huge perennial eggplant bush growing in the Summer garden

Overwintering Eggplants ~ Our Giant Eggplant

by | Mar 21, 2024

Did you see the gigantic eggplant we grew last Summer? The reason this eggplant grew so huge last Summer is because of a process called overwintering. The seed for this singular eggplant was actually sown more than a year earlier and kept alive through the colder Winter months. Here’s what I’ve learned from overwintering eggplants (and other plants) in the garden!

Many plants that are grown as annuals in colder climates can be grown as perennials in mild Winter climates. Moreover, there are even some plants we choose to grow as annuals, due to ease and space, that technically can be perennials—-one case being the tomato. Surprised? Tomatoes can indeed be perennials. Nevertheless, I purposefully choose to grow tomatoes as annuals because they grow so fast from seed and are easily susceptible to a whole host of diseases and pests over time (like my biggest nemesis—spider mites!). It simply hasn’t been worth it for me to grow tomatoes as perennials. 

Meanwhile, eggplants have proven to be one of my favorite crops to grow as perennials in my mild Orange County climate. While I’ve overwintered eggplants before, this past Summer was the largest I’ve ever gotten one to grow. In most cases, they don’t grow this big, but they can be equally prolific and long-lasting even if they don’t get as gigantic.

What does it mean to overwinter eggplants?

The process of overwintering is a lot like it sounds. Essentially, you protect and care for the plant through the Winter so that it can burst to life again when it is warmer. Overwintering isn’t just for warm climates either! Gardeners in colder climates can choose to overwinter various plants in greenhouses or indoors if they want to attempt to grow a specific plant as a perennial. It’s actually quite cool to see!

pepper plants that have been pruned back to overwinter

Here’s an example of pepper plants that I have prepared for overwintering. Peppers are an awesome perennial crop that can be overwintered very well. These specific peppers had to be moved (for our backyard redo), so I put them into fabric pots temporarily.

Here in Southern California, overwintering certain plants can happen in a myriad of ways. For instance, you can choose to move your plants to pots and put them in a sheltered area or greenhouse. Alternatively, you can also keep them in the garden—like I did this eggplant— as long as it seems the microclimate will be warm enough. Honestly, you could even cover your plant with frost cloth on cold nights…as you can see, there are options. Either way, the goal for overwintering a plant is to keep it cozy in its dormant state through Winter so it will once again grow when the temperatures get warm enough.

I do want to be clear: overwintering does not mean keeping the eggplant growing in the colder months! While yes, my eggplant did kind of produce and grow well into Winter, that wasn’t my goal. Most perennials need a period of dormancy and/or don’t produce anything very delicious during the off-season anyway. As I’m always saying, most crops taste best and have the highest quality when grown in their ideal season. Yes, I can grow tomatoes in Winter, but they simply don’t taste as good. Therefore, if I’m short on space, I’m not going to prioritize growing tomatoes in my Winter garden.

Meet My Giant, Overwintered Eggplant

This particular eggplant is a variety called ‘Florida Market.’ Again, this is the largest I’ve ever had an eggplant grow, although I have overwintered other eggplants before. ‘Florida market’ produces large, consistent eggplants in a glossy deep purple. As long as you pick them before they get too big and when the skin is still nice and glossy, they are delicious! In fact, I personally am tired of eating eggplants at this point, so it makes me chuckle to think about the three overwintered eggplant bushes currently residing in the garden!

How to Overwinter Eggplant Bushes

Fortunately, I have actual footage of me totally mauling this eggplant in Spring of 2023, so you can see exactly how much I cut it back after Winter and how I amended the raised bed afterwards.

As you can see in the photo below (but feel free to watch the whole bed prep video too), I did a vigorous pruning on this eggplant in Spring. It’s especially important to not prune your eggplant until all threat of frost has past. Eggplant is not frost tolerant (as you might have read in my article on What to Do Before Frost in Southern California), so pruning will spur new growth that will die if temperatures get too low.

After pruning the eggplant you are overwintering, it’s important to top off the bed with compost and some organic vegetable fertilizer to provide some nutrients for the next season. Thankfully, the video reminded me that I topped off this bed with a mixture of compost, pumice, organic vegetable fertilizer. The pumice was simply to correct the drainage/lightness of the soil mixture because it’s a raised bed. I tend to go by feel and amend as I think necessary.

In the past, I’ve overwintered other varieties of eggplants too! Although they have never gotten this big, I did successfully overwinter ‘thai frog egg’ eggplant and  ‘galaxy of the stars’ eggplants. For those other plants, I moved them from the raised beds after the Summer growing season, and transplanted them in my backyard landscape. I also followed the same basic process described above. They did great! Personally, I think eggplants look really pretty in the landscape, don’t you?

gardener pruning overwintered eggplant bush

This is a screenshot from a YouTube video about cleaning and amending this raised bed for Summer. Part of the process was feeding and pruning this ‘Florida Market’ eggplant that I had overwintered. You can see how far I chopped the eggplant back. For more information you can watch that whole video!

Challenges to overwintering eggplant

Despite the blessings that come with a mild winter, there are some major challenges that might arise if you are overwintering your eggplants. First, spider mites! While the cool season is also our wettest season, I have found that spider mites are still a huge issue. Also, spider mites love eggplants! Truthfully, I’ve had luck spraying whole plants with a strong hose spray (both the tops and bottoms of leaves) for a few days to discourage the mites. Obviously, this can set the plant up for other diseases like powdery mildew, but I also see spider mites as almost a death sentence in my garden, so I go to extreme measures! Additionally, you can do your major pruning and trash all the spider mite infected leaves and hope that the new flush is safe and healthy. See, spider mites like to prey on struggling, weak plants which is why overwintered plants can be very susceptible.

The second challenge you will encounter is frost damage or death. As I said before, eggplant is not frost-tolerant. That being said, this is why I wait and do my pruning after all danger of frost has passed. Furthermore, if your eggplant does get light frost damage (you can see mine did in this video), just leave it alone! The foliage will continue to insulate the inner leaves and branches for the rest of the season. Once things warm up again, then you can refresh it! If your eggplant dies due to colder temperatures, well, my condolences my friend.

Lastly, figuring our watering during the Winter can be a little tricky. Technically, the plants are in a dormant stage, so they don’t need as much water—in fact, they could rot! On the other hand, depending on your climate, it could be so dry that the plant will not make it without some supplemental water. In the end, I tend to monitor potted plants by hand (and water them enough so that the stems don’t shrivel and die) but just leave anything in the raised beds alone. As you can see, they can overwinter just fine. 

Overwintering Eggplants is Fun

This year I’m also saving myself a lot of seed starting time, resources, and energy by overwintering all my eggplants and the majority of my peppers. Because of that, I don’t have to take the time and space indoors to germinate pepper or eggplants in my seed starting setup! In fact, the plants will even produce earlier because they are so much more mature.

I’d like to end with this: there are many ways to overwinter plants. How to you choose to overwinter eggplants will depend on the resources you have, the microclimates in your yard, and if you have the space to leave something or need to put it in a pot temporarily. If this blogpost inspired you, just give it a try! Remember, that eggplant would have been treated as an annual plant and been disposed of anyway, so it’s really just a fun thing to experiment with.

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Meet Randi

Urban gardening is my jam. I’m Randi, California girl who obsessively gardens to grow food and flowers around my urban home. Seasonal, simple living is what inspires me~ I hope it will inspire you too. Join me in crafting a life and home connected to the garden Read More>>>>

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