Growing Okra

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green okra pods on plant

In hot weather, okra pods grow fast. Keep them harvested by cutting them off at their short, woody stems with scissors or clippers. The leaf hairs are prickly, so you may want to wear gloves.

Grow okra in a raised bed where you can provide optimal soil and growing conditions.

This raised bed with dwarf okra provides good drainage, improved soil, and easy access.

As more gardeners discover that they really like okra, the range of this warm-natured hibiscus cousin is steadily edging northward. Growing okra requires warm weather, but by using seedlings, you can shave 3 weeks or more from its usual long season. As long as okra seedlings are handled gently, as if they were breakable eggs, they can be slipped into the garden – or into large containers – just as the hot season begins.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Okra needs warm soil and weather to grow well.

Okra seedlings don’t like cold. Plant well after the last spring frost when the ground and air have warmed.

Choose your sunniest spot for growing okra, and wait until the weather is warm to set out your plants. Plants like it when nights are at least in the 60s and days 85 or warmer. In the North, gardeners might wait until late June to plant, since pods appear within 2 months.

Okra grows best in soil with a near-neutral pH between 6.5 and 7.0, although it will do fine in a pH as high as 7.6. Plants benefit from a generous amount of compost or other rich organic matter, which should be thoroughly mixed into the soil before planting. If your soil is not rich, you can work bagged organic fertilizer or slow-release conventional fertilizer such as 4-6-6 or 19-19-19 into the soil at the rate recommended on the package, then feed the plants with Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food at planting and every couple of weeks thereafter.

Okra seedlings have fragile taproots that cannot be broken. Thoroughly water your seedlings an hour before you plant them. Gently break open the sides and bottoms of their biodegradable containers, separate the seedlings, and set them about 10 inches apart. Plant slightly deeper (about ½ inch) than they grew in their pots. Water the little plants if rain is not expected, but wait a few days before mulching to give the soil a chance to absorb the sun’s warmth. Okra is appreciated for its ability to withstand drought compared to other vegetables, but for good growth and production, you’ll need to water at least an inch a week, just as with other vegetables. Just know that if you run into an extended dry period and can’t seem to water enough, okra will be the last to suffer.

Okra is related to hibiscus and produces blooms that look similar to hibiscus flowers.

Okra flowers look like the blooms of a hibiscus, a close relative to okra. This flower is visited by ants.

The early growth of okra is often slow, but the plants grow much faster once summer starts sizzling. In addition to gaining height, okra’s leaves get bigger as the plants grow and begin producing yellow blossoms followed by tender pods. Plants are erect with a main trunk, making them look a little tree-like in the garden.

Troubleshooting

Cool weather is okra’s number-one enemy, and stressed plants may fall victim to verticillium and fusarium wilts, which are soil-borne diseases that cause them to wilt and die. Another serious pest is root knot nematode. Ants often climb up plants to steal sips of nectar but seldom cause serious damage. Fireants are the exception, as they can cause damage to developing flowers that forces them to abort. Other pests that you may run into include Japanese beetles, stink bugs, aphids, corn earworms, and flea beetles.

Harvest and Storage

summer vegetable harvest featuring okra

Proper care for your okra plants will yield a bountiful summer harvest!

Warm weather helps pods grow quickly, so check plants every day once they start producing. A pod can grow from nothing to full size in 2 or 3 days. Pods first appear at the base of the plant up so that by the end of the season you could be on your tiptoes to harvest.

Pods are ideal when 2 to 4 inches long; they get very tough and stringy if allowed to stay on the plant. Always remove any that are too big to eat because they keep the plant from producing.

Use pruning shears to cut the pods with a short stub of stem attached. Some people suffer uncomfortable itching from contact with okra’s stiff leaf hairs, so you may want to wear gloves and a long-sleeved shirt when gathering your okra. If a few pods slip by you and grow into giants, cut them off to keep them from exhausting the plant.

Okra plants grow very tall by the end of summer.

By the end of the season, full-sized okra plants will tower overhead as these do at the edge of a tree and shrub border.

In warm climates where summer lasts a long time, standard-sized plants can get 6 to 8 feet tall. In this case, many people prune in late summer by cutting back about one-third of the plants’ tops. Buds along the main stem then grow and produce a late crop.

Okra is a “cut-and-come-again” vegetable. Keep cutting the pods every day or two, and they will keep on coming.

FAQs

Do all okra varieties have spines?

Some varieties are listed as “spineless.” However, the term is a description of the okra pod itself, and not the plant. All plants have at least tiny, fuzzy spines that cause burning and itching when you rub against them. Wear long sleeves and gloves to harvest okra if you are bothered by the prickly plant.

What do you do with the extra okra plants in the planting cups when planting?

