Heat-Tolerant Eggplant Trials

Learn about the years of experimenting that have shown an experienced gardener the best cultivars to grow in her steamy climate.

After several years of experiments, this experienced gardener has narrowed down some of the best eggplant cultivars for hot climates.

Photo by Adobe Stock/creativefamily

Summers are hot in central Virginia, where I garden at Twin Oaks Community. Because we feed as many as 100 people from our gardens, it’s important that we grow reliable cultivars that’ll do well in our intense summers. Over the past few years, I’ve been trialing a number of eggplant cultivars to see which performed best in heat. I kept accurate, detailed records throughout the trials, and what follows are the results. You may find them useful when deciding what to grow in your own plot.

Origins of the Trials

Long ago, the gardeners at Twin Oaks grew the hybrid ‘Dusky’ eggplant, which bears a classic oval, dark-purple, 6- to 7-inch fruit. The 24-inch-high plants are fairly short and are lower-yielding than some bigger types. We grew 270 to 325 row feet of ‘Dusky’ to provide food for 100 people, and later on, we decided to try growing other cultivars.

In 2006, we planted lots of different eggplants: ‘Swallow,’ a long, thin purple-black hybrid; ‘Violetta Lunga,’ an open-pollinated (OP) long purple eggplant; ‘Listada de Gandia,’ a purple- and-white-striped, egg-shaped fruit; the black, egg-shaped ‘Early Black Egg’; ‘Black Beauty,’ with its dark-purple egg shape; and, for the first time, ‘Nadia,’ a large, purple-black, teardrop-shaped fruit.

We grew 10 to 30 row feet of each, for a total of 120 feet, along with 210 feet of ‘Dusky,’ the cultivar we were familiar with. Interestingly, ‘Dusky’ wasn’t as productive as some of the new cultivars. So, in 2007, we planted 90 feet of ‘Black Beauty,’ 90 feet of ‘Nadia,’ and 45 feet of ‘Early Black Egg,’ along with 45 feet of ‘Dusky.’ (Don’t ditch a cultivar based on one year’s experience!) We reduced the planting to 270 feet, confident that this amount would feed us.

Explorations in Heat Tolerance

By the end of 2007, we were convinced that ‘Nadia’ was the way to go! With positive results behind us, we focused on ‘Nadia’ from 2008 to 2011, and we were able to reduce our row feet because the yield was so high and reliable. We were happy farmers, with plenty of good eggplants and space saved for other crops. We didn’t know the next year would be so different.

Although we loved ‘Nadia,’ we discovered its Achilles’ heel. The summer of 2012 was hot, and ‘Nadia’ couldn’t cope. For a while in early summer, it didn’t grow at all — no new flowers, no new fruit. How hot are we talking about? We’re in central Virginia, in American Horticultural Society (AHS) Heat Zone 7. (Heat zones indicate the average number of days each year that a region experiences temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit — the temperature at which many plants suffer physiological damage. Heat Zone 1 has only one day above 86 degrees each year; our Zone 7 has 60 to 90 days above 86 degrees.)

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