Okra, a staple in many Southern gardens, is grown with variable success in colder regions. A long, hot summer is essential for success with this unique veggie; some years will be better than others for those of us who are trying to grow okra in northern gardens.Where to Grow Okra
Okra grows best in full sun. The soil should be fertile, moist and well drained. Okra likes hot growing conditions, so plant it in the hottest part of your garden, and use plenty of mulch to conserve water.
Okra grows well in raised beds and traditional garden beds. It can also be grown in containers, where it adds a unique look and, as a bonus, can be moved into a sheltered area to prolong your okra-growing season.
Soak okra seeds overnight, and sow them in peat pots or soil blocks (okra does not like having its roots disturbed) six to eight weeks before your last spring frost date. Soak the seeds overnight to help germination. Okra germinates in approximately two to three weeks, though it can take longer the cooler the soil is and is quicker in very warm soil.
Harden off and transplant okra seedlings after your last spring frost date and after the soil has warmed. Okra should be planted twelve to twenty-four inches apart. In warm zones, eight and above, you can direct sow okra in the garden.
How to Grow Organic Okra
One of the keys to growing okra is to be careful to ensure you are not overwatering it. Okra is actually one of the few vegetables that are not overly sensitive to water stress. It withstands irregular watering very well. Too much water will result in large flowers but small pods. About an inch of water per week is all okra needs to grow well.
Okra can get quite tall, so a trellis or fence is a good idea to keep your plants from falling over. A common practice among gardeners who grow okra is to "top" the plant by cutting off the top-growth. This keeps the plants to a manageable height and also encourages the production of side shoots, and, therefore, more okra pods.
A side dressing of compost or composted manure halfway through the growing season is a good idea, but okra isn't overly picky about fertility.
Okra Pests and Problems
Okra can be spiny, so it is best to wear gloves when harvesting the fruit. Pick the pods when they are still immature, usually 1–2 weeks after the flower drops and the pod sets. Pods are usually harvested when they are 3 to 4 inches long, which takes about seven to ten days. The more often you pick, the more pods will form. Also be sure to remove any old pods to keep the plant productive.
Recommended Okra Varieties
- 'Annie Oakley' is a hybrid that matures in about 52 days. It is a compact variety that grows well in containers.
- ‘Cajun Delight’ is an early variety (55 days) with tender, dark green pods.
- ‘Red Burgundy,’ a 2010 All America Selections winner, is ready in 85 days, and boasts deep red stems, branches and leaf midribs.
- ‘Clemson Spineless’ is also an AAS winner. It is ready in 56 days, and produces tender, rich green pods that are about six inches long.
- ‘Millionaire’ is an early hybrid, perfect for gardens in northern regions.
- ‘Blondy’ is mature at 48 days in an open-pollinated variety. It grows into a compact, three foot tall plant, and is very productive. It was bred for northern climates and is another AAS winner.