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Okra Growing Problems: Troubleshooting

Okra pods on plant1

Okra pods on plantOkra can be grown with ease wherever sweet s grown. Okra is often associated with the South–think gumbo soup, but it grows well in northern gardens as well. Okra grows in average soil; start okra when the soil and air temperature is right for planting corn

For okra growing tips see Okra Growing Success Tips at the bottom of this post.

Okra is generally insect and disease free but occasionally problems will arise.

Common okra growing problems with cures and controls:

Seeds do not germinate; plants do not emerge. Soil is not warm enough for germination; soil temperature must be at least 70°F for okra to germinate. Pre-soak seeds in water for 24 hours before sowing.

Flowers and buds drop before pods set. Weather too hot or temperatures are fluctuating. Temperatures greater than 95°F can cause flowers and buds to drop. Temperatures too cool can cause flower and bud drop.

Plant flowers but pods do not form. Heat and cold can interfere with pollinations. Pollination will be poor if temperatures rise above 90°F or drop below 55°F. Too little light, water stress, and excess nitrogen also inhibit pod formation. Plant in fun sun, in compost-rich soil, and keep the soil evenly moist.

Water-soaked spots on leaves; spot become circular with gray centers. Leaf spot is a fungus disease. Plant resistant varieties. Rotate crops. Keep garden free of plant debris. Apply copper dust or liquid copper spray every 7 to 10 days. Plant in well-drained soil. Rotate with other crops.

Black water-soaked blotches on stems and leaves. Anthracnose is a fungus disease that spreads in high humidity and rainfall. Leaves may wither and fall. Plant may die back. Remove and discard infected plants. Avoid working in the garden when it is wet which can result in spread of spores. Plant in well-drained soil. Spray or dust with a fixed copper- or sulfur-based fungicide every 7 to 10 days.

Plants stunted, leaves yellow, roots decayed. Fusarium root or stem rot is a fungal disease that favors warm soil. Remove infected plants and plant debris that harbor fungus. Rotate crops. Rotate crops regularly. Solarize the soil in late spring or summer.

Leaves turn yellow and then brown from the bottom up; plant loses vigor. Root knot nematode is a microscopic eelworm that attacks roots. Rotate crops. Remove old plant debris from garden.

Small rusty-orange to reddish brown or black blisters or pustules on stems and leaves. Rust is a fungus disease. It is most prevalent in humid regions. Prune away infected leaves or plants. Plant resistant varieties. Water evenly; avoid overhead watering.

Leaves are yellowish, curl under and become deformed; shiny specks on leaves. Aphids are tiny, oval, and yellowish to greenish pear-shaped insects that colonize on the undersides of leaves. They leave behind sticky excrement called honeydew which can turn into a black sooty mold. Use insecticidal soap.

Leaves yellow; tiny white winged insects around plants. Whiteflies will congregate on the undersides of leaves and fly up when disturbed. Remove infested leaves and the whole plant if infestation is serious. Introduce beneficial insects into the garden.

White, powdery spots on leaves and pods. Powdery mildew is caused by fungal spores. Spores germinate on dry plant surfaces when the humidity is high; spores do not germinate on wet leaves. Common in late summer or fall but does not result in loss of plant. Avoid water stress. Prune away infected leaves and pods. Keep garden free of plant debris. Rotate crops.

Holes in pods. Corn earworm is a brown-headed caterpillar with lengthwise stripes to 2 inches long; the adult is a night-flying moth with brownish or olive wings and bright green eyes. The worm will tunnel into pods. Handpick caterpillars and destroy. Use commercial traps. Dust with Sevin.

Deformed pods. Southern green stink bug is a light green bug to ½-inch long. Bug sucks sap from leaves and pods causing them to become twisted and deformed. Spray with insecticidal soap. Dust with sabadilla.

Pods are woody and tough. Okra should be picked just a few days after flowering. Pick pods that are 1½ to 2 inches long. Pick pods daily.

Okra Growing Success Tips:

Planting. Plant okra in full sun. Okra grows best in light, deeply worked soil rich in organic matter. Add aged compost to the planting bed before sowing or transplanting. Pre-soak seeds before planting; start seed indoors to give them a head start.

Planting time. Sow okra seeds or set out transplants after all danger of frost is past when the soil is at least 60°F.

Care. Keep the garden weed free; mulch to suppress weeds. Hand pull weeds so as not to disturb roots. Side dress okra with aged compost after planting and again when plants start to set pods. Keep okra evenly moist, it can go nearly but not completely dry. In very hot regions, give okra new life at midseason by pruning stalks back to 2 inches above the secondary buds. This will allow plants to send out new growth and flower a second time in the fall. Fertilize okra with compost tea after pruning.

Harvest. Harvest pods when they are young and tender. Wear gloves and long sleeves; okra is covered with spines that can irritate the skin. Pods are ready for harvest a just few days after the plant blooms. Cut pods when they are 2 to 4 inches long, do not let pods become tough; harvest every other day. Use pods immediately after harvest

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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  1. I brought my potted okra and peppers in from outside, bought a grow light and a fan. Finally, the okra flowers started blooming but not all of the way, I gave each okra plant two tablespoons of Happy Frog for Tomatoes and a little later began giving my peppers and okra mosquito bits water to get rid of the fungus gnats. All of the okra leaves dried up and fell off. Two of the three pepper plants, had small peppers die. one pepper plant is still very happy. Is it the Mosquito bits, the grow lights (Cheaper LEDs) the fact that the temperature inside stays around 69F or something else? I have also watered my mint and scallions with mosquito bits water with no problems but they are indoor plants. I have seen that fungus gnats, though annoying, does not usually hurt adult plants. Any thought?

    • If the gnats appeared after you brought the plants indoors, the soil may have become too moist and attracted the gnats to the damp soil. Soil too damp would cause leaves to drop. Also, too little light or too much nitrogen in the fertilizer could cause leaves to drop as well. 69F would be on the lower end of what okra and peppers prefer. A combination of less than optimal conditions may account for the plants’ failure.

    • Okra can be eaten raw, cut into bite-size bits. However, if the okra fruit has been long on the plant it may be tough and not palatable. If you don’t the fruits, you can save the seeds to grow again next year. Only open-pollinated (non-hybrid) seeds will grow true. You can also add the okra fruits to the compost pile.

    • There could be a few reasons for okra vines growing long and twisted: (1) insufficient sunlight; plants are stretching for light; (2) insect infestation–check closely for sucking insects such as aphids, thrips, or mites; (3) inadequate soil moisture; (4) environmental stress, smoke or pollution.

  2. We have small not mature pods dropping off the Okra plant in south Alabama. The plants have just started to produce. Weather has been average for this area. What is wrong with it?

    • Pods can drop for a variety of reasons. Typically pods drop when the plant is encountering some sort of stress–temps too low or very hot, too much or too little water, too much nitrogen in the soil. Keep the soil just moist and feed the plant a dilute solution of fish emulsion or kelp meal every 10 days. Plants drop fruit when they are trying to survive. You’ll need to do some detective work to figure out what the underlying cause is.

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