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Are you planning to grow a plant that tends to thrive and survive in warm weather? Then one of your ideal options is okra. You will never go wrong by making okra a part of your vegetable garden as it is generally easy to grow.
Quick Facts About the Plant Okra (Abelmoschus Esculentus)
- Botanical name: Abelmoschus esculentus
- Type of plant: Annual, vegetable
- Sun exposure: Full sun
- Size when mature: 3 to 5 feet tall and wide
- Type and pH level of soil: Fertile, moist, and well-drained; Acidic, preferably 5.8 to 7.0 pH level
- Color of flower: White, yellow
- Bloom time: Seasonal
- Native area: Asia, Africa
- Hardiness zones: 2 to 11 USDA zones
Okra refers to a flowering plant that you can grow as an annual in almost all regions. In regions considered as dry and tropical, though, where the okra is a native, it is classified as a perennial. Some use okra as a landscape plant due to their aesthetically pleasing flowers.
However, most grow okra as a vegetable crop since it has edible seed pods. You can expect these okra pods to come out after the blooming of the okra’s flowers. The good thing about the okra pods is that they have several culinary uses – one of which is to thicken stews due to their gummy mucilage.
One more fact about the plant okra is that it follows a branching and upright growth habit. It has palmate leaves with 5 to 7 lobes as well as white or yellow flowers that usually feature purplish centers.
Expect the flowers of the okra to also provide a way for up to 7-inch elongated seed pods to come out. These okra pods contain white okra seeds filling a chambered structure shaped like a pentagon.
For you to begin your journey to making okra a part of your vegetable garden, you should familiarize yourself with its different varieties. That way, you can pick an okra variety that has a higher chance of growing and surviving in your region.
For instance, if you are in the North, grow okra varieties meant for the short growing season. If you are in the South, the most appropriate varieties would be those meant for the long growing season.
This variety can reach up to three to five feet tall. The plants also hold red okra pods that are around 6 to 8 inches long and yellow cream flowers. It matures in around 55 to 60 days after you transplant it. Expect the pods to be ready for picking once they are 3-inch long.
Cajun Delight can be defined as a green-podded okra variety with a high yield. The fact that these plants mature early, around 50 to 55 days after transplant, make them suitable for places with cooler climates. This hybrid okra variety is also distinctive as it features spineless and 5-sided pods.
This specific hybrid okra variety features round and smooth red pods capable of maturing within 30 days. It is a highly productive and disease-resistant plant, so it is definitely a great addition to your garden.
This open-pollinated okra variety has light green pods with around 5 to 8 points. It also has edible flowers in the shade of cream. The Clemson Spineless variety is ideal to grow in the South as its maturity period can take around 60 days.
The red velvet okra can get up to around four to five feet tall. It has slightly ribbed okra pods that are more fun to use when they are still around 3 inches to 6 inches tall. The red velvet is one of those okra plants that can mature within 55 to 60 days.
This variety has a maturity period of 50 days after the transplant. You can differentiate it from the rest through its 5-inch ribbed green pods. This is also open-pollinated okra.
Best Time to Plant Okra
One advice when it comes to growing okra is to start its seeds indoors using peat pots and under full sunlight around three to four weeks prior to the expected last frost date of the spring. If you are living in a warmer location, you can directly begin okra in your vegetable garden in around three to four weeks prior to the last frost date, too.
However, ensure that you use a grow tunnel or cold frame to cover the okra plant until the actual weather completely warms up. The cover should be around two to three feet tall. This should give the plant okra sufficient room to grow.
In case you were unable to begin the plants early, you should wait for a while until warm and stable weather comes out. Start to plant okra in your garden once the soil warms to around 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Best Place for Planting and Growing Okra
If you are serious about growing okra, you have to make sure that you carefully select its growing site/location. One thing to note, in that case, is that okra is a warm-weather vegetable crop, so expect it to appreciate the full sun.
