- A Guide To Growing Okra
- Easy Growing: How to Grow an Okra Plant
- Seed Sources
- Planting Okra
- Caring for Okra
- Harvesting and Storing Okra
- Okra Varieties to Grow
- Okra: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties
- How to Grow Okra At Home
A Guide To Growing Okra
Southerners love okra, whether fried, grilled, stewed, or pickled. And the okra plant loves the South back. Native to Africa, this iconic vegetable thrives in our sweltering heat and withstands withering droughts. Its candelabra-like stems produce attractive crepe paper blossoms that resemble those of hibiscus or cotton. These blooms give rise to the edible seedpods we crave all summer and fall.
The first rule of harvesting: Don’t blink. Okra pods form in a flash. Check blooming plants every two days or you might miss the perfect picking size for tender pods. The second rule: Despite your typical July wardrobe, wear a long-sleeved shirt to reach underneath leaves when cutting off pods. Even if the pods are spineless, okra stems are not and will stick it to you.
Easy Growing: How to Grow an Okra Plant
Okra is simple to sow and grow. Typically planted a few weeks after tomatoes, it benefits from our long, warm growing season. Soak the large seeds in water overnight, and then sow them 1 inch deep in rows that are at least 3 feet apart. Cover and water thoroughly, giving them a deep soaking every four or five days. When seedlings are 2 inches tall, thin them to 18 inches apart. As the plants begin to flower, apply a blossom-boosting fertilizer according to label directions.
Okra produces until frost, but older plants need reinvigorating in late summer. Do this by cutting the tall plants back to 1 to 2 feet high, allowing side branches to form that continue producing for months. Keep picking the pods until you’re ready to save seed. Then let a few pods dry on the plant at the end of the season before frost. Store their seeds in a sealed glass jar. Also, save cut stalks with mature dried pods for interesting decorative elements in wreaths, ornaments, and flower arrangements.
WATCH: 5 Slime-Busting Tips for Okra
Long or stumpy, red or green, round or ridged, and crooked and hooked, okra comes in many forms. Look for modern and heirloom seeds at southernexposure.com, seedsavers.org, and rareseeds.com.
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.
Description. Okra is a 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.
Okra seedlings: Okra is a heat-loving annual plant that requires 55 to 65 frost-free days with temperatures consistently above 85°F, Here are okra growing tips.
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 a 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 fall below 70°F.
More tips at: Okra Seed Starting Tips.
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.
Companion plants. Basil, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, and southern peas.
Container growing. Okra does not grow well in containers. Choose spacing-saving varieties for container growing.
Established okra plants can be kept on the dry side; stems rot easily in wet or cold conditions.
Caring for Okra
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.
Care. Pods contain a sticky sap that may be difficult to remove from clothing or tools. Prickles on pods can cause an allergic reaction.
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.
See: Troubleshooting Okra Problems.
Okra is best used fresh or as pickles. Pods will keep in the refrigerator for 7 days.
Harvesting and Storing Okra
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.
More tips at How to Harvest and Store Okra.
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.
Storing and preserving. Okra is best used fresh or as pickles. Pods will keep in the refrigerator for 7 days.
Okra Varieties to Grow
Common name. Okra, lady’s fingers
Botanical name. Hibiscus esculentus
In some ways, growing okra from seeds is easy. It will tolerate poor soils, little moisture, and a range of soil pH readings. That tolerance extends to the kitchen, where it is a delicious addition to soups and can be fried or stewed.
But okra is also a demanding plant when it comes to heat and sunshine. This African-born cousin of the hibiscus, hollyhock and mallow plants weakens and becomes vulnerable to pests and diseases if it’s too cool or shady, even for a short time. It just won’t bear those wonderful seed pods without abundant heat and sunlight.
Okra is also intolerant of frost. Temperatures anywhere close to freezing can destroy the plant.
These factors coupled with its relatively long season has made okra a Southern garden favorite. As this plant’s popularity has grown, many gardeners in the Midwest have tried to add this, with unpredictable results. It’s not easy, but the general rule of thumb is that if you can grow corn, you can grow okra.
A Southern favorite and a must for gumbo (delicious fried too), okra loves heat.
A Southern favorite and a must for gumbo (delicious fried too), heirloom okra is a thing of beauty. Planting instructions are included with each seed packet and shipping is FREE!
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Harvesting Okra
- For a successful crop, only grow in areas with warm day and evening temps during the summer
- Choose a site in full sun with healthy soil and a lot of room
- Make sure soil is loose to accommodate large roots
- Water and weed regularly
- Harvest by pulling pods from plants
- Pests and diseases include beetles, corn earworms, aphids, root-knot nematodes, and fungus
Choose a variety of okra — or two — suited not only to your climate but also to your kitchen. Pod size and color are important to some cooks. Texture of the okra — with just the right slickness after cooking and the presence of okra’s characteristic ribs — are standard factors. No matter which okra you choose, harvesting the pods when young is essential.
About those growing conditions: When the description of various okra seed varieties states “58 days to harvest” it’s understood that those are 58 hot and sunny days. Most likely it will take longer to reach peak harvest. Other conditions, like moisture, will add to the days-to-harvest count, especially when plants come from seed sown directly in the garden.
