Okra plants will throw down a long taproot quickly, which makes them happier when started directly in the garden rather than inside in pots. You'll want to plant the okra seeds in early spring, after the last frost of the year, when the temperature doesn't dip below 55 degrees at night. But if that doesn't happen until late spring or early summer where you live, then you’ll need to jump start your season by starting your seeds indoors 2-3 weeks before the last frost. Growing them inside for longer than 3 weeks will increase your likelihood of failure as the seedlings will be very susceptible to transplant shock. Harden off your started seedlings before you transplant them to your garden patch.
Okra is a heat lover, and will do best in full sun, at least 8 direct hours a day. Like most veggie crops, okra prefers neutral pH soil, between 6.5 and 7.0. Okra isn’t a heavy feeder, but your crop will benefit from a good top-dressing of compost and an occasional sprinkle of your favorite balanced organic fertilizer. Because okra produces an extensive root system, loosening your soil to a depth of at least 12” will allow for happy and healthy plants.
After your last frost date, sow your seeds in your prepared beds to a depth of ½” about 12” apart. Okra seeds have a very hard seed coat and benefit greatly from scarification as a pre-treatment before planting. You can simply soak your seeds overnight to soften the seed coat, or you can add one more step and rub your seed a few times on a piece of sandpaper before soaking to allow more water to be absorbed into the seed.
If you are transplanting started plants, handle them very carefully taking care to not damage the delicate tap root. Starting your seeds for okra in peat pots can be helpful because you can then plant the whole pot with less chance to jostle the roots.
Like most veggie crops, Okra should be given at least an inch per week of water. Water every morning to thoroughly moisten the soil, except after heavy rains. It may not be necessary to water as much when the plants are mature and begin fruiting, but monitor for health as your season progresses.
Top dress your plants with compost 2-3 times throughout the growing season, or fertilize with compost tea once a month.
Aphids, stinkbugs, and corn earworms can all bother okra from time to time. Okra is very hardy though and rarely fail because of insect pressure, but it’s a good idea to monitor and try to keep the populations low to keep your yields high and also help protect your other crops. Inspect the stems and leaves regularly for holes, yellow leaves and other signs of pest infestation. You can pick the bugs off by hand or spray the leaves with soapy water to keep the pests away.
Okra is an extremely productive crop, in that the more you harvest, the more it produces! Keeping your plants harvested regularly will signal to the plant that it is not time to finish its lifecycle, so it will continue to produce pods. If you leave the pods, the plant will begin to put energy into maturing the seeds within the pods, and stop making more pods. During the season, I will harvest every morning, or at least every other morning. Use a scissors or a hand pruner to cut the okra pods just above their caps, where their thick stems meet the branches of the plant. Depending on the variety, most okra will be the tastiest and most tender when picked around 2-3” in length. Wait too long and the pods become tough and fibrous. You might want to wear gloves and long sleeves when you harvest the okra. The leaves and pods are covered with spines that can irritate the skin.
Okra, Abelmoschus esculentus
Pollination, self/insect; Life Cycle, annual; Isolation Distance, ¼ - ½ mile
Okra flowers are perfect and self-pollinating, but they are so large and showy they attract lots of bees to help get the job done. Okra needs at least ¼ mile to retain seed purity, but ½ mile would be best. Okra will keep producing as long as you pick, so it's best not to save pods from early flushes as you will be selecting for lower overall yields. Let your seed pod choices dry on the plant, and cut them off (wearing gloves!) with pruning shears or just grab the pod and twist. You can store the seeds in the pods until use, but for best long term storage, crack open the pods and store seeds in glass jars.