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Green okra growing on a bush
Okra produces long, tapered seed pods in abundance. Sometimes known as “lady fingers”, okra is not as well known in Australia, but is incredibly popular in the southern states of the USA, where cooked okra is a key ingredient the iconic dish gumbo, as well as other soups and stews.


What is okra?

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

Height: 2m.

Foliage: 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 green 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 (both okra dry and cooked okra) 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. Okra is a cut and come again crop, meaning the more you harvest, the more you will produce. 

A pile of harvested okra pods

What does okra taste like?

Okra has a flavour described as sweet and grassy, but can grow in complexity depending on its preparation, ranging from crisp and juicy to dense and creamy in texture.

How to cook okra

Cooked okra seed pods have traditionally been used as a thickener for soups and 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, making for a lovely accompaniment to summer salads and drinks.

How to plant and grow okra (lady fingers) in Australia

When to plant okra

A summer or dry-season crop, sow in spring in cool and warm climates, and during the dry season in humid areas.

Planting tips

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

Caring for okra

Take care when harvesting seed 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

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 three to four 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.

Safety tip

After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.

If you like this then try

Tomato: 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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