The Vegetable Garden

Okra

OkraOkra (also known as gumbo), is a tall-growing, warm-season, annual vegetable from the same family as hollyhock, rose of Sharon and hibiscus. The immature pods are used for soups, canning and stews or as a fried or boiled vegetable. The hibiscus like flowers and upright plant (3 to 6 feet or more in height) have ornamental value for backyard gardens.

Varieties

  • Annie Oakley (hybrid; 52 days to harvest; compact plant; extra tender pods)
  • Dwarf Green Long Pod (52 days; ribbed pods)
  • Clemson Spineless (56 days; AAS winner)

When To Plant

Because okra seeds do not germinate well in cool soils, plant seeds after the soil has warmed in the spring, probably a week to 10 days after the date of the last frost for your area.

Spacing & Depth

Sow seeds 1 inch deep in hills 12 to 24 inches apart. When the seedlings are 3 inches tall, thin all but the one strongest plant per hill. The seeds may be soaked, wrapped in moist paper toweling or in water overnight, to accelerate germination.

Care

Okra usually grows well in any good garden soil. Shallow cultivation near the plants keeps down weeds.

Harvesting

The pods should be picked (usually cut) while they are tender and immature (2 to 3 inches long for most varieties). They must be picked often—at least every other day. Okra plants have short hairs that may irritate bare skin. Wear gloves and long sleeves to harvest okra. Use pruning shears for clean cuts that do not harm the rest of the plant. When the stem is difficult to cut, the pod is probably too old to use. The large pods rapidly become tough and woody. The plants grow and bear until frost, which quickly blackens and kills them. Four or five plants produce enough okra for most families unless you wish to can or freeze some for winter use.

Common Problems

Aphids—Watch for buildup of colonies of aphids on the undersides of the leaves.

Root-decaying diseases, which result in the death of the young seedlings, are the most serious disease problems in this crop. They are more prevalent when the crop is planted in cold, wet soil.

Rotting of small pods after the flowers drop is a fairly common problem with okra. Planting the crop in full sun and providing good air movement through the planting will help to reduce the problem. Proper plant spacing will also help to minimize this problem. The exact cause of this disorder is not known. Small bumps sometimes develop on the pod. This damage is not caused by the stink bug. The cause of these small bumps is not known.

Root-knot nematodes can be a serious problem on okra. If a plant is stunted, pull the plant out of the ground and check for galls on the roots. These galls are caused by the nematodes, which are microscopic worms. An effective nematode control program should include crop rotation, sanitation and solarization.

Crops should be rotated to help reduce disease and nematode problems. Okra plantings should not follow vine crop plantings such as squash or sweet potatoes.

Insect problems that may be encountered include aphids, corn earworm and stink bug. Corn earworms will eat into the pods. Stink bugs will cause the pods to be twisted and distorted.

Okra, Cajun Delight Hybrid