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Green okra growing on a bush
Starting to find culinary fame, okra produces long tapered pods in abundance, which are held like candles against the stem. Okra is underutilised here, but is incredibly popular in the southern states of the USA, where it is grown throughout summer to make the iconic dish gumbo.

What you need to know about okra

Name: okra, lady fingers, bhindi, gumbo (Abelmoschus esculentus).

Height: 2m.

Plant type: annual.

Climate: grows best in tropical, sub-tropical and warm temperate climates, but can also be grown in arid/semi-arid and cold climates over summer, when all likelihood of frost has passed. 

Soil: prefers a deep, well-drained soil enriched with organic matter such as compost and well-aged manure. 

Position: full sun, protected from strong winds. 

Flowering and fruiting: hibiscus-like cream-coloured flowers with a magenta throat are produced 12–14 weeks from sowing, quickly followed by long, slender, edible pods, which should be harvested at around 7–8cm long. 

Feeding: additional fertiliser is usually not required in enriched soils, but an application of dynamic lifter or blood and bone can boost plants during the growing season. 

Watering: drought tolerant, although regular watering is required for maximum fruit production.

Appearance and characteristics of okra

Okra is an ornamental edible with large-lobed foliage that rounds as it ages, like all other members of the Malvaceae or mallow family. The large foliage has a lush appearance, bringing a tropical look to the summer garden.

Hibiscus-like cream-coloured flowers with a magenta throat are produced 12–14 weeks from sowing, quickly followed by long, slender edible pods with large ridges, which should be harvested at around 7–8cm long. A cut and come again crop, the more you harvest, the more you will produce. 

A pile of harvested okra pods

Uses for okra

Okra pods have traditionally been used as a thickener for stews, however their tolerance to hot weather means they are also growing in popularity as a vegetable crop and side dish. The flowers are also edible, and make a lovely accompaniment to summer salads and drinks.

How to plant and grow okra (lady fingers)

Okra is a summer or dry-season crop. Sow in spring in cool and warm climates, and during the dry season in humid areas.

  1. Soak seed overnight prior to sowing in punnets.
  2. Water regularly until the first 4–6 true leaves appear. At this stage, seedlings can be transplanted into the garden.
  3. Mulch and apply pet-friendly snail pellets to protect the young tender plants.
  4. Okra prefers similar growing conditions as tomatoes. Plant in full sun and protect from wind.
  5. Stake if necessary, and improve soil prior to planting with compost and well-aged manure.

Caring for okra

Take care when harvesting pods, as they are easily bruised and damaged. Harvest and use within three days, otherwise blanch and freeze to preserve for around three months. Pick daily to extend your harvest.

How often should you water and feed okra plants?

Although okra is drought tolerant, the plants are lusher and produce a better yield with regular water. Improve soil prior to planting, and top-dress with a mulch of compost or application of dynamic lifter throughout the growing season.

Diseases and pests that affect okra

Okra is susceptible to the same soil-borne pests and diseases as tomatoes. It is important to practise crop rotation (do not grow in the same spot for 3–4 years) to avoid nematodes and verticillium wilt.

Fungal problems can occur in areas with high humidity, or when plants are too close together. Space plants out to allow adequate airflow, and avoid growing crops during the wet season.

How to propagate okra

  1. Propagate by seed collected from older pods, which should be allowed to dry on the plant. 
  2. As soon as the pods begin to dry and crack, harvest and remove the seeds. 
  3. Seeds can be dried on paper towel for a few days, prior to storing in an envelope for sowing next year. 
  4. Be sure to name and date the envelope to keep track of your seed.

If you like this then try

Tomatoes: loves the same growing conditions as okra, and is a star of the summer harvest. 

Chilli: loves hot weather – in fact, the hotter the better for the heat of your chillies.

Squash: a wonderful fruiting vegie that is available in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes. 

Start growing today

Check out our huge range of plants now and get your garden growing!


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