Companion plants for okra

By: Joseph Masabni

Okra is a warm-season vegetable that grows well in most Texas soils. A fair source of vitamin A, it can be eaten in many ways, including boiled, fried, and cooked in soups, gumbos, and casseroles.

Varieties

The best okra varieties to grow in Texas are Annie Oakley (Compact), Blondy (Compact), Burgundy, Cajun Delight, Clemson Spineless, Emerald, Lee, Louisiana Green, Stewart’s Zeebest (Heirloom), and Velvet.

Site selection

For good yields, okra must grow in full sunlight in fertile, well-drained soil.

Soil preparation

Work the soil only when it is dry enough not to stick to garden tools. Spade or turn the soil as deeply as possible. Okra will grow best in soil that has been worked 8 to 10 inches deep. Remove all rocks and trash from the soil, and then rake it soil smooth.

Planting

For the best yields, plant okra in the spring 2 to 3 weeks after all danger of frost has passed. For a good fall crop, plant at least 3 months before the first fall frost. Plant the okra seeds about 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart in the row (Fig. 1). Space the rows at least 3 feet apart.

Figure 1. Plant okra seeds about 2 inches apart and 1 inch deep.

When the okra is up and growing, thin out the plants to about 1 foot apart (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Okra rows should be 3 feet apart. After the plants are 3 to 4 inches tall, thin them to 1 foot between the plants.

Fertilizing

Before planting, use 2 to 3 pounds of fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 15-5-10 for each 100 square feet of garden area. Spread the fertilizer evenly over the area, and then mix it well into the top 3 to 4 inches of soil.

Watering

Okra will do fairly well under dry conditions. However, if you water the plants every 7 to 10 days, the yield will be higher. Sandy soils will need water more often than clay soils.

Care during the season

Cultivate around the okra plants to remove weeds and grass. To avoid damaging the okra roots, pull weeds close to the plants by hand. After the first harvest, apply 1 cup of garden fertilizer for each 10 feet of row.

Scatter the fertilizer evenly between the rows. Mix it lightly with the soil. Water the plants after fertilizing.

Insects

Many insecticides are available at garden centers for homeowner use. Sevin is a synthetic insecticide; organic options include sulfur and Bt-based insecticides. Sulfur has also fungicidal properties and helps control many diseases. Before using a pesticide, read the label and always follow cautions, warnings, and directions.

Diseases

Diseases on okra are most severe in cloudy, damp weather. Check the plants daily and treat them with an approved fungicide if diseases appear. Neem oil, sulfur, and other fungicides are available for use. Always follow label directions.

Harvesting

Okra plants will produce large flowers about 2 months after planting. The okra pods will be ready to pick 3 to 4 days later.

Harvest the pods when they are 3 to 4 inches long. If the okra gets too large, it will be tough and stringy. Pick the okra every 1 to 2 days or yields will decrease (Fig. 3).

Okra can be stored for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator. Okra that is too mature can be dried, cured, and used in flower arrangements.

Okra seed is easily saved for next season by leaving some of the last pods on the plant until they get very large. Remove them and allow them to dry. The seeds will shell easily from the pods. Other okra plant material such as leaves and stems can be put in a compost pile.

Figure 3. Harvest okra when it is about 3 to 4 inches long.

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Okra Companion Plants – Learn About Companion Planting With Okra

Okra, you probably love it or hate it. If you are in the “love it” category, then you are probably already or thinking of growing it. Okra, like other plants, can benefit from okra plant companions. Okra plant companions are plants that thrive with okra. Companion planting with okra can deter pests and generally boost growth and production. Keep reading to find out what to plant near okra.

Companion Planting with Okra

Companion planting strives to boost harvests by situating plants that have symbiotic relationships. Used for centuries by Native Americans, selecting the right companions for okra cannot only reduce pests, but also provide a safe haven for beneficial insects, boost pollination, enrich the soil and in general diversify the garden – all of which will result in healthier plants that are able to fend off disease and produce bountiful crops.

