How to Grow Okra

Okra plant and flowerOkra is a heat-loving annual plant that requires 55 to 65 frost-free days with temperatures consistently above 85°F for full growth, flowering, and pod development. Sow okra seed in the garden 4 weeks after the average last frost date in spring.

Description. Okra is tender, heat-loving annual that grows 4 to 7 feet tall and produces a green and sometimes red seedpod which is harvested when 3 to 5 inches long and sometimes longer. Okra has prickly stems and large maple-like leaves and large, yellow, hibiscus-like flowers with red or purplish centers. Mature the pods contain buckshot-like seeds.

Yield. Grow 6 okra plants for each household member.

Site. Plant okra in full sun. Okra grows best in loose, well-drained soil. Okra prefers a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of planting and gypsum to soil that is slow draining.

Planting time. Okra is a heat-loving annual plant that requires 55 to 65 frost-free days with temperatures consistently above 85°F for full growth, flowering, and pod development. Sow okra seed in the garden 4 weeks after the average last frost date in spring. The planting soil temperature should be at least 65°F. Yields will decrease when the air temperatures falls below 70°F.

Planting and spacing. Sow okra seeds ½ to 1 inch deep set 6 inches apart. Space rows 24 to 36 inches apart. Thin successful seedlings from 12 to 18 inches apart.

Water and feeding. Keep okra evenly moist until established. Established plants can be kept on the dry side; stems rot easily in wet or cold conditions. Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of planting and again at midseason. Add gypsum if the soil is slow draining.

Companion plants. Basil, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, and southern peas.

Care. Pods contain a sticky sap that may be difficult to remove from clothing or tools. Prickles on pods can cause an allergic reaction.

Container growing. Okra does not grow well in containers. Choose spacing-saving varieties for container growing.

Pests. Flea beetles and aphids may attack okra. Pinch out aphid-infested vegetation or knock flea beetles and aphids off plants with a strong stream of water.

Diseases. Okra is susceptible to verticillium and fusarium wilt which will cause plants to suddenly wilt, dry up, and die, usually in midsummer just as plants begin to produce.

Keep the garden clean and free of debris. Remove and dispose of infected plants. Rotate crops to prevent the buildup of soil borne diseases.

Harvest. Pick pods when they are 2 to 4 inches long; they will be less gluey. Harvest pods at least every other day once flower petals fall and pods set; if pods ripen the plant will stop producing. Okra is ready for harvest 50 to 65 days after planting. Wear gloves when harvesting okra to prevent potential skin irritation from prickles on pods. Okra will produce for a year if old pods do not remain on the plant or the plant is not killed by frost.

Okra will stop producing if not picked continuously; if seeds are allowed to mature the plant will slow or stop its production of pods. Pods must be picked before seeds mature.

Okra Varieties:

Green okra: Annie Oakley (57 days); Clemson Spineless (55 days); Gold Coast (75 days); Jade (55 days); Perkins Long Pod (60 days).

Space savers: Dwarf Green Long Pod (50 days); Emerald (56 days); Perkins Dwarf Spineless (53 days).

Other colors: Blondy (50 days); Burgundy (60 days); Red Okra (60 days); Star of David (61 days).

Storing and preserving. Okra is best used fresh or as pickles. Pods will keep in refrigerator for 7 days.

Common name. Okra, lady’s fingers

Botanical name. Hibiscus esculentus

Origin. Africa

Grow 80 vegetables: THE KITCHEN GARDEN GROWERS’ GUIDE