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Okra Seed Starting Tips

Okra pods near harvest 1
Okra seedlings
Okra seedlings

Okra is easily grown from seed. Okra is a tender, warm-weather annual that requires midsummer warmth and almost tropical heat for the best growth. Okra is native to northern Africa and is a favorite among southern gardeners in the United States.

Plant okra directly in the garden a few weeks after all danger of frost has passed in spring. For uninterrupted growth, okra wants a soil temperature of about 75°F (24°C). Planting in cooler soil will slow but not totally compromise okra root growth.

Okra seed can be started indoors about four weeks before the last frost. Wait until warm late spring or early summer temperatures are established before transplanting okra into the garden.

Okra matures 55 to 65 days after planting.

Okra is a key ingredient of gumbo and jambalaya.

Here is your guide to starting okra from seed both indoors and outdoors.

Okra Seed Starting Basics

  • Common name: Okra, gumbo
  • Botanical name: Abelmoschus esculentus (Hibiscus esculentus)
  • Family: Malvaceae, the same family as mallow and cotton
  • Life cycle: Annual
  • Fruit type: Capsule
  • Seed-sowing depth: ½ inch (1.3 cm)
  • Seed starting tips: Scarify seed coat or soak seed for 12 hours in warm water prior to sowing
  • Seed-starting soil temperature: 70° to 95°F (21-35°C)
  • Indoor seed starting time: Start seed indoors in peat pots or other biodegradable containers 4 to 5 weeks before the last frost. Bottom heat speeds germination.
  • Light requirements: Bright light, full sun
  • Transplant time: After the danger of frost; do not disturb the roots when transplanting.
  • Direct sowing time: Direct sow 2 or 3 weeks after the last frost; okra wants a long season of warm weather for best pod development.
  • Spacing in the garden: 18 inches (46 cm) apart for small varieties; 36 inches (91 cm) apart for tall varieties.
  • Seed germination: 3-12 days; okra seed germination rate is about 65 percent.
  • Flowers: 5-petaled flowers, usually yellow with purple centers, borne in terminal racemes or singly from leaf axils; flowers look like hibiscus flowers
  • Pollination: Self-pollinating, insect-pollinated
  • Cross-pollination: Can cross-pollinate with other okra varieties; cage plants or bag flowers to prevent cross-pollination.
  • Isolation distance: ½ mile (0.8 km)
  • Days to maturity: 50-60
  • Harvest time: Pick the long, green seed pods when they are 2 to 3 ½ inches long. Cut the pods rather than pull them off the plant. Collect pods every other day to keep the plants producing; if pods mature on the plant, edible pod production will slow to a stop.
  • Seed saving: Let the seed pods stay on the plant until they become completely mature; brittle, brown, and up to a foot long. In late fall, gather the pods, break them open, and shell out the seeds like beans. Dry and store.
  • Seed processing: Dry pods on the plants or harvest prior to frost and allow pods to continue to dry fully. Wear gloves and long sleeves to harvest pods.
  • Seed vitality: 2-3 years; typical germination rate is 65 percent

Okra Sowing and Planting Tips

  • Grow okra from seeds or seedlings.
  • Okra seeds are viable for 2 years.
  • Okra is commonly started indoors in a greenhouse or warm, well-lit sunroom or kitchen.
  • Sow okra in individual pots of light potting mix 6 to 4 weeks before you intend to set plants out.
  • Do not set okra outdoors until the nighttime temperature is consistently greater than 60°F (15°C)—even then you may want to protect plants from temperatures below 65°F (18°C).
  • Sow 3 to 4 seeds to a pot or across flats; then clip away the weaker seedlings once the strongest seedling is about 2 inches (5 cm) tall.
  • Sow seed ½ inch (13 mm) deep.
  • The optimum soil temperature for germinating seed is 85°F (29°C).
  • Keep the seed starting mix just moist until seeds germinate.
  • Okra seed can be sown directly in the garden if the soil temperature is warm enough—and there are enough days in the season for plants to reach maturity. The optimal growing soil temperature is 85°F (29°C).
  • Okra seed germination takes 7 to 12 days at 85°F (29°C) or warmer.
  • Seedlings started indoors should be kept under a grow light or in a sunny window after germination. Keep the indoor nighttime temperature above 65°F (18°C).
  • Water to keep the seed starting mix from drying.
  • Fertilize with fish emulsion or a soluble complete fertilizer at half strength.
  • Transfer seedlings to a larger container once they are 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm) tall; be sure that seedlings have sufficient room for root growth. This process is called “potting up”; continue to pot up seedlings as they outgrow containers—until they are transplanted into the garden or a very large container.
  • Transplant okra to the garden after seedlings are at least 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) tall.
  • Set plants 24 inches (60 cm) apart in rows at least 24 inches apart.
  • Add aged compost, aged manure, and organic matter to planting beds in advance of transplanting.
  • Okra prefers a soil pH range of 6.0 to 6.8.
  • Grow okra in full sun for best yield.
  • Fertilize with an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion at half strength.
  • Give okra an inch of water (6.5 gallons) each week; okra does not like consistently wet soil.
  • Protect plants from cold weather under lightweight spun poly row covers supported by wire hoops. Cold nights will cause blossoms to drop producing bushy plants without pods.
  • Common okra pest enemies include aphids which excrete a sticky substance called honeydew which attracts ants, corn earworms, and flea beetles.
  • Common okra diseases include powdery mildew and fusarium wilt. Crop rotation is important to stem diseases that affect okra.

More tips at How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Okra.

Interplanting: Plant okra with basil, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, and peppers.

Container Growing: Choose a 15-gallon container for growing okra.

Okra Planting Calendar

  • 6-4 weeks before the last frost in spring: start seed indoors.
  • Transplant seedlings to the garden when night time temperature is consistently greater than 65°
  • Sow seed directly in the garden when the minimum soil temperature is 75°.
Okra plant
Okra is a tender, warm-weather crop – plant okra after all danger of frost has passed. Okra requires midsummer warmth and almost tropical heat for the best growth.

Grow okra from quality seeds. Get seeds from a seed company that offers disease-resistant varieties.

  • ‘Blondie’ and ‘Clemson Spineless’ are top performers.
  • ‘Cajun Delight’ is a short-season variety of okra for cool regions.
  • ‘Baby Bubba’ is a dwarf okra variety for small spaces.

Botanical Name: Abelmoschus esculentus

Okra is a member of the Malvaceae or mallow family; other members of this family are cacao and cotton.

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.

Comments

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  1. Thank you for sharing and it’s explain a lot why I plant seeds outdoor beginning of May but didn’t come anything until mid of June in Winnipeg. Temperature is the biggest problem.

  2. Hello, thank you for this informative page. The first true leaves of my Clemson spineless okra seedlings are coming out white rather than green. I’m just wondering if this is normal.

    • The leaves may be whitish or light green at first, but they should very quickly become deeper green as the plant matures. If the leaves remain white be sure the seedling is getting plenty 8 hours of light each day, and be careful to not overwater.

  3. Okra seedlings are dying. Starting from seeds, they reach 3 to 4 inches then lean down & die. Indoor temp is 72 degrees. Do I need more heat?

    • The okra may have been attacked by the fungal disease damping off. See this link How to Avoid Damping-Off
      A consistent temperature of 72F should be warm enough, though okra can take warmer temperatures.
      Be sure there is air circulating around the seedlings and they are not crowded.

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