Many gardeners are discovering okra and the range of this warm-weather crop has been creeping northward and gaining in popularity. This plant not only grows edible vegetables and beautiful flowers but also it is rich in vitamin A and low in calories, which makes it a great addition to your diet.
If you look at the flower of okra, you’ll see a resemblance to a hibiscus flower. it’s no coincidence—okra is a member of the hibiscus family!
- Eliminate weeds when the plants are young, then mulch heavily—4 to 8 inches—to prevent more weeds.
- Side-dress the plants with 10-10-10, aged manure, or rich compost (1/2 pound per 25 feet of row). You could also apply a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly. Avoid too much nitrogen, which deters flowering and encourages leafy growth. Learn more about soil amendments and preparing soil for planting.
- When the seedlings are about 3 inches tall, thin the plants so that they are 18 to 24 inches apart.
- Keep the plants well watered throughout the summer months. One inch of water per week is ideal, but use more if you are in a hot, arid region.
- High heat can slow the growth of okra.
- Prune the tops of okra plants when they reach 5 to 6 feet tall. This will result in more side branches. Prune those as needed.
- In warm regions, some growers cut plants to about 2 feet when productivity slows in summer. The plants grow back and product another crop of okra.
|Aphids||Insect||Misshapen/yellow leaves; distorted flowers/fruit; sticky “honeydew” (excrement); sooty, black mold||Grow companion plants; knock off with water spray; apply insecticidal soap; put banana or orange peels around plants; wipe leaves with a 1 to 2 percent solution of dish soap (no additives) and water every 2 to 3 days for 2 weeks; add native plants to invite beneficial insects|
|Fusarium wilt||Fungus||Plants wilt (sometimes on just one side) in daytime; leaves turn yellow (lower ones first); later, entire plant wilts/dies; stunting; stem cross section reveals brown discoloration||Destroy infected plants; avoid excessive nitrogen; in acidic soils, raise pH to 7.0; choose resistant varieties; disinfect tools; rotate crops|
|Japanese beetles||Insect||Leaves skeletonized (only veins remain); stems/flowers/fruit chewed; grubs feed on roots||Handpick; use row covers|
|Powdery mildew||Fungus||Typically, white spots on upper leaf surfaces expand to flour-like coating over entire leaves; foliage may yellow/die; distortion/stunting of leaves/flowers||Destroy infected leaves or plants; choose resistant varieties; plant in full sun, if possible; ensure good air circulation; spray plants with 1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 quart water; destroy crop residue|
|Root-knot nematodes||Nematode||Roots “knotty” or galled; plants stunted/yellow/wilted||Destroy crop residue, including roots; choose resistant varieties; solarize soil; add aged manure/compost; disinfect garden tools; till in autumn;rotate crops|
|Stinkbugs||Insect||Yellow/white blotches on leaves; scarred, dimpled, or distorted fruit/pods; shriveled seeds; eggs, often keg-shape, in clusters on leaf undersides||Destroy crop residue; handpick (bugs emit odor, wear gloves); destroy eggs, spray nymphs with insecticidal soap; use row covers; weed diligently; till soil in fall|
|Whiteflies||Insect||Sticky “honeydew” (excrement); sooty, black mold; yellow/silver areas on leaves; wilted/stunted plants; distortion; adults fly if disturbed; some species transmit viruses||Remove infested leaves/plants; use handheld vacuum to remove pests; spray water on leaf undersides in morning/evening to knock off pests; monitor adults with yellow sticky traps; spray with insecticidal soap; invite beneficial insects and hummingbirds with native plants; weed diligently; use reflective mulch|
Dwarf types, which seldom exceed 5 feet in height, are best for containers. Standard varieties can top 8 feet or more.
- ‘Blondy’: spineless; dwarf at 3 feet tall; pale green 3-inch pods; ideal for northern growers
- ‘Burgundy’: abundant 6- to 8-inch pods (harvest at 3 inches) on 3- to 5-foot-tall plants; edible ornamental, with deep red stem, branches, leaf ribs, and fruit
- ‘Cajun Jewel’: dwarf at 2 1/2 to 4 feet tall; tasty 8-inch pods up to 1 inch in diameter
- ‘Clemson Spineless’: tasty 6 1/2-inch to 9-inch pods on 4-foot tall plants
- ‘Louisiana Green Velvet’: spineless; vigorous to 6 feet tall; good for large areas
- Harvest the okra when seed pods are 1 to 2 days old and 2 to 4 inches long; these appear about 2 months after planting. This is when okra is at its softest and most digestible.
- Cut the stem just above the cap with a knife. If the stem is too hard to cut, the pod is probably too old and should be tossed.
- Harvest often: The more you pick, the more flowers will appear, and okra goes from flowering to fruit in a few days.
- A severe freeze can damage pods. If one is predicted and pods are drying on the plant for seeds, cut the plant and hang it indoors to dry. Put a paper bag over it so if the pods shatter, seeds will not be last.
How to Store Okra
- To store okra, put the uncut and uncooked pods into freezer bags and keep them in the freezer. Or wash and blanch okra before freezing.
- Or, can okra to have it throughout the winter.
WIT AND WISDOM
- Okra is sometimes called “lady’s fingers” thanks to the vegetable’s long, slender, elegant shape.
- Thomas Jefferson determined freshness by bending the pod: If it gave, it was too old. If it broke, it was just right.
- If an okra stem is too hard to cut, the pod is probably too old. Dry it out and use it in floral arrangements or save the seeds for next year.
- “You can have strip pokra—Give me a nice girl and a dish of okra.”
–Roy Blunt, humorist