What to Plant near Okra

An annual vegetable that thrives in warm regions, okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is a rapid grower. Extremely tall plants, okra can get up to 6 feet (2 m.) in height by the end of the summer. This makes it a useful companion in its own right to plants such as lettuce. The tall okra plants shield the tender greens from the hot sun. Plant lettuce between the okra plants of behind a row of emerging seedlings.

Spring crops, like peas, make great companion plants for okra. These cooler-weather crops do well interplanted in the shade of okra. Plant a variety of spring crops in the same rows as your okra. The okra seedlings won’t crowd the spring plants until temps are higher. By then, you will have already harvested your spring crops (like snow peas), leaving the okra to take over space as it grows in earnest.

Another spring crop, radishes marry perfectly with okra and, as an added bonus, peppers too. Plant both the okra and radish seeds together, 3-4 inches (7.5-10 cm.) apart in a row. The radish seedlings loosen the soil as the roots grow, which allows the okra plants to grow deeper, stronger roots.

Once the radishes are ready to harvest, thin the okra plants to a foot apart and then transplant pepper plants between the thinned okra. Why peppers? Peppers repel cabbage worms, which love to feed on young okra foliage.

Finally, tomatoes, peppers, beans, and other vegetables are a great food source for stink bugs. Planting okra near these garden crops draws these pests away from your other crops.

Not just veggie plants do well as companions for okra. Flowers, such as sunflowers, also make great companions. The brilliantly colored blooms attract natural pollinators, which in turn visit the okra flowers resulting in large, plump pods.

Companion planting in the garden can serve a number of purposes, ranging from maximizing garden space to attracting beneficial insects and pollinators to luring insect pests away from other food crops. Here are some great options for companion plants for peppers.

Companion planting, or grouping complementary plants together in the garden to benefit each other, can be done for a variety of reasons, such as to provide shade or a wind barrier to other plants, or to cover the surface of the soil with edible plants to crowd out weeds, or even to help boost the growth, flavor, or yields of food crops.

Ramon previously wrote a great guide to companion plants for tomatoes, and because both sweet and hot peppers are such popular vegetable garden plants that can also benefit from companion planting, here’s a big list of herbs, flowers, and vegetables that might compliment your pepper patch.

1. Basil: Arguably one of the most popular summer herbs, basil is great on its own, but also has a place next to and around pepper plants. It’s claimed that growing basil next to peppers boosts their flavor, and may help to repel some common garden pests, such as aphids, spider mites, thrips, mosquitoes, and flies. Plus, pesto!

2. Chives: Growing chives near peppers can help to deter aphids and other insects, and is said to improve the flavor and yields of plants nearby. Chives are also a handy and flavorful kitchen herb, and because it’s a perennial, a single planting can come back year after year.

3. Carrots: Growing carrots around peppers can help to shade out some of the weeds, providing a living mulch, and are a great way to maximize space in the garden. Plus, who doesn’t love a fresh carrot, straight from the soil?

4. Onions: Onions don’t take up a lot of room above the ground, and are said to deter many common insect pests in the garden, such as aphids, slugs, and cabbage worms, making them a good companion plant for peppers. Besides the onion bulb itself, onion greens can be clipped throughout the season as an addition to salads and other fresh vegetable dishes.

5. Chard: Swiss chard is another incredibly useful plant in the garden, and interplanting it with peppers can offer partial shade and protection from winds, while also crowding out weeds. Chard also happens to be one of the easier veggies to grow, and can add some color to garden beds.

6. Lettuce: Growing lettuce as a companion planting to peppers is a great way to get an additional harvest in a small space, due to their lower growth habit, while also crowding out weeds.

7. Spinach: Spinach can be a compliment to peppers in the garden, for many of the same reasons that both lettuce and chard are, and because of their shorter stature, will not shade out peppers and other taller plants.

8. Okra: Growing okra near peppers can offer wind protection and partial shade for the peppers in the heat of summer, and may offer some protection from pests such as aphids.

9. Leeks: Although not quite as popular to grow as its family members, such as garlic and onions, are, leeks can be a good companion plant for peppers. They don’t take up a lot of room, so growing leeks can help to fill in empty spots in the garden, and they are also thought to repel some insects, such carrot flies.

