Most of us have short seasons and need to start our eggplants indoors or buy them as seedlings from the nursery. By the time the soil is warm enough for transplanting, eggplants are already mature, tall plants. Some even set flowers at this point. So what’s the best way of transplanting them? Do we bury them deep, like tomatoes, or do we keep the soil line where it is?

When transplanting eggplants, burying their stems will help the plant develop a stronger root system. Plants from the nightshade family, like eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers send root growth from their stems. Prune the lower leaves and bury up to two-thirds of the stem, close to the top growth.

If you’re gardening in a temperate climate, you’re probably starting your eggplants in late February, early March, because they take a long time to reach maturity. You’ll be tending to them for 8 to 12 weeks at the very least. During this time, you’ll most likely pot them on once or twice.

Potting on young eggplants – can you bury them deep?

When the eggplant seedlings are about 3 to 4 weeks old, if you’ve started them in module trays or smaller containers, it’s time to move them to larger, individual pots. At this point, if they’re leggy, you can bury them up to the first true leaves.

Be careful with your lights so as not to encourage your young transplants to get leggy again – either up the light intensity or lower the lights a couple of inches away from your plants. I started all my seedlings with Mars Hydro lights, and the manufacturer recommends a distance of at least 30cm and a lower light intensity (about 25%).

We’re working with a soil-less mix at this stage, so disease, rotting, and even damping-off shouldn’t be an issue, but young eggplants can still suffer from inconsistent watering, which is also a reason why eggplants often drop their flowers. Once you have potted them on, bottom water them regularly.

Not all eggplant varieties are created equal

As your eggplant seedlings grow, if you’re trying out multiple varieties, you might see some of them grow tall and develop a strong, single stem, while others grow short, stalky, and bushy. This will give you a clue as to how deep to bury them when transplanting.

You can bury tall eggplant stems very deep, just like tomatoes, because they can reach heights of 6 ft (1.8m). When you’re burying the eggplant’s stem, it will shoot new root growth from the stem nodes. These roots that grow from a part other than the root system are called adventitious roots, and their purpose is to give the plant better anchorage.

If you’re growing a bush eggplant variety, keep in mind that it will only grow to 24 inches (60 cm). Often, the transplant itself will be very short and stalky, so planting it deep won’t even be an option. You can still prune the leaves and bury the stem a little, but even if you don’t, the eggplant will send deep roots to support itself.

How to plant eggplants outside:

You need to go through a couple of steps to ensure your transplants will have a successful transition outside.

  1. Don’t skip hardening off. Whether you’re buying your eggplants from a nursery or growing them yourself, hardening them off is crucial because you don’t want to lose all your work to transplant shock. Nurseries usually sell hardened-off plants, but it can take up to two weeks for a plant to become fully accustomed to the outdoors, so I’d leave the seedlings out for a few more days, to be sure. Indoor eggplants are particularly fragile and can suffer scalding from the sun, so you need to take extra measures to get them ready for planting.
  2. Don’t be afraid to prune. You may notice many young buds forming on the stems – pruning leaves will encourage even more growth, so don’t be afraid to discard any yellowing leaves before moving your plants outside. Right before planting, prune the bottom leaves, and don’t be afraid to cut off at least a quarter of the foliage. This will allow the plant to focus on the roots and not the energy-sucking leaves.
  3. Pick any flowers off. You’ll want to get rid of any flowers that form at this stage – they won’t bear fruit anyway since it’s too cold outside. You want the plant to focus on roots, growing new foliage, and becoming larger to support all the heavy fruit. Keep picking the flowers for at least two weeks after transplanting.
  4. Water the eggplant before transplanting. You’ll want to give your eggplant a good soak so that it has enough hydration and nutrients when transplanting it – this will help remove them from their container. Eggplants are particularly fussy about hydration – they will drop their flowers if they’re not receiving enough water, so make sure they get a good head start.
  5. Don’t tease the roots. At this stage, the roots will most likely be rootbound inside the container. When getting them out of their pots, try to disturb the roots as little as possible. It’s okay to tease them a little bit at the edges, but nothing more than that. You want their transition to be as seamless as possible.
  6. Dig a deep hole in the ground. You want to dig a hole that’s at least twice as deep as the root ball. If you have a tall eggplant variety, you can bury the entire stem, up to the first remaining leaves – that’s about two-thirds of the plant. A good rule of thumb for me is burying two-thirds of the stem after pruning.
  7. Bury the stake at the same time as planting. Many eggplant varieties need support with a stake or a cage so that the heavy fruits won’t lead to broken branches and stems. Don’t drive the stake in the ground at a later stage, as this can hurt the plant’s roots. I’ve done this before, and the plant recovers and doesn’t show signs of distress, but we should avoid hurting the roots nonetheless.
  8. Protect the young transplants. At this point, the newly transplanted eggplants may become a little droopy and wilted for up to a week, but depending on how well you’ve hardened them off, they’ll recover. Keep your eye on the weather, and if you still notice cold nights on the forecast, protect them with one (or more) layers of horticultural fleece. If your problem is heat, install a temporary shading cloth to shelter them from the strong sun.

Other vegetables that like their stems buried:

The following plants can be planted very deep and have most of their stem buried:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Chilies
  • Potatoes
  • Cucumber
  • Squash
  • Pumpkin
  • Melon
  • Watermelon
  • Zucchini
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Okra
  • Leeks
  • Broad Beans

Conclusion

Don’t be afraid to bury the stems of all plants belonging to the nightshade family and many others as well. You can save many tall, spindly seedlings or young plants by planting them deeply. If your eggplants are ready to go outside but it’s too cold for them, you probably need to pot them on once more so that they don’t become stunted and nutrient deficient because of the small container they’re in.

I’ve created a video to show you how eggplants and peppers look at the two-month mark and how I’m potting them on. You can observe the root ball, the nodes on the stems, and possible issues like yellowing leaves or eggplants growing too tall for their containers and even too tall to fit under the lights.

YouTube video

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *