Okra is a hot season crop that grows best in the hot and humid Texas Zone 9 summers. When other plants are wilting or going to seed, Okra is just getting started, and will go strong into the fall months. Here are 8 tips for growing a great Okra crop.
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Tip #1: Planting indoors
If you are starting seeds indoors, plant them in pots 4-6 weeks before the last frost. In Zone 9, that is the first part of February. Transplant the seedlings out when the soil temps average over 75 degrees.
Okra requires at least 6-8 hours of full sun. It thrives in temperatures over 90, so is a good summer crop for Zone 9, when temperatures can get over 100.
Tip #2: Planting outdoors
If direct seeding, put 3-4 seeds every 12-18″ apart, with rows 36″ apart. Plant them 1″ deep. They will sprout in 14-21 days. When the seedlings are 1-2″ in height, thin to the best-looking plant in each group.
Tip #3: Care for Growing Okra
Rotate your Okra crop location every year to avoid pests and diseases. Weed carefully around the plants. Mulch heavily. Water 1-1 1/2 inches per week. They will still grow with less water.
There is no need to support the Okra plants-it is a very strong plant.
Tip #4: Keep your crop within reach
About August, you can cut the growing tip off; the plant will bush out. Otherwise, the plant can grow 7 feet tall, and the pods grow at the tips of the plants.
Tip #5: Companion planting
Swiss Chard and Cucumbers may be good companion plants.
Okra will benefit from growing beans or peas for the nitrogen in the plot the year before. Okra is a heavy feeder, and needs nitrogen. It can be grown as a succession plant after peas. Interplant with basil, cucumbers, eggplants, melons or peppers.
Tip #6: Combating diseases and pests
Alternaria Leaf Spot causes spots on the upper surface of the leaves. To avoid this, don’t wet the leaves. Also, make sure air can circulate around the plants–don’t plant your Okra too close together.
Damping off is when the seedling appears healthy, but then dies for no apparent reason. Don’t over water, or over fertilize the seedlings.
Fusarium Wilt is caused by a soil-borne fungus. It starts in the roots, and travels up the stem. Pull up and destroy any infected plants. Crop rotation will stop this disease.
Root Knot Nematodes can be controlled by planting Marigolds nearby.
Aphids, Leaf hoppers, Spider mites, Thrips or Whitefly are common pests. Ladybugs can keep the aphids at bay. Stinkbugs attack the pods. Use a cayenne pepper and water mixture on the leaves to drive the stink bugs away. I don’t have stinkbug problems on my Okra, they like the Tomatoes. Maybe I’ll try this on the tomato plants.
Tip #7: Harvesting
Cut Okra pods when they are 2-3″ long, or about the size of your fingers. During peak harvesting season, I had to harvest twice a day, morning and evening, or the pods got too big. Cut, don’t pull the pods. If the pods get too big, they will get tough. When that happens, you can still use the seeds. Cut the pods open, and pull the seeds into a bowl. If you don’t they will scatter and roll everywhere. They will keep in the refrigerator, and you can use them in salads. Harvest regularly to prolong the harvest.
For my family, Okra was like Zucchini to other families. Too much to use our self, and giving it away to friends and neighbors got old real quick. We will limit the harvest this year and only plant 1 or 2 plants.
Some Okra have prickly hairs on them that can irritate some people. Use gloves when handling and harvesting the pods. “Clemson Spineless” is what I grow, and it has very few hairs. Other varieties are “Dwarf Green Log Pod,” Emerald,” “Perkins Dwarf Spineless” and “Baby Bubba” for small spaces.
You can store Okra in the refrigerator for about 3-4 days.
Tip #8: Saving the seeds
Let a pod grow until it dries out, becomes brown and begins to crack open. You can shake the seeds out easily at that point, and keep them until next year. One pod should give you plenty of seeds.
Okra is a carefree crop that will produce all summer long. Use these eight tips to grow a great Okra crop this year. Check out the varieties at your seed store, and experiment with each.
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