How to grow your own okra
Advice on growing and caring for okra plants, in our Grow Guide.
This article has been checked for horticultural accuracy by Oliver Parsons.
Okra, also known as ladies’ fingers or gumbo, is an uncommon frost-tender vegetable plant that bears edible fleshy pods in summer and autumn. It's an annual vegetable, completing its life cycle in one growing season. Okra is good-looking in both foliage and flowers – its leaves are large and mid-green, and its flowers are creamy-yellow.
Okra plants need a warm, humid, and sunny environment to thrive and crop well, so in the UK this mostly requires it to be grown under cover and only the mildest and sunniest regions are suitable for growing okra outside.
Most okra varieties grow to around 1.2m high and wide so need plenty of space. The variety ‘French Quarter’ is hardier, more compact, and said to be more suited to patio growing than most. So, okra is not an easy crop to grow, but if you have the right conditions it's certainly worth a try.
How to grow okra
Sow seed in warmth indoors from late winter to early spring or buy plants, if available, in late spring. Grow in a warm humid environment or a mild, sunny, sheltered site outside, in good fertile soil. Feed and water regularly and harvest from late summer into autumn. Compost okra plants at the end of the season.
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Where to grow okra
Grow okra under cover in a warm and well-lit environment such as a greenhouse, polytunnel, or conservatory, with plenty of space for the plants to grow. It is possible to grow okra outdoors but only in the mildest areas of the UK, and you may not achieve as good a crop as you would if raising indoors. However it's always worth a try: grow in a sheltered spot in full sun.
How to plant okra
Sow okra seed from late winter to early spring. Soak the seeds in tepid water for several hours before sowing 1-2cm deep into individual small pots of moist, peat-free seed compost mixed with a third by volume of perlite. Place in a heated propagator at a temperature of 20-25°C. As soon as seedlings germinate, take them out of the propagator and move to a well-lit windowsill or a heated greenhouse at a minimum temperature of 20°C. Keep compost evenly moist using tepid water. It's a good idea to stand pots in water for half an hour at a time rather than watering from the top, to reduce the risk of damping off disease.
Once okra plants are around 10-15cm high, transplant them into 13cm pots. Then, when well established, plant them in their final growing positions. If this is outdoors, harden off to gradually acclimatise them to the outside before planting out after all danger of frost is past. Plant into fertile soil enriched with plenty of organic matter, or grow in large (minimum 20 litre size) pots of peat-free multi-purpose potting compost. In a greenhouse or polytunnel, plant into the soil or in pots or growing bags of peat-free multi-purpose compost, ensuring each plant has plenty of space to grow.
Sowing okra seeds direct in the garden later in spring isn’t guaranteed to produce a crop as conditions may not be sufficiently warm. However you may be successful in a very hot summer.
How to care for okra
Regular watering and feeding is essential to achieve a good okra crop, particularly when growing in containers. Water thoroughly to keep the compost evenly moist and feed weekly with a liquid fertiliser that's high in potash. High humidity aids pollination so mist regularly, especially in hot weather. Support plants with canes as growth develops.
Harvesting and using okra
Okra pods develop from mid to late summer and into autumn, depending on sowing time and whether plants are growing outside or under cover. The pods are ready in just a few days from flowering and need harvesting quickly as they soon become tough and stringy. Use a sharp knife to harvest when the pods are fairly young and around 7-10cm long. Also pick and compost any over-mature pods rather than leaving on the plant, to encourage new fruits to be produced.
Okra pods are best cooked when freshly picked and only keep for a couple of days in the fridge. Use in soups, stews, and fried, or eat young, small fruits raw.
Most varieties of okra have prickly hairs on the pods which may cause irritation to sensitive skin, so wear gloves when harvesting as a precaution.
Pests and diseases
Poor growth is commonly caused by low temperatures, so avoid sowing too early and protect young plants with fleece or cloches if growing outside.
Small pods are likely to be caused by lack of water or food. Ensure the crop is watered regularly, especially during dry spells, as okra shouldn’t be allowed to dry out.
Webbing on leaves could be a symptom of red spider mite, which is especially likely to occur in dry greenhouses and polytunnels. Raise humidity by regularly wetting the floor of the greenhouse, standing pots in trays or leaving a bucket of standing water to evaporate.
Advice on buying okra
- Okra seed doesn’t keep its viability from year to year, so buy fresh seed from a reputable supplier
- Okra seed is only offered by a few suppliers. Gardeners with sensitive skin may wish to opt for spineless varieties
- Ready-grown okra plants are sometimes available from specialist suppliers, for delivery in early summer
Where to buy okra online
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