10. Radishes: Radishes are not only easy to grow, but are also one of the quickest (as little as 3 or 4 weeks from seed). Growing radishes around peppers allows you to get a fairly quick food crop in a small amount of space.

11. Beets: If you’ve only ever eaten canned beets, eating fresh beets from your garden is quite a treat. Growing beets near peppers is another method of filling in empty space in the garden and shading out weeds while helping to keep soil moist.

12. Corn: Besides being one of the most popular summer vegetables, corn is also a unique plant to have in the garden, as we don’t often grow any other giant grasses in our beds (at least on purpose). Due to its tall growth habit, corn can serve as a windbreak or to cast shade on pepper plants during parts of the day. Corn is also said to also act as a trap crop for aphids, which may keep them off the pepper plants.

13. Beans: Besides fixing nitrogen in the soil and helping to feed other garden plants, beans can provide other benefits for pepper plants, including crowding out weeds and helping to block the winds or cast partial shade.

14. Tomatoes: Although it’s usually recommended to not plant tomatoes and peppers right after each other in the same bed every year, they can be grown together in the same garden bed (and then rotated to another bed next season). Growing tomatoes near peppers helps to shade the soil, and can offer the peppers some protection from the sun in the hottest parts of the day. Plus, salsa!

15. Asparagus: Although asparagus is a perennial, and can’t be planted for an instant crop in one season, pepper plants can be grown in the asparagus patch to optimize the use of that space during the summer, after the spring asparagus is picked and eaten.

16. Garlic: Growing garlic as a companion plant with peppers can help repel or deter aphids and certain beetles from taking over the peppers. Planting garlic around peppers, or peppers among garlic, is another way of maximizing garden space for better yields.

17. Squash: Both summer and winter squash can be grown near peppers, where their large leaves can help keep the sun off the bare soil and keep weeds down.

18. Oregano: Due to its shorter stature, oregano grows well around peppers without competing for space, covers bare soil, and is a great complement to many dishes that also include peppers.

19. Dill: Dill is said to attract beneficial insects and to help repel pests such as aphids, and may improve the flavors of vegetables grown nearby. Planting dill around peppers is a great use of space, while their feathery leaves offer some contrast and texture to the garden.

20. Parsley: Growing parsley around pepper plants not only helps you get a second edible from almost the same amount of space, but also serves to provide some shade and cover for bare soil.

21. Marjoram: Another lower-growing herb that won’t compete for space with peppers, marjoram is said to improve the flavor of vegetables and herbs grown near it, while also providing a tasty culinary herb.

22. Buckwheat: Growing buckwheat around pepper plants can attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, as well as serve as a green mulch (cut and chop the buckwheat and lay on the ground in garden beds).

23. Rosemary: Rosemary can be a great addition to your culinary herbs, while also serving as a groundcover plant to minimize bare soil and high evaporation rates.

24. Cucumbers: Cucumbers are another summer vegetable favorite, as great to eat fresh as they are pickled, and go well with many pepper dishes.

25. Eggplant: Also a relative of peppers, this member of the nightshade family enjoys the same soil conditions that peppers do, and can add some diversity to garden beds while providing another tasty summer vegetable.

26. Parsnip: Parsnips aren’t usually one of the vegetables people name as their favorite, but growing this root vegetable around peppers can yield another food crop while helping to crowd out weeds and keep soil shaded.

27. Peas: Peas are a tasty treat in the spring and summer, and the pea plants help to fix nitrogen in the soil to benefit other plants growing nearby or afterward.

28. Geraniums: Growing geraniums as companion plants for peppers is said to help repel cabbage worms, Japanese beetles, and other pests, while also providing some colorful blossoms in the garden.

29. French Marigolds: When grown near other garden crops, French marigolds are claimed to stimulates their growth, while also repelling beetles, nematodes, aphids, potato bugs, and squash bugs.

30. Petunias: In addition to providing a splash of color in the garden, petunias can be a great companion plant for peppers due their ability to repel asparagus beetles, leafhoppers, tomato worms, and aphids.

31. Lovage: Lovage, as a taller plant, can offer protection from drying winds and sun, and is said to improve both the health and the flavor of many garden vegetable plants.

