Opinions on the taste of okra are varied, but we can all agree that the plant adds decorative value to any landscape. The plant’s flowers help it stand out among the other vegetables, and if you think they look somewhat familiar, that’s because okra actually belongs to the hibiscus family! But how exactly do you plant and care for okra?
The best time to plant okra is 2-3 weeks after the risk of spring frost has passed or in the early summer. The plants thrive in full sun and do well in warm weather, when evening temperatures are around 60℉. Thin, prune, and weed the plants as necessary to encourage good yields.
Many gardeners are discovering okra, which makes a great addition to your diet because it’s low in calories and rich in vitamin A. On top of that, this warm-weather crop is easy to grow and use. So, let’s take a closer look at how to plant, grow, harvest, and store okra.
Are There Different Types of Okra?
There are different types of okra (okro, ochro, or ladies’ fingers), but all the varieties belong to the same species — Abelmoschus esculentus. Northern gardeners tend to choose varieties that do well in the short growing season. In the South, it’s best to select long-season varieties.
These are the varieties of okra experts recommend:
- Blondy is a spineless, dwarf variety that grows up to 3 feet tall and has pale green 3-inch pods. It works well for northern growers.
- Burgundy is an AAS (All-America Selections) winner that matures within 55 to 60 days of transplanting. Burgundy okra (on Amazon) grows 3 to 5 feet tall and has red pods that can be as long as 8 inches, but they’re usually ready to pick at 3 inches.
- Cajun Jewel is a dwarf that grows 2.5 to 4 feet tall, with tasty green pods that can be up to an inch in diameter. This hybrid variety matures early and gives high yields, making it a suitable option for cooler climates.
- Carmine Splendor is another hybrid variety that matures in around 51 days from the day you transplant it. Its pink-tinted flowers are edible, just like the deep red pods that usually fade to light red or pink when you let them grow larger.
- Clemson Spineless is a Southern farmer’s choice because it may take 60 days to mature from transplanting. But as its name suggests, Clemson Spineless (on Amazon) is the gold standard for hassle-free picking. This open-pollinated variety usually has light green pods with between five and eight points and cream-colored flowers you can also eat.
- Jambalaya is a hybrid okra that does well in shorter growing seasons, and you can expect it to mature in about 50 days from transplanting.
- Louisiana Green Velvet is another spineless, vigorous okra you expect to grow up to 6 feet tall, making it ideal for large areas.
- Simpson is an early maturing okra variety with 5-inch, long-ribbed green pods. The pods are ready for picking within 50 days from transplanting.
When’s the Best Time to Plant Okra?
The best time to plant okra is in the early summer or in spring, 2 to 3 weeks after all the danger of frost has passed. Okra needs full sun to thrive and will do well in warm weather with evening temperatures of around 60℉.
Sow the seeds directly into the garden after all the risk of spring frost has passed and the soil is 65 to 75℉. If you’re in the north, where summers are short, start the seeds indoors in peat pots 3 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost. Make sure they’ll get full light to germinate successfully.
Before you plant the seedlings outdoors, you should harden them off, meaning you introduce them gradually to the sun. Take them out in their pots for a while on the first day for 30 minutes.
Gradually increase the daily exposure time for a week to 10 days, after which the plants will be ready to receive a full day of sunlight.
How to Care for Okra
You should take care of your okra seedlings to give them better conditions for growth and ultimately have an appreciable yield. Here’s how to care for okra:
- Remove the weeds when the plants are still young, then add 4 to 8 inches of mulch to keep the weeds away.
- Ensure the plants have enough water throughout the summer growing months. While you can use more water if you’re in an arid region, 1 inch of water per week is generally okay.
- Side-dress the plants with rich compost (½ lbs per 25’ row) or aged manure. You could also use 10-10-10 balanced liquid fertilizer (on Amazon) monthly. It’s good to avoid too much nitrogen, which will only encourage more leafy growth and less flowering.
- The soil should be fertile, well-drained, and with a pH close to neutral, something within the range of 6.5 to 7.5.
- Thin the plants when they’re 3 inches tall, so that they’re 18 to 24 inches apart for healthy growth.
- Prune the tops of the okra plants when they reach 5 to 6 feet tall. Since this will result in more side branches, prune them as necessary.
- If you’re in a warm region, you can cut the plants to about 2 feet when you notice slow productivity in the summer. They’ll grow back and yield another crop.
Pro Tip: Okra plants have large, hairy leaves and pods with little spines that can cause skin irritation. Be sure to wear gloves (on Amazon) and long-sleeved clothing when handling the plants. Only the spineless varieties don’t present this minor challenge.
How to Harvest and Store Okra
Generally, okra matures in 50 to 65 days, and the plant will produce seed pods until frost quickly turns them black and kills them. A severe freeze can spoil the pods, so you should cut the plant and hang it indoors to dry if you expect frost.
Harvest the pods when they’re 1 or 2 days old and 2-4 inches long. At this time, the seed pods are still soft, and you can digest them easily.
Moreover, you should harvest the pods often because the more you pick, the more the plants will bloom. As it turns out, okra usually goes from flowering to fruit in a couple of days.
You’ll know the pods are too old when you realize it’s hard to cut the stem just above the cap. In this case, you should toss them, since they won’t be easy to digest.
Harvesting okra is one thing, and storing them is just as important. Here are the tips for how to store okra:
- Keep dry okra pods in the freezer in perforated plastic bags and use them within a few days before the ridges and tips turn dark.
- Don’t wash the pods because they become slimy and catch mold quickly when wet.
- You can also store dry pods in cans for use during winter.
- While you can’t eat old seed pods, they’re still suitable for dried flower arrangements.