Two of the most surprising details about okra are the beauty of the plant’s flowers and how few people know that it can grow in Colorado. Okra is more popular and plentiful in the South, where it’s been grown since the 1700’s, but gardeners can grow it around here, too. Okra pods are an important ingredient in many traditional southern dishes like gumbo.
How to Grow Okra
Okra grows as a perennial plant in tropical areas, but it’s grown as a warm-season annual in our region. The fruits grow on large plants with flowers that look like hibiscus blooms. Wait for the danger of frost to pass before planting okra, either from seed or carefully tended transplants. Select varieties with the shortest number of days to maturity, like 50 to 55.
- Okra is the kind of plant that prefers well-drained soil.
- Amend the garden bed with high-quality compost or other organic soil amendment.
- A pre-plant fertilizer, broadcast over the top of the soil, will help give plants a good start.
- Use a fertilizer with a lower nitrogen number (like 5-10-10) to improve fruit production.
- Plant okra either from seeds or transplants, but wait for the soil to warm to about 80 degrees before planting.
- If planting from seeds, soaking them overnight will give them a faster start.
- Plant seeds ½” deep, and space 2” apart in the row. The space between rows depends on the type of okra you planted. For smaller (dwarf) varieties, you’ll need at least 24” between rows; tall varieties may need as much as 60” between rows.
- If planting okra transplants, place transplants 6” to 12” between plants (dwarf varieties) or 24” apart for taller varieties.
- Set up a watering system at planting time, either drip irrigation or a soaker hose.
- Once plants start to grow, add an organic mulch (like straw) to help maintain soil moisture and keep down weeds.
- If you planted from seeds, you’ll need to thin plants as they start to grow. Eventually plants will need 6” to 12” between plants (dwarf varieties) or 24” apart for taller varieties.
- Water deeply to ensure good moisture for the plants’ deep roots.
- When the first pods start to form, sidedress with fertilizer. Sprinkle the dry (5-10-10) fertilizer on the top of the soil about 6-8 inches away from the base of the plants; rake in and water.
- Keep a close eye on the okra pods because they may be ready to cut from the plant in less than a week. The pods should be firm, brightly colored and about 3” to 4” long.
- Harvest pods as soon as they’re ready; leaving pods on the plant too long will cause it to stop flowering and producing. You may need to wear gloves if the pods have any spines.
- Refrigerate okra in a plastic bag, but try to use it as soon as possible after the harvest for best flavor (3 or 4 days). Okra can also be frozen or dried.
Plant Okra with these companions:
- Sweet peppers
Materials for Success
- Soil thermometer
- Drip irrigation system or soaker hose
- High-quality compost or well-aged manure
- Low-nitrogen fertilizer
- Organic mulch
To learn more about growing Okra or about growing your own edible vegetable garden, contact the pros at Nick’s Garden Center.