32. Nasturtium: This edible flower is not only beautiful, and is claimed to benefit the flavor and growth of many other plants, but also is thought to deter aphids, beetles, squash bugs, whiteflies, and other common garden pests.

What do you grow as companion plants for your peppers?

It is believed that okra made it’s first appearance in America during the 17th century. It was brought to the southern Colonies, where it thrived in the hot, humid summers.

The first documented accounts of okra grown in the New World were by Thomas Jefferson, who grew it in his Monticello vegetable garden during the 1780’s.

Okra has many uses in soups and stews, but is most famous as a main ingredient in gumbo.

It is also believed that okra holds some medicinal purposes for helping to ease sore throat and acid reflux.

Even the beautiful hibiscus-like blooms of the okra plants are edible, and are delicious added to salads.

Follow these simple tips for an abundant crop of okra.

Okra Needs Full Sun and Warm Temperatures

Okra requires full sun, at least six to eight hours per day, and warm temperatures. Okra thrives when temperatures get above 75°F, and continue to flourish with temperatures 90°F or higher.

Okra is well known for it’s prolific production even when the mercury edges near 100°F.

There are a few cultivars that grow well in cooler conditions, such as ‘North & South‘, which can be successfully grown as far north as Maine.

Okra seeds can be started indoors four to six weeks before the last frost date, or sown directly in the garden once the soil temperatures reach between 70°F and 75°F.

Transplanting okra seedlings in the vegetable garden can be successful, but you must be careful not to damage the long taproot.

Provide Adequate Space for the Okra Plants

It is best to space the okra plants between 18 and 24 inches apart. Okra needs some space for increased air circulation around the plants.

Proper spacing will reduce the risk of disease, such as powdery mildew, from spreading to other okra plants nearby.

Provide Plenty of Mulch

Using plenty of mulch in the vegetable garden is always a good thing. It’s no different when growing okra.

Place a four to six inch thick layer of mulch around okra seedlings once they reach about twelve inches tall.

Straw mulch is probably the best mulch to place around okra, but any type of organic mulch will do.

If you are sowing the okra seeds directly in the vegetable garden, you can have mulch around in place beforehand. Just move the mulch over in the areas where you will sow the seeds when the time comes.

Mulch helps to suppress nutrient-robbing weeds and will raise the temperature of the soil quicker in Spring.

This is very important if you live in a slightly cooler region because it will allow you to plant seeds a little sooner than without mulch.

Avoid Over-Watering Okra

Since okra comes from West Africa you automatically assume it must be very drought tolerant.

In fact, okra performs best when the soil is allowed to dry out some between waterings. Over watering okra can cause root rot and disfigured plants.

Okra does best with about 1/2-inch of water per week, depending on rain fall amounts in your local area.

The great thing about growing okra is you can actually go without watering them for a month and the plants will keep on stepping.

Provide Support for Extra Tall Okra Plants

Some okra plants may need support if they begin to lean over. Mature plants can grow very tall – in excess of seven feet in some varieties. The okra pods tend to grow up as the plant grows, so it can get top-heavy once it gets above six feet in height.

A stake or some type of support may be needed if the plant starts to lean over. I’ve had okra get so tall I needed a ladder to harvest the pods at the top.

Even if your okra plants start to lean a bit they will probably continue to produce like normal, but you may want to stake them up to keep the vegetable a little tidier.

Harvest Okra Pods Early and Often

A common mistake with growing okra is harvesting the pods too late. Many gardeners will allow the pods to grow six to eight inches long. This will cause the pods to become tough and have a woody taste.

The appropriate size for harvesting can depend on the variety you are growing, but most okra varieties are at their best when they are young and tender.

Okra pods should be harvested once the pods reach a length of one to four inches for most varieties.

Harvesting the pods early will provide you with tender, delicious pods and will promote greater production.

Once the blooms appear on the okra plant keep a close eye on them.

The pods will be ready to harvest in a couple days. If you let them go for a week or so after the blooms appear you will find yourself with pods almost as big as bananas, and that’s not good for eating.

