Seeing eggplants start blooming can be very exciting. However, this anticipation can quickly turn into frustration upon seeing those flowers dropping, not producing fruits for no obvious reasons. What is causing this to happen?
There are 3 general reasons why eggplants produce flowers but bear no fruits: 1) incorrect watering, 2) failure to self-pollinate, 3) over-fertilization of the soil, and 4) less than optimal weather. It might look daunting but these problems are fairly easy to solve and do not cost the gardener much.
Your eggplants are likely failing to produce fruit due to one or a combination of the reasons mentioned above. Let us delve further into these factors in the next sections!
4 Factors Causing Eggplant Flowers to Drop Before Growing Fruits
Knowing which particular issue/s are affecting your plant and how to address those will not only lead to healthier plants overall but also to a better quality of produce.
Eggplant fruits are fibrous, consequently, the plant itself needs lots of water for growth and better fruit production. However, you must figure out exactly how much water to give your eggplant for it to stay vibrant and hydrated.
The average eggplant needs a consistent amount of water per week especially during the growing period — at least 2 inches or 5 cm. Giving eggplants less or more water than necessary will cause the flowers to drop before developing into fruits
A dehydrated eggplant surrounded by dried-up soil will drop its flowers so it can redirect the nutrients that the flowers were supposed to use into other, more essential parts of the plant for its survival.
The ideal soil condition should be moist but not soggy. Waterlogged soil promotes the rotting of roots and the development of fungal diseases in the plant. When that happens it becomes harder for the roots to absorb nutrients necessary for supporting flower and fruit development.
The best time for watering is in the early morning when it is still cool so that the roots have time to absorb as much water before the sun’s heat evaporates it all out.
The ideal strategy is to do deep watering once a week to encourage the roots to grow deeper into the ground to find water.
As the weather gets warmer, before watering, regularly check the ground for moisture. Do this by poking the soil up to an inch down with your finger. A more precise method is through the use of a moisture meter. If the ground is dry, go ahead and start watering.
If you live in a dry area where rainfall is scarce, the plant’s water needs increase accordingly. Mulching is something that you can do to retain moisture and prevent the soil from drying out too fast. This practice also keeps weeds that compete with your eggplants in water consumption at bay.
A drip irrigation set-up installed at ground level can help for an easier, more consistent water delivery.
When a gardener fails to aid in the self-pollination of eggplants, the flowers which have not been pollinated dry out and fall completely off of the branch.
Eggplants, along with tomatoes and peppers, are self-pollinating plants. This means that a single plant has both female and male organs needed in producing flowers and fruits – called the pistil and the stamens respectively.
However, the following factors hinder successful self-pollination in eggplants:
- Extremely dry and hot climate makes pollen wilt
- High levels of humidity cause pollen to turn gluey
- Lack of ventilation and access for eggplants planted indoor
Pollination is the process by which pollen is transferred in or between flowers of the same plant so that it can bear fruit.
An eggplant bloom is called a “complete flower” because it contains both the pollen producer (stamen) and the pollen receiver (pistil). This means eggplants are capable of self-pollination in order to yield fruit.
Self-pollinating plants rely heavily on their immediate surroundings to complete this process. Generally, for eggplant flowers to mature into fruits, it takes a gentle breeze, a few pollinator insects, or even you stirring the air as you walk by the plants so that pollen gets distributed around.
Before giving you tips to prevent the failure of self-pollination of eggplant blossoms, allow me to introduce the parts of the flower that play a huge role during the pollination process.
Below are the four main reproductive parts of a flower:
- Stamen – the yellow-colored part
- Pistil – the greenish/whitish part at the center of the stamen
- Stigma – found at the top of the pistil, it is the part that forms into a fruit after fertilization
- Pedicle – this part swells after successful pollination
Whether it is due to poor air circulation or the absence of pollinator insects, there are two good ways to combat pollination issues.
First, If you grow eggplants in a greenhouse, chances are poor air ventilation is the reason why the eggplants are not self-pollinating. So when possible, move the plants out into the open air at a place with plenty of direct sunlight.
If you cannot transfer your eggplant to a more open space, you can recreate air currents by using a small electric fan to blow through the plants. The goal here is to produce gentle movements that will make it possible for pollen to spread around.
Experienced gardeners recommend the following tips to be done regularly during the entire blooming season, between 6 and 11 am:
- Gently shake the plant, to mimic the action of the wind. Do this a few times once you see the flower buds are fully open.
- Lightly tapping the top of a flower also helps but take extra care not to touch the briars (little spikes) located at the base (pedicle) behind the petals. Those do hurt and can cause mild discomfort.
- With either a clean small toothbrush, Q-tip, or a delicate paintbrush, gently transfer the pollen by brushing it from the stamen onto the pistil. You can also transfer pollen from flower to flower in this manner, ending with the first flower you started working on.
