Okra

Okra is often considered a Southern vegetable, but it can be grown in most regions. Originating in tropical areas, this shrubby, multi-branched plant bears large, coarse leaves and lovely hibiscus-like flowers that are pale creamy yellow with a purple eye. Okra loves heat and shouldn’t be planted outside until the weather has fully warmed up.

Okra’s immature seed pods are harvested and eaten. Pick them at just a few inches long, before they get woody. They can be sauteed, fried, roasted or added to soups and stews, most notably, gumbo.

Common name: Okra

Botanical name: Abelmoschus esculentus

Plant type: Annual vegetable

Height: 3 to 4 feet

Family: Malvaceae


Growing conditions

  • Sun: Full sun
  • Soil: Fertile, loamy soil is best
  • Moisture: Evenly moist

Care

  • Mulch: None, or 1 inch of organic mulch like straw or shredded leaves
  • Pruning: None
  • Fertilizer: Apply compost or balanced fertilizer every two weeks, if needed.

Propagation

  • Seeds (Soak seeds before sowing to hasten germination.)


Pests and diseases

  • A number of chewing and boring insects may attack okra foliage and pods.

Cultivars

  • ‘Annie Oakley’ is a productive dwarf variety at 2 to 2 ½ feet tall.
  • ‘Clemson Spineless’ is a popular variety with uniform, spineless pods.
  • ‘Red Burgundy’ has showy purplish red stems and pods.

Garden notes

  • Okra produces pods quickly, often within just 8 to 10 weeks from planting.
  • Harvest pods every day or two so they don’t overgrow, then use them within a few days. They don’t keep well.
  • Wear gloves and a long-sleeved shirt when harvesting to avoid possible skin irritation from the plant’s fine spines.

All in the family

  • Okra is a member of the mallow family (Malvaceae), a group of herbaceous and woody plants notable for their cup-shaped flowers.
  • Okra is closely related to cotton (Gossypium spp.).
  • Garden ornamentals in the mallow family include hibiscus, Rose of Sharon, hollyhock and flowering maple (Abutilon spp.).

Where to buy