Cousin to the hibiscus, okra offers an edible seedpod that is used in many different culinary creations and has been noted for its purported health benefits. This tall flowering plant also adds a nice aesthetic to any backyard garden. Commonly considered a warm weather plant only, it requires only about 2 months of hot temperatures and can be grown in northern zones with a little extra care. If you’re considering a crop of your own, here are some tips on how to grow okra.
When To Grow
Okra needs warm weather to thrive. Nighttime temperatures should not drop below 60° F after planting, while daytime temperatures are best around 85° F. Wait at least 2 weeks past the last frost date for your area before planting. You’ll need at least 2 months before your pods begin to form. Purchase seedlings from a local nursery or start your plants inside and you can start your okra 3 weeks early.
Where To Grow
Okra is best grown where temperatures range from at least 60° F at night to 90° F and warmer during the day. They need full exposure to the sun and will grow 3 – 6 feet tall.
Okra needs rich soil. Fortify garden soil generously with mature compost before planting. Test the pH to be sure it has a neutral reading: 6.5 – 7.0.
Okra seeds are best if planted in hills at least 2 weeks after the last frost of winter or once temperatures will not drop below 60° F. Sow seeds about 1 inch deep in hills 12” – 24” apart. Thin to the strongest plant per hill once they reach 3 inches high. To accelerate germination, soak the seeds in water overnight before planting.
Okra seedlings have extremely fragile taproots. Be careful not to damage them when transplanting seedlings purchased from a nursery or grown indoors. If starting your seedlings indoors, grow them in individual biodegradable containers. This will make them much easier to transplant later on. Set transplants slightly deeper in the soil than they stood in their containers. Water the plant before transplanting into moist soil.
Watering & Care
Okra handles drought conditions better than most vegetables. However, for best results they require about an inch of water per week. Water them as soon, or just before, the soil dries out and never overwater. The soil should never be left muddy or soggy.
Carefully weed so as to not disturb the okra’s sensitive root structure. Better to use mulch once the plants have had a chance to establish themselves and the soil has grown warm.
If planted in rich soil, okra shouldn’t need much if any feeding during the growing season.
The best okra pods are young and tender, about 2 – 4 inches long. Check them every day once they begin to show as the hot weather can make them appear out of nowhere. They’ll get tough and stringy if left on the vine too long. Clip them off with shears, including a short stem with each pod.
Wear gloves while harvesting if you suffer from itching after okra contacting your skin, which is common to many people.
Cut off any pods that have grown too large; they will inhibit the plant from producing more.
Harvest regularly to encourage more production as long as the weather stays hot.
Tips & Advice
Watch for aphids and cabbage worms, which can build up in the plant’s foliage.
Remove all old okra pods.
Wilting and disease will often result from cold stress early in the summer, but may not even appear until mid summer.