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How to Grow Okra

Grow okraOkra is a heat-loving annual plant that requires 55 to 65 frost-free days with temperatures consistently above 85°F (29°C) 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 (1.2-2.1m) tall and produces a green and sometimes red seedpod which is harvested when 3 to 5 inches (7-12cm) 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 in garden
Okra seedlings: Okra is a heat-loving annual plant that requires 55 to 65 frost-free days with temperatures consistently above 85°F (29°C), Here are okra growing tips.

Planting Okra

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 (29°C 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 (18°C). Yields will decrease when the air temperatures fall below 70°F (21°C).

More tips at: Okra Seed Starting Tips.

Planting and spacing. Sow okra seeds ½ to 1 inch (2.5cm) deep set 6 inches (15cm) apart. Space rows 24 to 36 inches (61-91cm) apart. Thin successful seedlings from 12 to 18 inches (30-45cm) 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.

Okra growing in garden
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 in kitchen
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 (5-10cm) 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

  • 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).

Common name. Okra, lady’s fingers

Botanical name. Hibiscus esculentus

Origin. Africa

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20 Comments

  1. I live in Tennessee & this year has been a weird year for my garden. I planted 2 whole packets of corn & only about a 1/4 have grown, my spinach bolted almost immediately, my cucumbers that I planted in between My corn had been growing for a month, only got about an inch tall, started drying up, turning brown & dying. Replanted the cucumbers up front in my raised bed & they are doing great. I have went through an entire package of okra, only 2 plants have done well. They have been growing over a month, the 2 that look good are only 3 inches tall, all the others died. They do well starting out, after getting about an inch tall they start to turn brown, shrivel & die! I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I water everyday-unless it rains, prune off old foliage, made sure each plant was for compatible to plant together, I rotated crops this year, planted less instead of more-unless instructed not to, did half from seed, half from sets & even added aged compost when I tilled the soil.

    • Your methods are sound. Bolting spinach, cucumber seedlings turn brown and dying, okra seedling shrivel and die: all sounds like extra warm weather that has stressed the plants; even with regular watering this can happen. You may want to place a row cover or shade cloth on stakes at the edge of the planting bed; protect the seedlings from midday sun until they have grown to 8 inches tall and have fully rooted.

  2. We live in southern New Mexico. My first year with okra. I planted corn in early April. Decided to plant okra about a month later so I put it in between corn stalks already growing. The corn leaves protected young okra plants from the brutal southwestern heat then harvested the corn and cut out the used corn stalks (instead of pulling and hurting the okra). The corn did super well and now the okra is too. Our plants are between 4-5 feet tall and we harvest daily.
    Just thought someone out there might appreciate the companion growth and harvest.

  3. For the non compact okra varieties, once the plant gets to 6-7 ft high I top off the main stalk to encourage lower shoot development since by that time, many are already forming. More shoots more okra.

  4. Hi Steve
    You mentioned in your article that okra can not be grown in containers. Well I am too old to sit on the ground and plant the seeds and take care of the plants afterwards. So I am planning to give a try to grow these plants on a container. If it works it is fine. If i doesn’t I won’t try again. If I want to grow okra in a container, what size would you recommend for me to try? Thanks for your help. Appreciate if you can respond to this inquiry at your earliest convenience.

    • The larger the container the more nutrients will be available for the plant. You also want a container that will not tip over once the plant grows to full size and becomes top heavy. Use at least a 5 gallon container; a 7 or 10 gallon container would be better.

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