Learning how to prune eggplant can get you healthier plants that produce larger, tastier fruits. That all sounds great, but there are a few things you need to know before heading to the garden with pruning shears in hand.
In my experience, the plants I invest the time to properly prune produce better (unless we’re talking about volunteers- they seem to blow everybody else out of the water!).
I’ll admit that I don’t always invest that time, but I always wish I had later. So let’s talk about pruning eggplants so you can develop a plan for your garden this year!
- Pruning eggplant can help the plant stay healthier and direct more energy to fruit production, leading to larger, tastier eggplants.
- Routine pruning includes trimming away any damaged or discolored leaves, low-growing foliage, and suckers. Heavy pruning late in the season may result in another round of fruit production before fall.
Do You Need to Prune Eggplants?
There’s information and tips everywhere you turn for pruning tomatoes. But eggplant pruning isn’t on as many gardener’s radars- that’s because not every grower believes in doing it.
While there are definitely two schools of thought here, I believe there are some convincing reasons to thoughtfully trim your eggplants.
- Direct energy to fruit production. Pruning directs limited resources to fruit production rather than supporting unneeded leaves and stems.
- Larger, more flavorful fruits. Since there’s more energy going to the fruits, they tend to be larger and have a better flavor (which is typically due to a higher nutrient content)
- Healthier plants. Pruned plants tend to be healthier and stronger since excess foliage can be a site for disease or pests.
Whether you’re growing eggplants in a pot or in the ground, pruning can help your plants be as productive and robust as possible.
What Happens If You Don’t Prune Eggplant?
While the benefits of careful pruning are clear, many experienced gardeners have never pruned an eggplant in their life. And they still get lovely harvests that they’re happy with.
What that seems to mean for us is that pruning eggplant is a helpful strategy for larger fruits, it’s not completely essential.
With some plants, particularly tomatoes, pruning makes a huge difference in the quantity and quality of the harvest. That’s not as much the case with eggplant, even though they’re a close relative to tomatoes. They’re not as likely to develop diseases compared to tomatoes, and they’re typically less bushy.
So while pruning is a great way to boost your eggplant plant’s production, your harvest isn’t doomed if you can’t fit it into your summer garden schedule.
Tools Needed for Pruning Eggplant
You don’t need much to get your eggplants trimmed up. Here’s the short list:
- Sharp, clean hand pruners. Use a pair of sturdy pruners to make clean cuts on your eggplants- you don’t want to leave any jagged edges to rot or invite infection. Before pruning, clean the pruner’s blades with isopropyl alcohol and allow to dry. This kills any microbes that might be on the blades’ surfaces, helping to prevent infection in your plants.
- Gloves. These aren’t totally necessary, but eggplant stems and branches can be prickly, so gloves can help make the pruning process more comfortable for you.
How to Prune Eggplant for Maximum Fruit Production
Eggplant pruning for maximum fruit production is pretty simple, but there are some tricks to know. Let’s take a look at how to go about pruning your eggplant.
When to Prune Eggplant
Once a plant germinates from the seed, it puts all its energy into growing roots and producing foliage. This is the vegetative stage of eggplant development, and it lasts around 6-10 weeks. At the end of the vegetative stage, your plant is mature enough to produce flowers and eventually, fruit.
I recommend waiting until your eggplant is well established in its permanent home for at least a few weeks before doing any pruning. Once you start seeing the first blossom buds appear, it’s a sign that you can do some careful foliage pruning.
At this point, your plant should be at least 12 inches tall and have been outside in the garden for at least a month.
Where to Prune
For any type of pruning at any site (on any plant!), always the individual stem as close to the main stem as possible without nicking or damaging the main stem. You want to leave as small of a stump as you can- any leftover material can be a site for infection or rotting.
The lower leaves are the oldest ones, and they’re where you should start your trimming. If you see any leaves that are yellowing or have insect damage, trim those off first.
If any leaves are growing low out of the stem, cut those off as well. In my experience, low-growing leaves like this tend to get battered by rain and spend a lot of time in direct contact with the soil, and they’re prime targets for soil-borne insect attacks. Plus, they’re typically older leaves, so they’re aging and not as efficient as the younger growth higher up on the plant.
Trimming off these lower leaves also helps improve airflow to the plant. Low airflow can often lead to fungal infections, like powdery mildew.
Suckers- little mini-stems that sprout from the junctures of the larger stems- can also go. These will not produce any fruit, so removing them conserves energy for fruit. For small suckers, just pinch them off with your fingers. If they’re a little larger, snip them off with the pruners.
Once it’s getting late in the season and you’ve harvested several ripe eggplants, you can also do a more aggressive pruning. This will hopefully stimulate your plant to produce another round of fruit before the fall. Choose three strong stems, and prune off everything else. Here’s a visual of what that looks like:
What to Avoid with Eggplant Pruning
With routine pruning during the early growing season, don’t prune off more than a few eggplant leaves at once- you don’t want to hinder your plant’s photosynthesis capability. You’re much better off being conservative in your pruning to start, and you can always go back and prune more later if needed.
Don’t prune off any stems with a blossom or immature fruit unless it’s very damaged from disease or pests. This may seem obvious, but it can happen by accident if you’re not careful. I’ve done it before- it’s easy to get side stems confused and end up cutting off one you didn’t intend to. Take the time to follow the stem you plan to prune all the way back to the main stem before doing any cutting.
Pruning Perennial Eggplant for Winter
In USDA zones 10 and 11, eggplant can be a perennial crop. To get fruit production year after year, you’ll need to do some seasonal pruning.
Before the last frost hits, harvest any remaining fruit and prune off all the mature foliage, leaving just the newest growth to sustain the plant during winter dormancy. Mulch around your pruned eggplant stems with straw, compost or both. Just be sure to keep the mulch an inch or two away from the eggplant to prevent rotting.
In the spring, it will take some time for your eggplant to wake up and start pushing out new foliage- it really likes the warmth and will sprout later than other nightshades (tomatoes and peppers).
This video from Jacques in the Garden does a great comprehensive guide to overwintering peppers and eggplants. While the entire video is helpful, he specifically addresses eggplants starting at the 16:24 minute mark:
Frequently Asked Questions about Pruning Eggplant
If you’ve never pruned an eggplant before, don’t worry- you’re in good company! But it can be a helpful technique to keep your plants healthier and more productive, and it’s not hard once you understand what to do.
I hope this post has answered your questions about how to prune eggplant. But if you’re still wondering about any other questions, please feel free to share them in the comments. I’d be happy to help in any way I can, and other growers may have useful tips to share too!