If you do find some very large, tough okra pods, don’t worry. You can let the pods dry out and then save the seeds for next season (if it is an open pollinated variety).

Keep a Watch for Stinkbugs and Japanese Beetles

Fortunately, okra does not have many insect pests or disease issues, but you should keep an eye out for stinkbugs and Japanese beetles.

Stinkbugs, or Leaf-footed bugs can affect the pods of the okra plant. The stinkbugs feed on the young pods causing them to become bumpy.

If the bumpiness is minor the pods are probably fine to eat, but if there are extreme cases the pods should be discarded.

If you find stinkbugs on your okra, you can use Bt spray to ward them off.

Another remedy is using ground cayenne pepper mixed with water and apply to plant leaves. The stinkbugs get one whiff of the cayenne pepper and go elsewhere.

Japanese beetles can be found munching on the leaves of the okra plant. Just a few can be relatively harmless, but if a swarm attacks your plants the leaves can be devoured in hours.

The best defense against Japanese beetles is to hand pick them as they are found. You can also use a Japanese beetle trap nearby to trap them.

Is it hot enough for okra?

Blog for June 1, 2016 Okra Seedling and Blossom By Linda Workman Smith, Multi-County Master Gardener Association For those not in the know, there are a number of food families. Today’s focus will be the Mallow family which includes: hollyhocks, the cotton plant, Rose of Sharon, marsh mallow/Althea officinalis (which was the source for the

Blog for June 1, 2016

Okra Seedling and Blossom

By Linda Workman Smith, Multi-County Master Gardener Association

For those not in the know, there are a number of food families. Today’s focus will be the Mallow family which includes: hollyhocks, the cotton plant, Rose of Sharon, marsh mallow/Althea officinalis (which was the source for the original marshmallow candy) and okra”today’s topic.

The name okra probably comes from one of the Niger-Congo languages. The term okra was in use in the English language by the late 18th century.

It is thought that okra probably originated near Ethiopia and was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians by the 12th century B.C. Its cultivation spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Not only were its pods cooked and eaten, seeds were toasted and ground for a coffee-like drink (still is).

Okra was brought to the USA by slaves from West Africa. In Louisiana the Creoles learned from slaves to use okra as a thickening agent for soups; it is mostly associated with Southern, Creole and Cajun cooking in the USA.

In Oklahoma, as elsewhere in our country, many gardeners ‘jump the gun’ when planting okra. Okra thrives in HOT weather. You are wasting your time and probably some seeds if you plant before soil temperature reaches 65-70 degrees. Okra can be started indoors, but again, I have found it to be a waste of time. In my own experience when planting seeds and transplants of okra”at the same time”it doesn’t take long for the seeded okra to catch up to transplants.

There are many okra varieties available. OSU’s recommendations (last updated in July 2004) are: Annie Oakley, Baby Bubba, Blondy, Burgandy, Cajun Delight and Clemson Spineless 80. Don’t know about you but I have never heard of most of these. I plant the Clemson Spineless and sometimes an old heirloom variety Aunt Hettie’s Red. I won’t go into planting instructions; most seeds packets have this information.

And on a different but related note: A Facebook friend from Stillwell, Oklahoma (known on some gardening pages as our resident expert on weird/unusual/push the envelope plants) gifted me with seeds of Abelmoschus manihot a few weeks ago; it is an edible hibiscus plant”Mallow family. Technically a shrub, hardy to zone 8b, it is a perennial which can grow 6-7 feet tall. It is purported to be extremely nutritious; its leaves very high in vitamins A and C, and iron, and said to have 12% protein by dry weight. How have I not heard of this plant? This will be my first time growing it; sure hope it tastes good. I can’t expound from personal experience but researching, it can be grown from seeds or cuttings, is easy to cultivate and is relatively disease resistant; it’s also said to be of medicinal value.

Three of my seeds have so far sprouted; I have been assured they are a little slow but should all come up.

We shall see; hopefully I’ll be chowing down on this ‘edible hibiscus’ later in the season, after the lambsquarter has gone to seed. And even if it tastes terrible, that BLOOM!

From here at my Two Acre Paradise/Three Dog Circus as always I wish you happy gardening.

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