Okra is a close relative to the hibiscus plant and thrives in the heat of summer. This heat-loving, fast-growing, bushy plant can grow up to five feet tall and produce edible pods that are readily used in kitchens worldwide. Tender okra pods are highlights in soups, grilled and sautéed side dishes, stews, and relishes.
We will take you on a learning journey about growing okra, and show you how quickly and easily you can take it from seed to harvest when growing it in your own backyard.
Ideal Soil Composition & pH for Growing Okra
Like most other vegetable plants, okra prefers a mix of nutrient-rich, well-draining soil. You will be more successful growing okra when there is a mix of some clay in the soil, so adding native soil to the garden bed is recommended. In addition to native soil, enrich your soil with tons of organic matter before planting, as it is a heavy feeder of nutrients.
Okra likes the soil to be slightly on the acidic side, optimally measuring 5.5 -5.8 on the pH scale. If you are uncertain of your soil type, quality, or pH, visit your local extension office for a soil test or obtain a pH test from your local garden center or nursery.
Okra Light and Temperature Requirements
Okra grows well in warm, humid climates and does not tolerate temperatures below 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant okra in an area of the garden that receives full direct sunlight for a minimum of 6-8 hours per day.
Plants should only be planted or sown outdoors when temperatures are warm. Aim for evening temperatures of 65 degrees Fahrenheit and daily temperatures ranging from 75-95+ degrees. This tall plant does not tolerate shade and can sometimes shade out its neighboring okra plants, so be sure that the sunlight directly faces the plants without casting shadows on each other.
Where to Plant Okra
Okra is a warm-weather crop, often grown successfully in southern gardens due to its heat-loving and drought-tolerant nature. It can be grown in more northern climates during the smaller window of time when summers are hot, but it will likely produce smaller pods.
Plants traditionally grow fairly tall and wide, so in-ground is the best place to plant okra for most varieties. Some types are specifically cultivated to perform well in containers, however. To limit pests and boost your plants’ production, try adding some okra companion plants to the garden.
How to Grow Okra
Plants take about two months to mature and should be either directly sown into the garden bed or started indoors.
- When starting seeds indoors, sow seeds in biodegradable pots 6 to 8 weeks before the date you wish to transplant outdoors, keeping ideal temperatures for growing in mind.
- Seedlings can be delicate to transplant. Peat pots will help lessen the shock to plants when they are transplanted outdoors.
- Wait until the weather is reliably warm, about two weeks after your last expected frost date, before transplanting outdoors or directly sowing seeds into your garden bed.
- The plants keep producing pods throughout the summer months, albeit in lesser quantities. Gardeners who live in warmer growing zones can plant a succession crop in late summer for fall harvest.
Spacing Okra in the Garden
Proper spacing is paramount for successfully growing okra. Plants grow quite tall and branch out, impeding nearby plants if not spaced adequately. As the plant grows, consider staking them so that they have a tidier growth habit.
- Plant okra seeds 1 inch deep and 6 to 8 inches apart.
- Thin seedlings or plant transplants 18 to 24 inches apart in rows that are 3 feet apart.
How to Water Okra Plants
Okra is a drought-resistant crop and does reasonably well when it is left alone. Keep track of the weather in your area and ensure that your growing okra plants receive a thorough watering approximately once per week, whether from a good soaking of rain or a hose watering.
Nutrients Needed for Growing Okra
These fast-producing plants are vigorous feeders of nitrogen. Soil should be amended with organic matter and fertilized before planting and once again four weeks after sowing seeds.
Keep weeds at bay during the growing season, as okra needs all the nutrients it can get to spread out and produce fruit. Weeds can compete with plants for water, nutrients, and space in the garden bed.
Common Okra Pests & Disease
Okra is a relatively disease-resistant plant to grow, and only a couple of pests seem to seek out the plant. Here are some easy organic remedies to keep okra plants pest-free.
- Aphids – Companion plant nasturtium flowers as a trap crop to lure aphids away from okra plants. Also, it can be effective to hose down plants with a strong spray of water to knock aphids off plant leaves.
- Stink Bugs – Spray plants with a strong water nozzle to wash stink bugs off of plant leaves.
- Root Rot– Ensure the okra plants are grown in well-draining soil and allow plant soil to dry out completely before watering.
The okra plant’s harvestable fruits are the seed pods they produce approximately 60 days after planting time. Follow these tips on harvesting pods from these dynamic producers.
- Plants have a striking hibiscus-like flower before seed pod production, so that’s a big clue that harvest time is only a few days away.
- Harvest time comes around pretty quickly once blooms are present on the plant.
- When harvesting okra pods, you can either pinch off the pods or use pruning shears to separate their stems from the plant.
- Look for young pods that are an average of two to four inches long for the most tender fruits.
- If allowed to grow larger than two to four inches, fruits can become woody, fibrous, and unpalatable.
- Harvest okra pods every other day to boost continuous production.
- Okra plants can be hairy and spiny, which can cause skin irritation when handled with bare skin. When harvesting seed pods, consider wearing long sleeves and garden gloves to avoid this uncomfortable occurrence.
Recommended Okra Varieties
Choose from a wide variety of okra plants that vary in color and size. While they may produce different colored pods, all okra turns to green once it is cooked. There are spineless varieties available that can be less irritating to your skin, but note that this only means that they have fewer spines than other types, not that they are void of them.
Try some of these tried and true favorite varieties of okra:
- ‘Red Velvet’
- ‘Go Big’
- ‘Baby Bubba’
- ‘White Velvet’