Plant as is. Do not try to separate them. They will grow fine.

My okra plants are about an inch tall, but are not growing at all. What can I do to help them along?

It has been too cool for okra to grow much. Okra likes hot weather. Temperatures in the 80s and higher will help.

After blooms appear on the plants, how long does it take okra to grow to harvest size?

Within two or three days after blooming, okra pods are ready for cutting. The tender pods are best for eating. The longer the pod stays on the plant, the more woody it becomes to the point where you can’t eat it. However, some gardeners let the pods mature and get woody to use for arrangements.

122 thoughts on “Growing Okra

  1. Hi, I live in Vancouver Wa. I would like to know iof orka will grow in Vancouver Wa.

    • Hi Leona,
      You can grow okra in Washington. This is a vegetable publication by the Washington State Univeristy extension with planting dates and guides for most of the home vegetables grown in your area. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

  2. This is my first year for a patio container garden in South Alabama. Everything was doing okay till about 2 weeks ago. I started noticing my okra plants looked like they were dying. When I was able to get a closer look at them they are covered in tiny reddish brown small little bugs sorta like flea size and the soil looked like small white termites in it. What should I do? I am not afraid to use chemicals on my plants just dont know which to use to get rid of the problem.

    • Hi Dana,
      Your okra may have been invaded by aphids! Try a stiff spray of water first to try and knock the aphids off. This is the Alabama Cooperative Extension Home Garden Vegetables: Insect Control Recommendations. You will find insecticidal soap listed as well as a couple of others. – danielle, Bonnie Plants

  3. I’ve gardened for years and every year I try a new vegetable. I’m new to Arizona moving down from Seattle, so we’re talking different “worlds”. I’ve also had raised beds, and am lucky to have a walled yard to keep out the critters. This year I’m trying okra for the first time and so far only three of my four plants are happy. I’ve read up about this plant and am giving them every benefit. I know they like hot weather and I don’t over water them, but I do cage them. Do they like to be treated like peppers?

    • Hi Janny,
      They like a very warm soil like pepper plants do. Okra plants can get tall, similar to corn although the two are completely different. Since you are new to Arizona gardening – I can only imagine how much it differs from the Seattle climate you are used to – I am attaching the vegetable growing manual from the Arizona extension system. I bet this will help you in your new zone :) – danielle, Bonnie Plants

  4. We are near Fairbanks, Alaska. I have some Okra started on the top of my fridge and they have SHOT up. I actually didn’t realize HOW big they get, so we are going to have to get bigger planters for them.

    If we use a 3-5 gallon pot for them, do they do well with being moved? It gets around 50* at night even through the summer and around 75* through the day. If I pull the pots inside at night, they’ll be fine right? I honestly have no idea as I’ve never been able to grow anything before this year.

    Thanks,
    ~Brooke~

    • Hello Brooke,
      Odds are the okra plants are not going to like being taken in and out. But I sure do not want to discourage anyone from gardening, so I say go for it, and please let me know how it goes. Here are some gardening tips from University of Alaska Fairbanks extension. Good Luck! – danielle, Bonnie Plants

  5. My okra has suddenly become deformed right where the new growth emerges. Flowers and fruit are stunted and the plant isn’t growing. What is this and what remedy, preferably organic, can be used. Is it contagious? Thanks.

    • Hello Sally,
      Sounds like you are gardening in the South! This could be a few things. Deformed pods are sometimes caused by stink bugs and other leaf footed bugs, so keep an eye on it – identification is the first step in control. Small pods rotting on the tip ends once emerging is common when okra is planted closely together (sometimes in conjuntion with part shade conditions). The best thing to do is to monitor the okra daily. When the okra is pulled up after harvest, you may check the roots of the okra for nematodes. The publication here from the Univeristy of Florida will help show you what to look for. This is a good reason to rotate crops in the garden. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

  6. when i first planted my garden everything was doing great but, after a couple weeks the veggies are turning yellow what could that be?
    i live in SC

    • Hi Davida,
      Were the veggies fertilized before or during planting? If they were not, it may be time to do so. Yellowing is a very good sign of nutrient deficiencies. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

  7. could you please tell me how deep the roots go on squash,
    and the okra and if the squash will grow inlarge to med. pots
    the reason i’am asking is i have no room in my garden and little property

    Thanks

    • Hello Davida,
      I wouldn’t use a container less than a foot deep for either. Squash need a lot of room to grow – a pot at least 24 inches in diameter. Here is a picture here of okra growing in a container. Just don’t overcrowd the plants in the container. – danielle, Bonnie Plants

  8. I am in Georgia and have planted 2 okra plants I purchased about a month ago. But recently I have noticed there is something eating the leaves! The bigger dark green leaves are being consumed by something, but I can’t seem to find the suspect! I think the plant is still growing, but I need to know is there is anything I can spray on my plants to keep bugs away!

