Growing eggplants in cold climates

Question: For two years I have tried and failed to grow eggplant. I start the seeds indoors, move the seedlings out to the garden after the last frost, and water and fertilize them throughout the summer. But the plants, which look perfectly healthy, produce only flowers, and these often fall off without producing fruit. What am I doing wrong?

–Madison, WI

Answer: Don’t blame yourself. Eggplant is a heat-loving vegetable that does best in temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Lower temperatures inhibit pollination and fruit-set; at 50 degrees, the flowers will drop.

To grow eggplant in your area, start by growing cultivars that tolerate cool temperatures, such as ‘Orient Express’ or ‘Elondo’. Then raise the bed’s soil temperature by setting the plants in black plastic mulch. Protect the plants from cold by covering them with a floating row fabric. Remove the fabric once honeybees start foraging, so the plants can be pollinated, and when the daytime temperatures are over 85 degrees, because the flowers will also drop at 90 degrees.

Fertilize monthly with 5-10-5. Avoid excessive sidedressings with nitrogen, because lush vegetative growth will result at the expense of flowers.

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