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Solanum melongena

Vegetables in the Solanum or nightshade family are mostly fast growers, and plants are killed by frost. In the same family as aubergines are tomatoes, potatoes, sweet peppers, chillies, tobacco, and ornamental plants called nicotiana.

In tropical regions where they originate, such as Africa and India, aubergine plants are perennials. In temperate climates or subtropical climates with cooler winters, you can grow them as perennials if you can manage to keep them alive through winter. Whether this is worthwhile is another matter. Mostly they are grown as annuals.

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest: 130 under cover/160 outside in a temperate climate.
  • Days from seed to first harvest: 100 under cover/130 outside in a warm climate.
Harvest Period Diagram
Prime Aubergines
30th August –  the prime season for harvests; Black Pearl aubergine has been giving fruit for six weeks, and there are more harvests to come
  • Best climate is one with hot summer days – 24° C/75° F and higher, with sufficient moisture for the roots to sustain rapid growth.

Why grow them

There is something fascinating and beautiful about aubergines, and it’s a lovely experience to see them growing and then fruiting. Sadly, once they are cooked, the difference in flavour between homegrown and store-bought is not huge. Aubergines are valued partly for their ability to soak up juices and oil, rather like potatoes.

It is exciting to try different varieties though, as there is a huge range of shapes and colours to experiment with that you won’t find in the shops.

Suitable for containers/shade?

  • Yes, preferably with a smaller plant variety such as Pot Black, whose fruits are large enough to grow a few meals.
  • Best not to grow them in shade, unless your summers are really hot – see below for more detail.

Conditions for success

Aubergine plants need warmth at all stages of growth, and I categorise them with melons for their relative growing difficulty in regions with cool summers. Ideal summer temperatures are in the range of 12–20 °C/54–68° F by night, and 24–35 °C/75–95 °F by day.

  • Temperature is the key. Homeacres, for example, is a little too cool, with an average temperature from June to August of 11 °C/52° F by night and 21 °C/70° F by day. These figures are marginal for outdoor aubergines, so they are more worthwhile under cover.
  • To enjoy harvests in summer, rather than autumn, you need to have warmth for propagation in order to sow early and keep plants growing. In cool climates, it may be as long as two, or even three months before it’s warm enough to transplant.
  • The soil needs no special preparation, just the same compost mulch or cover as you apply for tomatoes and cucumbers. We usually spread this once a year, in May or late spring under cover, after clearing winter vegetables and before the summer planting
10th May – planting aubergine in the greenhouse, with a string under the rootball of each
Greenhouse aubergines have already given 6 kg/13 lb of harvests by late July, ten weeks since being transplanted
Aubergine Black Pearl interplanted with dwarf French marigold, probably a deterrent to aphids


There are many varieties available, but some are poorly maintained. Ones that used to be reliable every summer, I now find less so. It’s why I sometimes recommend F1 hybrids, although you may be fortunate and find a good open-pollinated variety.

If so, and if your summer season is long enough for the fruits to go to seed, with the flesh inedible by that stage, it’s worth saving seeds. Aubergine flowers self-pollinate, which means you can save seed from just one variety, and the flowers will not have cross-pollinated with any neighbouring and different variety.

Black Pearl F1 is my favourite for heavy cropping and a long season of harvest, with large black fruit. For growing in containers, I am impressed by Pot Black F1. My other favourites are many of the traditional Thai varieties such as Thai Long Green.

Two varieties I am unimpressed by are Pianta Delle Uova and Melanzana Prosperosa, both from Franchi seeds. The Pianta Delle Uova grew a large plant but with almost zero food to eat, just a smattering of little white fruits. The Melanzana Prosperosa gave one or two very pretty fruits per plant over a long period of growth. They were tasty but so few, and represented a waste of time and effort.

sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems

And finally


Because aubergine plants need warmth to perform, their useful life finishes before mid-autumn.

Clear plants when you see no more baby fruits, and/or they have few healthy leaves.

Follow with

  • Follow under cover with transplants of salad leaves through winter – see photo above.
  • Follow outside, in early to mid-autumn, with transplants of salad onions and cabbages for spring – in containers as well as beds.
  • Follow with winter salads in containers – they need little feed, you can just spread 5 cm/2 in of multipurpose compost on top before planting.