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Okra

Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is a warm-season crop grown throughout South Carolina. It is a tall, upright plant with a hibiscus-like flower that originated in Africa. The immature, young seed pods are the edible part of this plant and are an important ingredient in southern cuisine.

Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is a tall, upright plant with a hibiscus-like flower.

Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is a tall, upright plant with a hibiscus-like flower.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2018 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Okra growing in the garden

Okra growing in the garden.
Millie Davenport, ©2018 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Planting

Okra grows best at temperatures between 75 and 90 °F. When planting okra, gardeners want to ensure that the soil temperature is warm enough so that seeds germinate and begin to grow, as cool soils can lead to slow growth and seedling diseases. The optimum soil temperature for seed germination lies somewhere between 70 to 95 °F, so gardeners will want to check the soil temperature at a depth of 4 inches before planting. If soil temperatures are less than 65 °F, at a soil depth of 4 inches, gardeners should hold off on planting until soil temperatures are warmer. The crop can be grown on all soil types, although sandy loam soils high in organic matter are the most desirable. It is important that the soil be well-drained. Plant in full sun for best productivity.

Many gardeners soak the seed in water before planting to improve germination. This may help; however, seedling death may still occur if the seed is planted in cold soil.

Planting Dates

Area Spring Fall
Piedmont May 1- June 30 July 15-August 15
Central April 10 June 30 August 1-August 30
Coastal April 1 – June 30 August 1-August 30
South Carolina Gardening Regions

South Carolina Gardening Regions

Piedmont: Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Chester, Edgefield, Fairfield, Greenville, Greenwood, Lancaster, Laurens, McCormick, Newberry, Oconee, Pickens, Saluda, Spartanburg, Union, and York counties.

Central: Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun, Chesterfield, Clarendon, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Kershaw, Lee, Lexington, Marion, Marlboro, Orangeburg, Richland, and Sumter counties.

Coastal: Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, and Williamsburg counties.

Okra should be planted in rows 3 to 6 feet apart with 9 to 12 inches between seeds in the row at a depth of ¾ inch deep. Many gardeners plant multiple seeds per hole to ensure a good stand and will go back and thin out extra okra seedlings so that only one plant remains. If this method is used, it is imperative that only one plant be allowed to grow every 9 to 12 inches, or competition between plants will severely impact yields.

Clemson Spineless 80 okra produces dark green pods without spines.

Clemson Spineless 80 okra produces dark green pods without spines.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2018 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Recommended Cultivars

  • Clemson Spineless 80
  • Lee
  • Annie Oakley II
  • Cajun Delight
  • Choppee (Clemson Heirloom Collection-https://www. clemson. edu/public/seed/heirloom. html)
  • Burgundy (red okra variety but will turn green when cooked)

Fertilizing

A soil test is always the best method of determining the fertilization needs of the crop. Information on soil testing is available in HGIC 1652, Soil Testing.

Follow the results of a soil test to maintain a soil pH between 5. 8 and 6. 5 and optimal fertility levels. If a soil test has not been taken, apply 25 to 50 pounds of 10-10-10 before planting or other fertilizer that would give between 2½ to 5 pounds of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium per 1,000 square feet. The okra plant has a sensitive balance between vegetation (leaf production) and reproduction (pod production). The use of additional nitrogen should be avoided on vigorous plantings until fruiting begins to manage plant growth and ensure pod production. Okra should be sidedressed with 3 to 6 pounds of calcium nitrate (15. 5-0-0) per 1,000 square feet or 1 to 2 pounds per 100 feet of row. Sidedressing should occur at 3 to 4 weeks after planting and again at 6 to 8 weeks after planting. More applications of calcium nitrate may be needed later, depending on rainfall and how long okra is expected to produce. It is important to supply additional nitrogen late in the season at the time blooms are concentrated at the top of the plant.

Ratooning

During the hottest and often driest parts of the summer, okra may slow down production. If harvest tapers off and okra slows or ceases flower production, then gardeners should try ratooning spring-planted okra (usually around mid-July to mid-August). Ratooning is the process of cutting the stem of a plant, causing it to push out new growth and produce another crop later in the fall. Okra should be mowed or pruned to 6 to 12 inches above the soil line.

