Cooking and Enjoying Your Homegrown Aubergines

Freshly harvested aubergines have a distinct taste, far superior to store-bought ones. They can be grilled, roasted, sautéed, or even used in dishes like ratatouille and eggplant parmesan.

10. Summary

Growing aubergines requires understanding their warm-climate origins and catering to their specific needs. From selecting UK-friendly varieties and ensuring timely planting, both indoors and outdoors, to meticulous plant care encompassing soil nutrition, consistent watering, and pest management, aubergines thrive with attention to detail. The final touch, a well-timed harvest, ensures the yield is flavorful and abundant. With the right practices, aubergines can become a garden staple, rewarding growers with their rich taste and versatile culinary applications.