    • Hello Mary,
      Before we spray anything, we need to determine what the pest is. Do the leaves have small holes in them, or could it be something larger like a browsing deer? This publication from your state extension office on growing okra details some of the common pests in your area. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

    • Sav.Ga. Having same problem. plants are being consumed by something eating away at the leaves. Not deer. Small back yard, fenced. I’ve put out slug pellets, nothing helping.

  9. How many okra seedlings can you plant in one area. Do you separate the plants or plant the entire pot of seedlings in one spot? How far apart should the plants/rows be?

    • Hi Mark,
      If you are growing in long rows, space rows 36 inches apart with 12 inches between plants. For tighter spaces, like raised beds, you can plant the pot as is and thin sparingly. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  10. Can you grow okra in Columbus Ohio? I haven’t seen any plants, so I have to start with seeds. I am a first-time gardener. Thanks!

    • Hi Keia,
      Growing okra in Ohio can be a little tricky as it is a long season veggie growing preferring the warmer temperatures. But, yes, it can be grown in Ohio. This article will give you advice on starting from seed in your area! – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  11. I started my okra out from seed. I have the clemless variety and tthe dwarf variety growing. The get nice and big about 5 inches or so, but only have 2 leaves at 5 inches tall. I have searched and searched about this problem on the internet but find nothing about if this is normal or not. I have some that just came up and are about 1-2 weeks old and are at 5 inches tall with only 2LEAVES. I am new at gardening, but this doesnt appear to be normal or is it? Please help me… I have it in store bought soil, with a slowly releaseing fertalizer sticks. Any thoughts or ideas?

    • I forgot to mention I keep them under a grow light indoors and they are also in an 18inch round planter pot.

      • Also I live in Arizona, USA (as i see other people from other countries use this website:-)) so we have plenty of warm weather here to share for everyone including these plants. If I put them outside thay will not only get eaten by the deer, but the rabbits, and whatever else decides to snakc on them. That and my yard has very bad soil thats why i had to go buy my dirt. We have whats called alkaline in the dirt here at my house and that kills off most plants except the ones that can live in it and the weeds as well. Plus I have already started seeing snakes around my area this year and definatly would not want to harvest any of those out of a garden… any advice for my okra? Please help and thanks ahead of the time.

        • You may want to consider a raised bed. It is often a great solution for poor soils. Here are some plans for raised beds. This is from your home state’s extension system on okra in Arizona :)

      • Hi Carissa,
        I see…how far are you keeping the lights above the plants? Lights are usually placed about 3 inches above the seedlings and raised as the seedling grow to prevent ‘leggy’ plants.

    • Hi Carissa,
      That sounds normal to me. If the seeds were planted a couple of weeks ago and are already up and have real leaves – they seem to be growing nicely.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

    • Hi Nuno,
      Okra is a very popular vegetable in Southern India – pretty close to the Republic of the Maldives!
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  12. hello, I am about to attempt growing Okra here in Cambodia, in pots since monsoon season is on the way. Its plenty hot here as you can imagine, and the plants will be protected on my upstairs balcony from excessive rainfall. I was wondering if you had advice for starting from scratch, as i have never grown it before. I will start with basic seeds, since finding seedlings in this country for something like Okra is impossible. Any tips would be very helpful! Thank you

    • Hello Dom,
      Okra is spaced about a foot apart so be sure and get a container that is large enough. It is tall too – some varieties upward of 6′. Some soak the okra seed in water or freeze it first to help break the seed coat to improve germination. How much sun will the container get on the balcony? Okra is a warm weather veggie and needs full sun. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

      • Hi I planted okra last year, for the first time, last year from seed packets. I brought a standard variety (Clemson I believe). The okra grew fairly well. I thought that the yield was fair, but nothing spectacular. The okra grew in pretty quickly over the summer but the plants did not have that many blooms on them. Also after comparing them to other plants I saw in my neighborhood I noticed that mine were at best half the height. My corn was also shorter that other corn stalks neighbors grew in their yard. I believe that my soil is pretty fertile and I also added organic blood meal fertilizer before planting. What am I doing wrong. Plants like tomatoes and cucumbers grew well. No luck with peppers or greens. Please help. Thanks

        • Hello,
          There are many factors we could could look at. Corn is a grass, so the addition of nitrogen fertilizers pretty regularly is necessary. The soil may be fertile, but have you ever had a soil test run to have the pH tested? – a great article on Why pH Matters. What type of watering schedule did you use? Veggies need about an inch of water per week. If it doesn’t come from the sky, it needs to come from us. Another great article on watering the veggie garden. These other gardening basics may help you out. Let me now if you have any questions.
          -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

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