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How Do I Grow Okra?

How Do I Grow Okra and When?

How To Grow Okra?

Ever wondered how I grow okra? It’s okay that I like okra but not everyone does. Okra is one of those vegetables that you either love or hate, but we all can agree it adds a lot to any landscape. The plant looks stunning when in bloom. If the flower looks familiar to you, it’s probably because the okra and hibiscus are related. Here’s what you need to know if you want to plant okra.

The seeds of the Okra pod are delicious roasted, grilled or braised. They can be sauteed, fried, sauteed, or steamed and used in many dishes including stews and gumbo. Okra is also great blanched and served chilled. Pickled pods are also great for storing. There are endless ways to prepare okra.

There are many red and green varieties. Flowers come in a variety of colors

Okra Plant. How Do I Grow Okra?
Okra Plant. How Do I Grow Okra?

Okra comes in many varieties

All okra varieties — also called okro or ladies’ fingers, and Abelmoschusesculentus — belong to the same species. It’s best to select varieties with a shorter growing season in the North. In the South, varieties with a long growing season will produce the best results.

  • Burgundy can reach a height of 3 to 5 feet with pods up to 8 inches in length. Flowers are cream yellow. This variety will mature within 60 to 55 days after transplanting. When the pods reach 3 inches in length, they are ready for harvesting.
  • Cajun Delight was a hybrid green-podded variety that won the All-American Selections award. It has a high yield and matures quickly, making it an excellent choice for cooler climates. The five-sided pods have no spines. Plants mature within 50-55 days after transplanting.
  • Candle fire has smooth, round red pods and matures in 30 days after transplanting. This variety is highly productive and disease resistant.
  • Carmine Splendor has deep red, five-pointed pods. As they grow bigger, the red fades to a light pink or red. The plant matures after 51 days of transplanting. The flowers with pink tints are edible.
  • Clemson Spineless has edible flowers in cream color and light green pods with between 5 and 8 points. This is the “gold standard” for “painless harvesting”. They are best for the South since they mature in 60 days from the time of transplanting.
  • Jambalaya has a green hybrid variety that grows well in short growing seasons. It matures after 50 days of transplanting. It produces compact plants with five-ridged, meaty pods.
  • Red Velvet is 4 to 5 feet high with pods which are slightly ribbed. It is best to enjoy it when the pods are 3 to 6 inches in length. It reaches maturity in 55-60 days.

Simpson okra varieties mature in 50 days after transplanting. Open-pollinated, it has green pods with ribs measuring 5 inches long.

When, Where and How to Plant Okra

Okra is all about the summer. Okra grows in zones 4 to 11, but don’t plant seedlings or sow seeds outside until the risk of spring frost is gone.

Okra seeds can be planted indoors between four and six weeks after the last frost date. To speed up germination, soak the seeds in warm water overnight. Then plant them three quarters of an inch into sterile seed starter mix. The seeds will germinate between 5 and 14 days in soils that are between 70o to 95o Fahrenheit. Use a seedling heating mat that has a thermostat to ensure the seed starter mix is warm. Keep the seedlings in a grow-light for 8 hours per day to prevent them from stretching out.

The first day, the seedlings should be exposed to the sun for 30 minutes. Each day after that they can spend up to 10 days outdoors. The plants should be ready for a full-day of direct sunlight by the end of the period.

In southern climates, direct sowing of okra is possible after the last frost date. If you are planting seedlings from a store or your own, make sure to space them out 12 inches in a soil that drains well and is amended with organic matter or compost.

Okra Fruit is in the Fruiting Stage
Okra Fruit is in the Fruiting Stage

Okra grows best in soils with a pH close to neutral (7.0), so any pH between 6.0 and 8.0 is fine. Okra has moderate nutrient requirements, so do not over fertilize. Get a cheap soil test to check the pH and fertility of your soil. You can use the test results to determine what soil amendments you should add.

Okra seedlings thrive in soil temperatures of at least 70o. Northern growers can increase the soil temperature a month prior to planting by covering the area with black plastic. Okra likes a temperature of over 60o. Cover the crop during the day with floating rows cover to retain heat if a cool evening is expected.

When planting seedlings, be extra cautious. Okra is a plant with a taproot. The plant will not grow if the taproot breaks.

Cover the soil with two to three inches organic mulch and water immediately after planting. Mulch retains moisture and keeps the soil warm during cool nights. Mulch also creates a barrier to protect the foliage of the plants from pathogens that are in the soil.

Okra Pests & Diseases

Okra is susceptible to a few pests, but these are manageable. Row cover is the best way to protect your plants against pests. Cover them as soon as you plant them. If a disease is a persistent problem, you can practice crop rotating.

  • Aphids have a soft, sucking body and are vectors of plant diseases. On the stems or underside of the okra leaf, they can be found. They excrete honeydew as they eat the leaves of plants, which attracts insects and ants. You can easily control them by sprinkling a stream of water on the plants.
  • Armywormsare larvae of moths that attack seedlings and mature plants. Pick off caterpillars that are green, black, or gray. Bt works organically to control moths and butterflies larvae. It is safe for humans, pets, and other wildlife. Be sure to avoid applying it near plants that host butterfly larvae, such as milkweed or fennel.
  • Blossom Blightcan occur in high temperatures and after heavy rain. Remove any affected pods or blossoms.
  • Fusarium Wiltand Verticillium Wiltare both caused by soil-borne fungal organisms. The best way to prevent wilt is by using compost-rich soil or premium-potting mixture in containers.
  • Cucumber Beetles damage leaves by chewing. The cucumber beetles have different ranges but they all affect okra. They can be kept off by floating row covers, or they can be manually picked.
  • Powdery Mildew can be a fungal infection that affects okra. Powdery mildew can be prevented by spacing plants properly to allow air circulation. Baking soda or diluted whey can be used to slow down the spread of powdery mildew or as a preventative. For more information, read my Powdery Mildew Control guide.
  • Root Knot Nematodeis an okra parasite. The nematodes can slow down a plant’s growth. Once the plants have been pulled up, the galls at the roots are visible. Interplanting marigolds with food crops is said to repel nematodes

Watering Okra

Okra is a low-water plant and does not like to have wet feet. So, only water it during a period of dry weather. Apply supplemental water if it hasn’t rain all week, or only very lightly. But don’t apply more than one inch in a seven-day period between irrigation and rain.

Water the plants at the ground level to avoid getting the leaves or pods wet. Wet leaves can cause disease. Watering in the morning will help any water that may have gotten on the leaves to evaporate. If you water late in the afternoon, it can cause problems overnight.

Fertilizing Okra

A light application of organic fertilizer every month will boost yields. The best natural fertilizer is a balanced 3-4-4. I like to use seaweed or fish emulsion as a fertilizer.

Do not exceed the instructions of the manufacturer. Over-fertilizing is not better.

Okra plant
Okra plant

 Harvesting Okra

The pods of most varieties grow quickly, and should be picked before they reach 3 inches in length. Picking pods frequently and before they get bigger will encourage plants to produce more. The pods become woodier and less delicious as they grow larger.

Cut the pod stem just above its cap. Okra pods quickly lose their freshness once picked. The pods can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two days.


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