Okra: Direct Sow Vegetable
How to Sow
- Sow okra seeds in full sun and average, well-worked soil after danger of frost.
- Grow okra in a different place every year to avoid problems with pests and diseases.
- Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
- Plant 3-4 seeds every 12 inches in rows 36 inches apart.
- Cover with 1 inch of fine soil.
- Seedlings should emerge in 14-21 days.
- Thin to strongest seedling per group when plants are 1-2 inches high.
How to Grow
- Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating. Avoid disturbing the soil around the plants when weeding.
- Keep plants well watered during dry periods to promote rapid, uninterrupted growth. Plants need about 1-1 ½ inches of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It’s best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
- Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
Harvest and Preserving Tips
- Pick young okra pods that are 2-3 inches long and harvest them every other day to encourage continuous production. Cut the pods from the stem just above the cap.
- Store pods for several days in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.
- Okra pods are delicious steamed, in soups and fried.
- Okra may also be stored blanched and frozen.
Common Disease Problems
Alternaria Leaf Spot: Small, round reddish brown spots with white to grey centers form on the upper surface of the leaves and along the midrib. The lesions may encircle the stems and cause wilt. This disease is worse in warm, wet or very humid weather. Burpee Recommends: Avoid getting water on the foliage. Remove infected plant parts and do not work around wet plants. Provide plenty of air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Damping Off: This is one of the most common problems when starting plants from seed. The seedling emerges and appears healthy; then it suddenly wilts and dies for no obvious reason. Damping off is caused by a fungus that is active when there is abundant moisture and soils and air temperatures are above 68 degrees F. Typically, this indicates that the soil is too wet or contains high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. Burpee Recommends: Keep seedlings moist but do not overwater; avoid over-fertilizing your seedlings; thin out seedlings to avoid overcrowding; make sure the plants are getting good air circulation; if you plant in containers, thoroughly wash them in soapy water and rinse in a ten per cent bleach solution after use.
Fusarium Wilt: The first symptom of fusarium is the appearance of a few yellow leaves or a slight drooping of the lower leaves. Caused by a soil-borne fungus, the fungus enters through the roots and passes up into the stem producing toxic substances. Burpee Recommends: Destroy affected plants at the first sign of fusarium and rotate crops.
Root Knot Nematodes: Microscopic worm-like pests that cause swellings (galls) to form on roots. Plants may wilt or appear stunted. This is a serious problem in many Southern states. Burpee Recommends: Do not plant into infested soil. Grow resistant varieties. Try planting ‘Nema-Gone’ marigolds around your plants.
Virus (Various causes): The most characteristic sign of virus is irregular yellow mottling of the leaves. Young plants may have a yellowish tone and become stunted. Spread by whiteflies. Burpee Recommends: Control whiteflies. Remove and destroy infected plants.
Common Pest and Cultural Problems
Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps which feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.
Leafhoppers: Leafhoppers cause injury to leaves and stunt growth. They also spread disease. Burpee Recommends: Remove plant debris. Use insecticidal soaps. Consult your Cooperative Extension Service for other insecticide recommendations.
Spider Mites: These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper. They may be red, black, brown or yellow. They suck on the plant juices removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which cause white dots on the foliage. There is often webbing visible on the plant. They cause the foliage to turn yellow and become dry and stippled. They multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions. Burpee Recommends: Spider mites may be controlled with a forceful spray every other day. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for miticide recommendations.
Thrips: Thrips are tiny needle-thin insects that are black or straw colored. They suck the juices of plants and attack flower petals, leaves and stems. The plant will have a stippling, discolored flecking or silvering of the leaf surface. Thrips can spread many diseases from plant to plant. Burpee Recommends: Many thrips may be repelled by sheets of aluminum foil spread between rows of plants. Remove weeds from the bed and remove debris from the bed after frost. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls.
Whitefly: These are small white flying insects that often rise up in a cloud when plants are disturbed or brushed against. Burpee Recommends: They are difficult to control without chemicals. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pesticide recommendations.
What parts of okra are edible? The seed pod is what we eat.
Can I grow okra in a container? Yes. We recommend ‘Baby Bubba Hybrid’ for containers.
Why is my okra hard and stringy with poor flavor? It sounds like your okra was overripe. Harvest tender pods when they are 2-3 inches long.
Why do my okra pods have prickly hairs on them? This is the nature of okra, there is nothing wrong with your pods. You may want to use gloves when harvesting and working with them.
Do I need to provide a support for my okra plants? They seem to be getting very large! No support is needed for okra, they form bushy plants. Some varieties can grow quite large.