Many cooks and gardeners still prefer the old standby Clemson spineless, a variety that does well across much of the south and lower Midwest. Traditionalists prefer the ribbed varieties such as the heirloom Star of David, which produces particularly fat but tender pods perfect for frying.
Long pod varieties, including Emerald okra, are favored for soups and stewing. Red okras include Hill Country Red, a pickling favorite, and the ornamental Burgundy okra. Jing Orange is a brightly colored Asian variety that’s particularly suited to dry conditions and is good in stir-frys.
Not surprisingly, many recently discovered heirloom okra varieties are regional favorites, held for generations among families of farmers and gardeners. They’re often are named for long-gone relatives (“Grandma Edna’s Cherokee Long Pod”) and are especially adapted to their native environment. You may be able to pick up seed or starts from a neighbor or nearby farmers market that will feel right at home with the conditions in your garden.
Okra is known to grow in poor soils. But it does best in good soils with plenty of organic material that are not too rich. Too much nitrogen results in strong vegetative growth but fewer blooms, which mean fewer seed pods. Work organic compost into your soil the fall before spring planting and allow it time to age before planting. As with all garden vegetables, good water retention and drainage is important.
Work soil deeply wherever you plan to plant okra.The roots can extend four feet deep and even more under favorable conditions.
Different sources claim that okra takes to a soil pH as low as 5.8 and as high as 7.5. But again, better conditions produce better yields. A pH between 6.5 – 7.0 should be a good range for most varieties. Check your seed package for recommendations.
How to Plant
Plant okra seed in the garden at least three weeks after the last frost when the soil temperature warms to 60 degrees and above. Craig R. Anderson at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, who suggests you plant okra seed 10 days after setting out tomato transplants, cautions that because plants aren’t encouraged to bloom until sunlight exposure is less than 11 hours, it’s possible that seed started too late in the spring may remain vegetative all summer until fall and its earlier sunsets arrive. His excellent guide to okra is here (PDF).
Give okra plenty of room. The plants often grow four to six feet tall and can spread just as far. Plant seed so that plants will be spaced 12 to 15 inches apart in rows at least three feet apart.
Okra seed can be difficult to germinate, so soak the seed overnight to encourage germination, which takes place after a week or more. You can can plant seed sooner in the season and encourage faster germination by covering rows with black plastic. This also encourages faster early growth.
It’s possible to get a jump on the okra season by starting seed indoors four weeks or so ahead of transplanting in the garden. Okra roots are very delicate, so don’t allow starts to get root bound in their pots, and be especially careful when relocating them into the ground. Pots that are transplanted right into the garden with its start can be helpful.
Care and Watering
Despite its reputation as a plant that will survive dry conditions (see “four-foot roots” above), okra is hardier and produces more pods with adequate watering. An inch of water a week is optimum. Plants that grow on little water will produce tough pods and may be prone to afternoon wilt.
If soil is well conditioned, okra will need only light side dressings of compost during the season for best results. Foliar sprays are particularly effective. Liquid seaweed sprays can be applied two or three times during the season.
Okra is also sensitive to weeds. Keep your patch well-weeded, especially when plants are young.
Okra blossoms can start appearing in seven or so weeks when conditions are good. The blossoms are there for only a day — here’s hoping you have a lot of natural pollinators at work — and the pods are visible soon after. The sooner they’re picked, the better, though well cared-for plants will keep their pods tender for five days or more. Larger varieties retain their tenderness until they reach full size which can be as much as six inches or more.
The quicker you pick okra pods, the more they produce new blossoms.
Pest and Other Problems
Okra plants can be attacked by flea, Japanese and other beetles, especially when young. Spraying plants with spinosad is an organically-approved method of controlling these pests. Corn earworms are occasionally found on okra plants. They can be organically controlled by using sprays or dusts containing biological pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis.
Like many plants, okra can be attacked by root-knot nematodes. If your plants are stunted or showing a lack of vigor, pull one and examine its roots for the characteristic knots or nodes left by the tiny worms.
Aphids will also cluster on okra plants and attract ants. Well-timed placement of ladybugs can discourage infestation.
In cooler, moist climates, okra can succumb to wilt and fungus. If you experience a brief damp spell during your normally hot and sunny summer and begin to notice signs of disease on plant leaves, it’s time to roll into action. Remove those leaves as soon as the plant is dry and spray what’s left with an organically approved garden fungicide that contains sulfur.
Okra is particularly sensitive to damping off, so don’t transplant seedlings into a wet garden right after heavy rain.
Okra: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties
A member of the hibiscus family, okra has one of the most beautiful blooms in the vegetable garden. Okra is used as a natural thickener for soups and stews and is an essential ingredient in gumbo.
Okra is considered a “southern” crop because it thrive in hot weather. However, okra can be grown anywhere, although it bears most abundantly in regions with long, hot summers. Okra is often stewed with tomatoes, deep fried, pickled, boiled or steamed and served with butter, as well as eaten raw, fresh from the garden. Some folks don’t like okra’s gummy quality when it’s boiled or steamed, and it seems to be more popular when combined with other vegetables, fried or pickled.