The good thing about okra plants is that they are also adaptable. They can grow in almost all soil types. Note, though, that the best growing performance can be expected if you plant and grow okra in well-drained soil with a high level of organic matter.
Moreover, the soil also needs to be acidic. Preferably, it should have a pH level of around 5.8 to 7.0.
Best Ways to Plant Okra
You actually have two options when it comes to planting okra – planting okra seeds in a small pot so you can transfer it later, or directly planting seeds into the container or ground where you want to grow this crop ultimately. Your choice will depend on the specific month you decide to plant the seeds.
In case you decide to plant okra seeds at a time when the temperatures are still freezing, begin in small pots that you can transplant once the last frost is over. If you decide to directly plant the seeds in the ground, ensure that the ground is still at least 65 degrees F and has a depth of 4 inches once the last frost ends.
To get the seeds that you can use, you can take them from an okra plant. The reason is that the pod tends to dry from the plant’s vine. You may also purchase seeds from supermarkets that usually display and sell them in packets.
How to Plant Okra from Seeds
Warmth and sunlight are among the major contributors to successfully growing okra plants. This is the reason why many recommend growing it during the summer. Also, note that while you can easily plant it in containers, it would still be better to make it stay outdoors.
Using Container or Pot
Bury the seeds
In case you can’t directly sow the seeds in the ground, you can use a pot or container with several drainage holes. The pot also needs to be around 2-gallon deep, making it perfect for single okra. Just bury the seed about 1 and ½ inches into the soil. Soak the seeds in water.
Ensure that the soil mix allows the draining of the water quickly
Loam soil with plenty of organic compost is a wise choice. It is nutritious for the okra while also providing it with sufficient air and proper water flow.
Wait for the seed to germinate
Provided you give the plant with the appropriate conditions, expect the seed to germinate in around 3 to 5 days. Once this happens, provide the seedling with sufficient sunlight to stimulate further growth. Let it sprout naturally without applying any fertilizer.
Wait for the leaves to grow out
You can expect the okra to showcase permanent leaves in about 2 to 3 weeks. It will also reach around 5 to 6 inches long by that time. If you want, transfer the plant to another permanent container or pot during this time.
This is also the perfect time to put fertilizer on the soil. Just put it around the okra plant and mix it carefully with the soil. In the absence of organic fertilizer, use a nitrogen-based one, like urea.
Wait for the perfect time for harvest
In around 1 and ½ to two months, your okra will start flowering and show that it has already fully grown. In that case, it is the ideal time to harvest okra.
Direct Sowing the Seeds
If you decide to sow the seeds directly, bury them at around 1 inch deep in the ground. The seeds also have to be around four to eight inches apart. The rows, on the other hand, need to be spaced at around 3 feet apart.
It is also important to thin the okra seedlings at around 18 to 24 inches apart. Do this once the plants already reach around 4 to 6 inches. This should give the okra plants enough room for branching. Avoid crowding as it may only cause thin plants that only have a few fruits.
Caring for the Okra
Once you have already planted the okra, it is time to give it sufficient care and maintenance. Focus on the following to ensure that it grows successfully.
Again, provide the okra plant with a minimum of 6-hour direct sun most days of the week. This can strengthen and increase the number of its pods.
Use well-draining and rich soils. It should also have a slightly acidic soil pH level. Avoid heavy and soggy soils as the okra can’t survive there.
Once your okra is already well-established, it will have the ability to handle dry spells for a short period. To ensure maximum yields, though, it is crucial to commit to watering it every 7 to 10 days – that is if there is no rainfall. Also, maintain the even moisture of the soil while the okra plants are still young but not to the point that it becomes soggy.
Humidity and Temperature
Okra plants are fond of the heat, so expect them to grow well when the temperatures go up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They can even grow stronger once it goes over 90 degrees.
When the climate is cool, there is a high chance for the seed pods to become smaller. Fortunately, you have an assurance that despite the size, they are still edible. Okra also excels when grown and cultivated in dry conditions, though, they prefer humid climates and tend to grow perfectly in that atmosphere.