Once the plants are cut, gardeners will want to fertilize with a fertilizer that has a 1:2 ratio of nitrogen to potassium, which will encourage new growth and stimulate flower production. Examples of fertilizers with a 1:2 ratio include 4-0-8, 5-0-10, or 10-0-20. Depending on the type of fertilizer used, 2 to 3 pounds of these products should be used per 100 feet of row in a sidedress application. For more information on fertilizing vegetables, please see HGIC 1254, Fertilizing Vegetables. After fertilization, plants should be watered frequently, as this will be the hottest part of the summer. In about 4 to 6 weeks, the ratooned plants will begin producing fruit that can be enjoyed by gardeners up until the first frost of the season.

Watering

Water the garden to provide a uniform moisture supply to the crop. If using a hose or sprinkler, the garden should be watered in the morning so that the foliage is dry before dark. An alternative method to using a hose or sprinkler to water is installing a drip irrigation system. These systems can be installed rather easily and will help to conserve water, keep foliage dry, and target application areas. Whichever method is used, the garden should be watered sufficiently to moisten the soil to a depth of 6 inches. Light watering will encourage shallow rooting of the plants. The critical period for soil moisture is during pod set and pod development.

Cultural Practices

Weed control is important in this crop, especially when the plants are small. Cultivation and use of organic mulches are the best methods for weed control. Cultivation should be shallow to prevent damage to the roots of the crop. Organic mulches (2- to 3-inch layer) conserve moisture as well as control weeds.

Harvest & Storage

Okra should be ready to harvest about 60 to 70 days after planting when pods are 2 to 3 inches long. At this stage, the pods are still tender. Larger okra pods will tend to be tough and fibrous. Round-podded okra varieties remain tender at larger pod sizes and are good to use for slicing and freezing. Due to its prolific nature, 25 to 50-row feet of okra may be enough to feed a family for a few months.

Okra grows very fast; therefore, it must be harvested at a minimum of every two days. Do not allow pods to mature on the plant because this will inhibit more pods from developing and reduce the total productivity of the plant. Okra can be harvested by hand, but using pruning shears or a sharp pocket knife can minimize damage to the plant. Handle okra carefully because the pods bruise easily. Okra can be harvested for upwards of twelve weeks if properly watered, fertilized, and picked in a timely manner. When harvest time is over, okra pods can be left on the plant to dry to save seed for next year. Dried okra pods and stalks can look great as flower arrangements or holiday decorations.

The optimum conditions for storing fresh okra are a moist environment and temperatures of 45 to 50 °F. Okra should not be washed before storing it in the refrigerator, as this will speed up decay. If properly harvested, handled, not washed, and stored correctly, one can expect to keep good quality pods in the refrigerator for about seven days.

Problems

Root-decaying diseases, which result in the death of the young seedlings, are the most serious disease problems in this crop. They are more prevalent when the crop is planted in cold, wet soil.

Rotting of small pods after the flowers drop is a fairly common problem with okra. Planting the crop in full sun and providing good air movement through the planting will help to reduce the problem. Proper plant spacing will also help to minimize this problem. The exact cause of this disorder is not known.

Small bumps sometimes develop on the pod, but the cause of these bumps is unknown. Contrary to popular belief, this damage is not caused by the stink bug.

Root-knot nematodes can be a serious problem with okra. If a plant is stunted, yellow, or not producing at full capacity, then pull the plant out of the ground and check for galls on the roots. These galls are caused by nematodes, which are microscopic worms. An effective nematode control program should include crop rotation and sanitation, or removal of plants and roots if infected. More information about controlling nematodes in the home garden is available in HGIC 2216, Root-Knot Nematodes in the Vegetable Garden.

Stink bugs will cause the pods to be twisted and distorted.

Stink bugs will cause the pods to be twisted and distorted.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2018 HGIC, Clemson Extension

All crops should be planted on a rotation to help reduce disease and nematode problems. Okra plantings should not follow crops that are susceptible to nematodes such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, and sweet potato.

Common insect pests found on okra include aphids, corn earworm, stink bugs, and leaffooted bugs. Aphids often feed on the sap of the okra plant and can attract ants. The ants farm the aphids so that they can harvest the honeydew from the aphid excretions. Limiting and properly managing nitrogen can aid in the management of aphids and ants. Corn earworms are often found eating into the pod, while stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs will cause the pods to be twisted and distorted.

References:

2019 Southeastern U. S. Vegetable Crop Handbook. Page 55. https://content. ces. ncsu. edu/southeastern-us-vegetable-crop-handbook

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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