Eggplants (Solanum melongena) grow wild in South Asia as a perennial plant, but these warm-season vegetables are treated by most North American gardeners as annuals. Given their tropical and subtropical heritage, eggplants do require relatively high temperatures, similar to tomatoes and peppers (which, like eggplants, are in the Nightshade family). They grow fastest when temperatures are between 70° and 85°F (21° and 30°C)—and very slowly during cooler weather.
Like tomatoes and peppers, eggplants develop and hang from the branches of a plant that can grow several feet in height.
Because they need warm soil, eggplants are usually purchased as 6- to 8-week-old transplants (or started indoors about two months in advance) to get a head start. Raised beds enriched with composted manure are an ideal growing place for eggplants because the soil warms more quickly. Eggplants are also great for containers and make lovely ornamental borders. In fact, there are quite a few ornamental eggplant varieties available today, whose inedible fruit have attractive variegated patterns.
Though eggplant fruits are usually a beautiful dark purple color, they can also be white, pink, green, black, or variegated purple-white. Their size and shape varies as well, ranging from the large, gourd-shaped eggplants you’ll commonly find in stores to the more exotic slender Japanese eggplant.