- The gentle vibration of a clean electric toothbrush can also do wonders because it simulates the buzzing action of bees. To use, simply turn on the toothbrush and lay it behind the petals for a few seconds. Repeat until you have “vibrated” all the flowers.
Lastly, we can always rely on nature to give a helping hand through pollinating insects. If there are no such insects in your garden, try planting or placing a few flowering plants that attract those insects close to the eggplants.
Whether pollination has been successful or not, the flowers will fall off. It is always a waiting game. But there are a few telltale signs that you can watch out for:
- When the flowers close up, check if the pedicles — the part that holds the fruit — are swelling up.
- Flowers are dropping but the stems are still attached to the branch.
The exact time it will take for eggplant fruits to reach full maturity depends on your precise location and the variety of eggplant you have chosen. On average the timeframe is 50 to 80 days, throughout the summer months.
Aside from well-draining, slightly acidic soil, eggplants require highly fertile ground because they are heavy feeders. They also regularly need feeding especially during the flowering and fruit-bearing stages. However, over-fertilization will actually negatively impact the eggplant blossom’s growth.
The main nutrients required by eggplants are:
- Nitrogen – needed for plant growth
- Phosphorus – helps in producing healthy root systems, flowers, and fruits
- Potassium – makes the plant stronger and more resistant to diseases
Expert gardeners recommend a distribution ratio of 5-10-10 or 5-10-5 for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for eggplants. These fertilizers must only be applied 2 or 4 times a month to prompt a blossom to mature into a viable fruit.
The likely cause of your eggplant dropping flowers is the excess amounts of nitrogen. Giving too much of this nutrient during the blooming stage will prevent the flowers from developing further. Instead, the plant will concentrate on growing taller and forming larger leaves.
Once flowers start appearing or if you notice flowers are dropping, it is time to switch to fertilizers that have a higher phosphorus ratio. You can use tomato fertilizer if you are unsure as both plants belong to the same family.
Atmospheric conditions that have an effect on fruit formation are: 1) very warm or cool temperatures, 2) too much rain, and 3) high humidity.
While eggplants need lots of direct sunlight for at least 6 hours daily, the ideal temperature range where these plants thrive well is between 70 to 95°F (21 to 35°C).
When the temperature rises above 95°F (35°C), the flowers can get seriously damaged and fall off. To prevent this, move the plants to a shadier part of your garden whenever possible. You can also opt to cover the plants with a shade, and, as mentioned earlier, mulching helps retain soil moisture which is greatly beneficial on extra warm days.
On the other hand, temperatures much lower than 70°F (21°C) will inhibit self-pollination because the root system needs warm soil. Mulching can also help as it keeps the soil warm, acting as a heat insulator. Adding an extra 2-inch layer of organic mulch is a good idea to keep the soil temperature at the best level. Aside from mulching, you can protect the leaves with plant covers as well.
As discussed earlier, eggplants do not like to be oversaturated with water as it causes the root system to rot. If you live in an area that receives too much rain, you would do well with container gardening. That way, you can move plants around whenever needed.
High humidity makes pollen sticky and prevents it from falling into the pistil, inhibiting the plant’s self-pollination capability.
Pruning is the act of removing unwanted or dead portions of a plant for better growth. As such, it is recommended for home gardeners to prune their eggplants.
Some gardeners prune the first set of flowers to encourage the plant to concentrate on growing strong stalks first before producing flowers.
However, it is also wise to limit the number of fruits that one plant produces. This way there is less competition for nutrition, which will result in better fruit quality as a result. A good amount of fruit in one plant is 6 to 8 pieces.
It is also beneficial to cut away dried, unhealthy, parts to prevent fungus from growing. There are also those that do trim leaves for better air circulation within the plant which as mentioned earlier encourages the plant to self-pollinate.
The answer to this question depends on the gardener’s specific situation and location. As long as one can take note of the factors affecting eggplant flowers, their plant will thrive whether on the ground or in containers.
Many people who would like to grow edible plants but have space constraints turn to container gardening.
A good tip for growing in containers at places with cooler temperatures is to use eggplant varieties that mature early to midseason:
- Little Fingers
- Black Beauty
If you choose to plant directly in the soil, making a garden bed is a good idea. Start by growing your eggplant indoors 4 weeks before the last frost date.
Before transplanting, prepare the soil by mixing either compost, well-decomposed animal manure, grass clippings, or leaves into it to give the young plants a good start.
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- When conditions are less than ideal, eggplant flowers react by falling off completely without producing fruits. These conditions include incorrect watering, failure to self-pollinate, over-fertilization of the soil, and less than optimal weather.
- There are many factors that affect flowering but when these are addressed correctly, one will be able to have a successful fruit production.
- Growing eggplants directly on the ground or in containers do not significantly affect its flower and fruit production, as long as proper conditions are met.
- “Eggplant” by Cornel University