Okra is often considered a Southern vegetable, but it can actually 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
• Sun: Full sun
• Soil: Fertile, loamy soil is best
• Moisture: Evenly moist
• 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.
• Seeds (Soak seeds before sowing to hasten germination.)
Pests and diseases
• A number of chewing and boring insects may attack okra foliage and pods.
• ‘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.
• 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
• High Mowing Organic Seeds, highmowingseeds.com
• Stokes Seeds, stokeseeds.com
• Territorial Seed Co., territorialseed.com
• W. Atlee Burpee & Co., burpee.com