If you are using soil rich in organic matter, supplemental fertilizer will be unnecessary. You may also want to supply the plants with additional fuel through foliage feeding using a fish or seaweed fertilizer or side dressing using manure.
You can expect the first harvest to be ready in around two months after you. The best time to do the harvest is when the plants are around two to three inches long. During this season, harvesting okra every other day can greatly benefit the entire plant.
Using a knife, cut the stem a bit over the cap. If you have a hard time cutting the stem, then it is highly likely that the pod is already too old, which makes it necessary to toss it.
It is advisable to wear a pair of gloves and long sleeves every time you cut the okra and harvest it. The reason is that there are small spines covering most okra varieties that may irritate your skin. Wearing the right clothes can prevent that from happening every time you harvest okra.
Pests and Diseases to Watch Out For
Several pests, diseases, and problems may affect the okra plant. The good news is that most of them are manageable. One way to protect your okra from pests is to use a row cover. Use it in covering the plants from the time they are on the ground.
In terms of diseases, practicing crop rotation can help. This is specifically useful in case pathogen turns into a recurring issue.
Aphids can be defined as soft-bodied sucking insects capable of carrying and spreading a wide range of diseases for okra plants. You can often find them on the stems of okra or the undersides of their leaves.
When these aphids eat the okra leaves, they will be excreting honeydew that may only attract more insects, including ants. The good thing about aphids is that they are easy to control. Just knock the aphids off the plant using a sharp flow of water.
Armyworms may also infest your okra plant. They refer to moth larvae that may munch the leaves of okra or attack okra seedlings. You can remove them by handpicking their eggs under the leaves and on stems. Pick off green, gray, or black caterpillars from the plants, too.
This wilt develops due to soil-borne fungi. You can actually prevent such wilt from occurring in the first place by ensuring that you use premium-potting mix when you plant okra in a pot or container. If you are directly growing okra on the ground, then use compost-rich soil.
Cucumber and Flea Beetles
These beetles can damage the leaves of plants. There are actually several cucumber beetle species with similar effects on okra. You can control them or keep them off by letting row cover float over the plants. You can also handpick them.
Powdery mildew refers to a fungal disease with a negative effect on the okra plant. To stop this disease, you should provide the plants with proper air circulation. This is possible by ensuring that there is enough space between each plant.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How long does it take to grow okra plants?
It often takes around 50 to 65 days to grow okra. Once it matures, these plants can produce for around 10 to 12 weeks. Several okra varieties are also capable of growing and bearing seed pods until the frost.
Is okra easy to grow?
Generally, okra plants are easy to grow. You just have to make sure that they are in the correct climate. The fact that they are drought-tolerant and heat-tolerant also promotes further ease in growing okra.
How does okra grow best?
Okra tends to grow best when exposed to the full and hot sun. It can’t produce and grow that well when planted in shady spots. There’s even a chance for them to die when under a sort of shade most of the time.
Plant this in a spot that lets it receive six hours, at the very least, of full sun daily. You also need to provide okra with plenty of water.
How to store okra?
Proper okra storage involves putting any uncooked and uncut pods into a freezer bag. Store the bag in your freezer. You are then allowed to prepare the okra depending on your preference throughout the entire winter. Canning the okra throughout winter is also an acceptable storage method.
How many okras can one plant produce?
In perfect conditions, one okra plant is capable of producing around 20 to 30 pods, sometimes, even more. If the plants are cultivated in an area with a warmer hardiness zone, like zone 9b, expect the growing season to be longer during the fall.
Okra is generally easy to grow plus it looks lovely the entire growing and harvest season considering the fact that it has incredibly-looking flowers. The fact that it is healthy as it is low in calories and high in Vitamin A makes it a perfect addition to anyone’s diet. With that, it can definitely benefit you to have this plant in your garden, so you can easily harvest okra anytime.