Okra is a staple in many southern gardens. Learn how to grow okra in your garden, including seed starting, care, and harvest instructions!
Okra is a warm-weather loving plant that is often grown in the southern United States. It thrives in hot summer climates and needs an average temperature above 70°F.
Okra grows on tall stalks, dotted with large, hibiscus-like flowers. These flowers then produce the edible fruit of the plant- the okra pods.
Okra- also called ‘lady fingers” or gumbo- is an easy to grow crop for beginning gardeners and a staple in most southern gardens.
Want to try growing your own okra? Keep reading to learn how to add this wonderful vegetable to your vegetable garden.
Okra Varieties to Try
Most okra varieties grown today are considered “spineless”. This refers to the actual okra pods being free of the spines and irritating fuzz that covers okra plants.
Below are some of my favorite okra varieties- 2 green and 2 red.
Clemson Spineless: Probably the most popular okra varieties grown in gardens all over the country. It is fast growing and gives heavy yields. This is a spineless variety.
Annie Oakley II: A hybrid variety that is fast growing and compact- growing about 4.5 feet tall. The spineless pods mature more quickly than many open pollinated varieties.
Burgundy: This open pollinated variety grows red pods on a red stemmed plant. It’s beautiful in and out of the garden- and very tender and mild.
Jung Orange: Another red okra- Jung Orange gives tons of large pods- about 6-8 inches long. They are tender and delicious. Plants grow quite large with lots of pods.
In warm climates with long growing seasons, most okra varieties can reach 6-8 feet tall!
When to Plant Okra
Okra needs warm weather to thrive, so this is one crop you don’t want to be impatient with!
If you are starting your okra seeds indoors, wait until about 3 weeks before your last frost date.
If you are planting your okra seeds directly into the soil, wait about 3-4 weeks after your last frost date before sowing.
The soil should be about 65°F- but the warmer the better.
Preparing Your Okra Bed
Okra is a very forgiving plant. It can grow quite well in poor soil, but will grow much better if you dig in some rich organic matter.
Like most garden vegetables, be sure your garden bed has good drainage. Okra won’t like sitting in wet soil.
Planting in the same bed as you grow peas is also a great option. The peas will be finishing up just as the okra is ready to go into the ground and the nitrogen fixing from the pea plants will help your okra grow even better.
The most important thing to remember when preparing your okra bed is location. Okra needs full sun- so choose your location wisely.
Growing Okra From Seed to Harvest
Okra is an easy crop to grow from seed- it germinates readily and grows fairly quickly.
As I mentioned above, okra can either be started indoors and transplanted into the garden, or you can direct sow.
I prefer to start my seeds indoors so that I can control the conditions and get a better germination rate.
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Starting Okra Seeds Indoors:
If you are starting your okra seeds indoors, start them about 3 weeks before your last frost date. This should make them ready to transplant once the weather has sufficiently warmed.
Plant your seeds about ½ inches deep in seed trays filled with a quality seed starting soil.
Keep the soil evenly moist until sprouts appear.
If you live in a cool house, the use of a heating pad may help germination.
Keep the seed trays in a sunny location or under grow lights.
They should be ready to transplant to the garden once the soil and air temperatures are sufficiently warm (3-4 weeks after the last frost).
Transplant the seedling to the garden carefully, spacing about 15 inches apart.
Direct Sowing Okra in the Garden:
Direct sowing of okra should happen about 3-4 weeks after the last frost date, when the evening temperatures are at least 65°F.
Soaking the seeds overnight in water can help aid in germination.
Sow the seeds at least 15 inches apart in rows spaced at least 3-4 feet apart.
In southern locations, you can grow 2 crops of okra- starting the first indoors before your last frost and the second directly sowing about mid to late June.
In cooler, northern climates, you can start the seeds indoors before the last frost and use cold frames to help warm the soil. Or you may need to wait until June- and warmer temperatures- before growing okra.
How to Care for Your Okra
Okra is a very forgiving plant and doesn’t have many care needs.
Keep the beds as weed free as possible, especially when the plants are young.
Okra is very drought resistant and prefers hot, dry conditions over wet and cool conditions. Water only when needed- during extended dry spells or if the plants are wilting in the afternoon heat.
Mulch can help conserve moisture and keep the weeds away.
Pests and Disease Affecting Okra
As I mentioned, okra is a simple and forgiving plant. Which means for the most part you won’t have to deal with any pests or disease.
Cool weather is the biggest enemy and can stress the plants, making them more susceptible to problems. Here are a couple problems you could have growing okra:
Crop rotation and organic measures are easy fixes to most common problems.
Companion Plants for Okra
Companion planting can be an effective way to reduce pests and disease in your plants- as well as help you use your garden space more effectively.
Here are some companion plants that do well with okra:
- Lettuce: Growing lettuce at the base of okra plants can benefit both crops. Lettuce helps crowd out weeds while the okra plants provide shade.
- Peas fix nitrogen in the soil and the okra can take over the same space once the peas have finished for the season
- Sunflowers are a trap crop for some pests, planting them at the perimeter of the garden helps to keep the pests away from your prize crops.
When to Harvest Okra
Okra is a fast growing crop that is suitable for short growing seasons or multiple crops per year in longer seasons.
How long does it take okra to grow? About 50-60 days on average.
You should start to see flowers within about 6 weeks and the pods will emerge soon after.
Okra pods should be harvested young and often- this keeps the plant producing and also ensures that you aren’t harvesting woody, tough pods.
The pods should be small and tender- about 3-4 inches long for most varieties.
Pick the pods at least every 2 days to keep the plant producing.
How to Harvest Okra
Unlike many crops, okra needs some special care when it comes to harvesting.
Okra plants are covered in tiny, hair-like spines that can cause irritation and itching in some people. Even spineless varieties have spines on their stems.
To harvest okra, wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt if the spines cause a reaction for you.
Even if you don’t react to these spines, you will still need a sharp knife, scissors, or pruning shears to cut the pods off the plant.
Preservation and Storage of Okra
Now that you have harvested your okra, then what? Chances are you will have a huge harvest and need to know how to store, use, and preserve all this okra!
How to Store Okra
Okra should be used within a couple days of harvest. Store the pods in plastic bags in the refrigerator until it’s ready to use.
Don’t wash the okra first, as moisture can cause molding.
Pods will turn black if they are past their prime in the fridge.
How to Preserve Okra
If you need to preserve okra for longer storage, you have a couple options.
Freeze it. Okra can be blanched and frozen. Just cut off the stem end and blanch for 3 minutes and cool. Then place it in bags- whole or cut. You can also cut and bread the okra before freezing if you will be making fried okra with it.
Dehydrate it. Dehydrating okra is my favorite way to preserve the crop. Use these directions to dehydrate okra.
Okra Recipes to Try
Need some recipe help when it comes to using your okra harvest? Try one of these:
Growing Okra FAQ
Can okra be grown in containers?
Yes, okra can be grown in pots. Choose a pot that’s at least 10 inches in diameter to give the plant enough room to grow. 5 gallon buckets make a great choice for growing okra in containers.
Can you grow okra in colder climates?
As long as you have about 60-70 days of temperatures averaging about 70°F you can grow okra. You can also try season extenders such as cold frames or a greenhouse.
Can okra be grown in the shade?
Okra needs a spot that receives full sun, or at least sun for the majority of the day.