How to Grow Eggplants Faster than the Flea Beetles Can Kill Them

A common problem for southern eggplant-lovers are flea beetles.

Though they resemble their namesake in appearance and behavior, flea beetles would rather turn our eggplant foliage into Swiss cheese than drink blood. Some of us would prefer the bloodletting since a large infestation of beetles can kill a crop before it even sets flowers!

Fortunately for organic gardeners everywhere, there is a simple solution — fast early growth! Give your eggplants what they need at planting time and they will quickly get large enough to shrug off any beetle damage that occurs.

Start with healthy transplants that are not root bound and make sure your soil has warmed up. This is usually 2 weeks later than your area’s frost-free date.

My seed flats were mixed, but the center of this photo shows two eggplant seedlings.

Photo Caption: My seed flats were mixed but the center of this photo shows two eggplant seedlings. I actually plant out seedlings when they are only 3" - 6" tall instead of using larger transplants. This allows me to start my seedlings only 5 weeks before the planting-out date and gives them less risk of stunted growth. They quickly catch up to their nursery counterparts.

Eggplants love good soil so the more years you’ve spent spreading compost in your beds the happier they are going to be.

The real trick though is to also fertilize them in the planting hole when you put the transplants out. I use a slow-release fertilizer that I blend myself, but you can use commercial versions formulated for vegetable growth. Use the dose recommended on the package.

After that, keep up with irrigation! Water stressed plants will have stops and starts in their growth that will significantly slow them down. You’re looking for rapid, continual growth so that your plants will be full and healthy before the flea beetle population wakes up and decides to taste-test them.

This eggplant hasnt even been in the ground a full month, but it is already around 18 tall.

Photo Caption: This eggplant hasn't even been in the ground a full month but it is already around 18" tall.

This is one of the same transplants pictured above, but about a month later. The leaves were a full foot long! You can see that it does have some of the characteristic “buckshot” holes that flea beetles create, but the plant is still growing strong. Even with a little nibbling this plant is now capable of producing well for the entire season.

If you try this and still have problems you can use Reemay (or similar products) to cover your young transplants after planting. This lightweight insect row cover is the one that I like. Leave it on until the plants reach flowering size and then remove it for the rest of the season.

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

7 thoughts on “How to Grow Eggplants Faster than the Flea Beetles Can Kill Them”

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  6. Scott Rifkin - November 17, 2013 11:34 am

    I’ve found over the years if I spray my eggplants daily with a simple insecticidal soap mixture the flea beetle damage is minor. If I miss days the damage can be overwhelming.

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