Living in a hot climate like the low desert of Arizona, I enjoy growing crops that flourish in the heat. Okra, which thrives in high temperatures, is one of my favorites, and just one or two plants provide us with all the okra we need.
This Southern favorite is a must-have in dishes such as gumbo and fried okra, but it’s also tasty when served fresh. The best part is that okra is a low-maintenance crop to grow. Discover how to grow okra with these helpful tips.
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How to Grow Okra
All about okra:
Okra is a tall, warm-season annual that produces beautiful flowers. Once the flowers fade, they turn into a fiber-rich vegetable that is packed with folate and vitamin K. Okra also has the benefit of slowing down the digestion of carbs and sugars.
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is also known as gumbo, lady’s finger, and bhindi in different parts of the world. It is part of the mallow family and is closely related to cotton, roselle hibiscus, and cocoa.
An annual plant that can grow up to 6 feet tall, okra has a spread of about 3 feet. This heat-loving crop grows best in warm climates with plenty of sunlight.
Try different varieties of okra:
There are several varieties of okra to choose from. Clemson Spineless is a popular variety that is easy to grow and has a high yield. Emerald is another popular variety that is resistant to verticillium and fusarium wilt diseases. Burgundy has deep red pods and is a unique variety to grow in your garden.
When to plant okra:
Okra thrives in hot weather, so it’s important to wait until the soil has warmed up before planting it outside. The soil should be at least 70°F for the seeds to germinate. In the low desert of Arizona, plant okra from the middle of March through the end of May.
If you have a short growing season, consider starting okra seeds indoors. Sow the seeds about 4-6 weeks before your last expected frost date. Fill a seed starter tray with potting soil and plant the seeds about ½ inch deep. Transplant them to your garden when the soil warms in the spring.
Okra growing tips:
Okra prefers well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. Loamy soil is perfect for growing okra but it will also grow in sandy soil. If your soil is heavy clay, amend it with organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure to improve drainage.
Okra needs at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day to grow well. It’s important to choose a location with full sun exposure for your okra plants.
Plant seeds ¾” deep and about 6” apart. Thin to at least one foot apart; mature okra plants are tall and wide and need plenty of room to spread. Be aware that because the plants grow tall, okra can shade other plants.
If using square-foot gardening, plant one plant per 1-2 feet.
Water okra to a depth of 8-12”. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and water your plants deeply once a week if there’s no rain. Mulch well to conserve moisture and prevent weeds.
Okra doesn’t require much fertilization, but you can add a balanced fertilizer about halfway through the growing season if the plants look like they need a boost.
As your okra plants grow, you may want to consider pruning them to keep them at a manageable size. Prune the lower leaves to encourage air circulation and prevent the shading of nearby vegetables.
How to grow okra as a companion plant:
Here are some companion planting ideas for okra:
- Tepary Beans: These drought-tolerant beans grow well in the same soil as okra and can utilize the tall structure of okra plants to climb for support.
- Climbing Beans: Other climbing beans, such as French beans, Lima beans, and runner beans, can also be grown alongside okra to take advantage of its height and structure.
- Sweet Potatoes: Okra uses tall space while sweet potatoes grow below ground, and their vines can climb the okra. This maximizes vertical space and improves soil health, as sweet potatoes add organic matter to the soil, and the okra acts as a natural trellis.
These plants make great companions for okra, as they have similar soil and water requirements and can help improve soil health. By planting them together, you can create a more diverse and sustainable ecosystem that benefits you and the environment.
How to grow okra in containers:
Okra grows well in containers of at least 5 gallons (larger is better if possible). Examples of containers include: a five-gallon plastic bucket, 12″ terra cotta or nursery pot, and a five-gallon grow bag.
To help water container-grown okra, consider adding an oya, a terracotta vessel that gradually releases water over time. This moistens the soil without overwatering, which is especially important for okra to produce tender, tasty pods. I use oyas from Growoya. (Use code GROWING for a discount.)
Okra harvesting tips:
Once okra flowers, it will be ready for harvest in 3-4 days. The taste of okra pods is best when harvested at 2-3” long. Okra pods longer than 4” begin to be fibrous and inedible. (Pro tip: You can use them for okra water if you wait too long to pick them!)
Make it a point to harvest okra daily while it is producing (leaving pods on the plant slows or stops production). Always harvest okra by cutting with a knife or pruners (pulling the pods off can damage the plant).
Okra plants can produce pods for about 8-10 weeks. However, if you take good care of your plants, you may be able to extend the growing season.
Once the plants start to produce less, it’s time to cut plants off at the base (the roots will add organic matter to the soil) and move the plants to your compost pile.
How to save okra seeds:
Saving seeds from okra plants is a great way to preserve the variety of okra you have grown and to save money on buying new seeds each year. Here are some steps to follow when saving okra seeds:
- Allow the okra pods to fully mature and dry out on the plant. The pods should turn brown and become hard and woody.
- Once the pods are completely dry, remove them from the plant and cut them off with garden shears or scissors.
- Next, put dried okra pods in a paper bag or envelope labeled with the variety’s name and the year.
- Store the bag or envelope in a cool, dry place for several weeks to allow the seeds inside the pods to fully dry and separate from the pod.
- Once the seeds are fully dry, gently shake the bag or envelope to release the seeds from the pods.
- Remove any debris or chaff from the seeds by sifting them through a fine-mesh sieve or strainer.
- Store the seeds in an airtight container (such as a glass jar), and keep them in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to plant them.
Storing and using harvested okra:
To avoid spoilage, it is best not to wash okra until you are ready to use it. Instead, wrap it in a dry paper towel and place it in a plastic bag or container. Store it in the vegetable drawer of your fridge or at a temperature between 45°F and 50°F. For the best quality, consume within 3 to 5 days and wash before using.
Enjoy okra in a variety of ways:
For the best taste, prepare okra as soon as possible after picking. Okra is a versatile vegetable that can be used in a variety of ways. To prevent the slimy texture often associated with okra, try slicing it thin and cooking it at high heat with acidic ingredients like tomatoes or vinegar. Okra can be used in stews, curries, stir-fries, soups, and salads, or even battered and fried for a tasty snack.
In addition to its versatility, okra is also packed with health benefits. It’s a great source of vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants and has been shown to help lower cholesterol, improve digestion, and support heart health.
Fresh okra is ideal for salads and stir-fries, while drinking okra water (made by soaking sliced okra in water overnight) is a popular way to reap the benefits of this nutritious vegetable. Learn more about making and using okra water in this blogpost.
In this article, I share my 7 favorite okra recipes.