Choosing a site to grow okra
Select a site with full sun, preferably on a southern slope for maximum warmth, and well-drained soil. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost.
How to harvest okra
The first pods will be ready in 50 to 60 days. Harvest the pods when still immature (2 to 3 inches long). Pick at least every other day to encourage production. Wear gloves and long sleeves to avoid coming in contact with the irritating spines on the leaves and pods. Use a knife to cut the stem just above the cap.
In warm regions, plant okra directly in the garden when the nights stay above 55 degrees F and the soil has warmed to 65 degrees F to 70 degrees F. In northern areas, start seeds indoors in peat pots several weeks before the soil warms up. Or direct seed through black plastic and cover the rows with plastic tunnels to hold in the heat. To hasten germination, soak seeds overnight in tepid water or freeze them to crack their coats. Sow seeds 1/2 to 1 inch deep, 3 to 4 inches apart. Set out transplants to stand 1 to 2 feet apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart.
When the seedlings are about 3 inches tall, thin to stand 1 to 2 feet apart. Provide at least 1 inch of water per week; more in hot, arid regions. When plants are young, cultivate lightly to eliminate weeds. Mulch heavily (4 to 8 inches) to keep weeds down and conserve moisture. Side-dress plants with rich compost. Side-dress three times: after thinning, when the first pods begin to develop, and at least once midway through the growing season. Contact your local County Extension office for controls of common okra pests such as flea beetles.
One easy way to include more okra in your diet is to add okra to your vegetable garden. Okra is very sensitive to cold; the yield decreases with temperatures less than 70 degrees Fahrenheit. However, okra has a short season, which permits it to be grown almost anywhere in the United States. The plant will grow in any warm, well-drained soil and needs a place in full sun.
Plant okra from seed in your garden about four weeks after the average date of last frost. Plant the seeds 1/2 to 1 inch deep. When the seedlings are growing strongly, thin them to stand 12 to 18 inches apart. Keep the plants on the dry side. The stems rot easily in wet or cold conditions. Okra will grow for a year if not killed by frost and if old pods are not left on the plant.
The time from planting to harvest is 50 to 65 days. When mature, the pods are 6 to 10 inches long and filled with buckshot-like seeds. When the plants begin to set their pods, harvest them at least every other day. Pods grow quickly, and unless the older ones are cut off, the plant will stop producing new ones. Keep picking the pods when they’re quite small; the pods are less gluey when they’re only about two inches long.
Grow these different types of okra, depending on the length of your season:
- Clemson Spineless, which should be harvested 56 days after planting, is an All America Selection. It is a compact plant with dark green, straiht, spineless pods.
- Annie Oakley is a compact variety with a short season. Harvest in 52 days.
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How to Grow Okra At Home
Okra, commonly known lady’s finger or Bhindi in India, is a seasonal plant which belongs to the melon family and has beautiful flowers. The vegetable can be cooked and consumed in different ways. It is rich in vitamin C, vitamin K and vitamin A along with calcium and fiber. It is low in calories containing about 25 to 40 kcal per 100 grams and is mainly made up of water (90%), protein (2%) and carbohydrates (7%). You may have been buying this healthy and versatile green from your nearest grocery store but it can be easily grown at home. Let us show you how.
Tips to Grow Okra at Home
It is suggested that okra should be planted during early summer months or the spring season in the coolest region of the garden (so that the seeds don’t rot) for them to be harvested at the right time. The seeds of okra should be soaked in water for at least 12-18 hours allowing them to absorb the moisture before being sowed. Okra can grow in different types of soil but it must be fertilized well. The seeds should be sowed an inch deep in the soil and in rows that should be at a distance if 3 feet from each other. One should be careful with the distribution of the seeds so that they have enough space for their roots else they may not grow properly. After around 12 days, the seed will begin to germinate. The plants should be narrowed by tying them loosely to branches, 12 to 18 inches apart from each other, so that they grow straight upwards. Okra flourishes under a bright sun and requires proper sunlight at this stage. It also needs regular watering specially during the flowering stage. Okra is know to attract beetles and worms that can damage the plant. Therefore, measures like soil management and crop rotation should be undertaken to prevent diseases.
(Also read: 10 Veggies That You Can Grow at Home)
Within two months, the okra plant will mature and it takes up to 12 weeks for production. You should start harvesting okra after the bloom fades but don’t take so long that it turns black and dies. You will know it is time to harvest when the seed pods are 2-3 inches long. Handle okra with care because it is a delicate plant and bruises easily. Pick the pods every second day, so that they don’t get too tough and are still soft. It is advised to wear glows while picking the pods because they have spines irrespective of whichever variety of okra you have grown.
(Also read: How to Create Your Own Edible Balcony)
It is suggested to wash the pods gently and let them dry for at least half an hour before you store them. The storage of okra is easy since it can be placed in a paper or zip lock bag in the refrigerator. Ideally, you should eat them within 3 to 4 days of harvesting to enjoy the freshness.
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