Growing Okra from Seed to Harvest

Growing Okra in my new southern garden is something I was really looking forward to!  Okra grows well in hot humid climates, and can produce abundantly if treated right. 

I recently moved from Colorado (hot and dry) to Tennessee (hot and humid).  I’d tried to grow okra in my high desert garden in with only so so success.  I decided to plant a partial row and see how I did in my new Humid climate garden. It has been abundant! I’ll be doubling my rows next year.  

Growing Okra Quick Tips 

  • When to Sow Indoors: 4 weeks prior to last frost date in spring.
  • Two ways to to Sow Outdoors: 
    • 2-3 weeks AFTER last frost date, or when evening temperatures are in the 60’s daytime 80’s. (Recommended)
    • 2-4 weeks before last frost date, cover this with a row cover to protect from cold weather.  Okra will start slow and will grow when the weather warms.
  • When to Grow Okra: Late Spring, Early Fall  
  • Seed Depth:  1/2 to 1 inch deep
  • Days to Germination:2-12 days
  • Spacing: 12 – 18 inches apart.  Thin to 18-24 inches apart
  • Row spacing: Rows 3-4 feet apart.
  • Light Requirements: Full Sun
  • Watering Requirements: 1 inch per week minimum
  • Good Companions: lettuce, spinach, flowers
  • Bad Companions:

Starting seeds Indoors or Planting in the Ground.

Okra is a heat loving plant. It doesn’t germinate well if the soil is not warm. In my opinion starting okra directly in the ground when it has warmed up is just as easy as starting earlier.  Because it is a heat loving plant and the weather is warm, the okra will grow quickly. But some gardeners like to start early indoors or even early direct in the garden. It all works. It just seems planting when the weather warms up is just as easy.

Starting Okra Seeds Indoors

Some people like to start okra indoors in seed trays.  This can be done about 4 weeks before the last frost date.  The usual care should be taken with starting seeds inside. Moisture, warmth and light need to be taken care of.

Two ways to Plant Okra Seeds Directly in the Garden 

Method 1 – Wait until it is warm. I recommend planting okra directly outdoors instead.  The first method is to wait a bit until the weather warms up. It is a heat loving plant, if you put it out while it is still cool… the plants are super slow to get started.  They’ll take off if you just wait a bit.

It is a great crop to get in the ground right after an early spring crop.  You can follow snap peas with okra.  The cool weather peas will be done by the time the weather is warming and okra can be planted. You can pull the peas and get okra in the ground immediately following.  

The same can apply to cold loving early spring greens and spinach.  When they are starting to droop and go to seed from the warm weather… get the okra in the ground next.  

Method 2 – Plant early and protect from the cold. You can plant out doors directly in the ground from 2-4 weeks before the last frost date.  If you do this be sure and protect your seedlings from cold by using a row cover.  This will encourage more growth.  I’ve read that it works, but since it is early and still cool, the okra will be slow to get started. 

Mulching Okra

Once your okra seeds have sprouted and gotten a few inches tall put a good mulch around the base. Straw, dry leaves, wood chips or grass clippings work great.  This will preserve moisture and keep the weeds down.  Okra likes to be evenly moist so having this mulch will maintain moisture levels. 

Companion Plants for Growing Okra

I know I said to follow spring greens with okra, but lettuces and spring greens are also a good companion plant when you are okra as well. 

The height of the growing okra shading the lettuce will keep them cooler.  So when your okra has reached 6 inches or so in height, replant some greens around the base.  

A row of tall Okra Plants shading the ground below with pink zinnias in the foreground..
My Partial Row of Okra. See how it shades the ground underneath?

Blooming plants are a great thing to plant near okra as well.  This will attract pollinators and get a good harvest going. 

When and How to Harvest Okra

Okra is super easy to harvest.  You want to look for pods that are 2-4 inches long.  This is an approximate number.  A bit longer is ok but don’t go too long.  

I had a big handful of okra that had grown too long. I really hated to waste them and I had actually never tried to eat them when they got overgrown. So one day I decided I’m just going to try it and see if what ‘they’ say is correct. (I always wonder who ‘they’ are. in this case it was just about every website I found when I was researching for myself how to harvest okra.).

I dredged them in cornmeal, salt, and pepper just like I always do. Fried them up and… the results were just fine. I didn’t find them woody. So, all this to say… If you’ve got some okra that are longer than the recommended 2-4 inches long, go ahead and try some. It could be you can go longer than the recommendations and be just fine. It also could be my particular type of okra… yours might be different.

If you’ve got some okra that are longer than the recommended 2-4 inches long, go ahead and try some. But if you don’t try it you won’t know!

I did a video on harvesting okra that you can check out here for more details. I’ve got some tips on how to harvest okra to get the best results. When to Harvest Okra (opens in youtube)

Buds of okra just getting ready to bloom.
Okra buds getting ready to bloom and produce okra pods. Lots of harvesting to come!

Pruning or Topping Okra

Okra is a fairly tall fast growing plant. I’ve read that some grow “as tall as 6 feet”. Well I’ll tell ya… that is conservative number. Mine were far above that when I finally topped them off.

It was fun growing them, they were huge, pods were abundant, I felt success… but goodness it was hard to harvest! Next time I’ll be topping off my okra so it doesn’t get so tall I have to get out a fruit ladder. I did a video here with my humongous okra.

Yes okra can be topped off and lower leaves can be trimmed to make harvesting easier. Those leaves are prickly and if you trim off the larger lower leaves as the plant gets taller it makes it much easier to harvest without getting all scratched and itchy.

How to Save Okra Seeds

Saving seeds from okra is super easy.  Simply pick a plant or two to stop harvesting. I’ll usually choose a few plants on one end of my growing okra.  It is a good idea to mark them somehow so you don’t forget which plants to stop picking from.  A ribbon on a branch works great.  

 Allow the pods on those plants to mature.  They will dry and crack open.  It is a simple matter to collect the small round seeds place them in a container or envelope and save for planting next year.  Keep them cool and most importantly dry. Read more about how to store saved seeds here…

Dried Okra pod opened showing the seeds inside.

What Parts of the Okra Plant Can You Eat? 

When I was researching this post I wanted to find out if okra blooms are edible because vegetable blooms often are.  What I learned was that the whole Okra plant is basically edible.  

Can you eat Okra blossoms? 

I love the looks of beautiful okra blooms.  Did you know they are also edible?  I didn’t.  I haven’t tried it yet but I may just do it.  You can bread them and fry them or add them to a salad.  The okra pods do come from the flower.  So just remember that and don’t pick all the flowers.  You do still want some pods right? 

Open okra blossom, buttercup yellow blossoms with a burgundy interior.

Are Okra Leaves Poisonous?

Did you also know that the young leaves of an okra plant are also edible?  I didn’t know that either.  Apparently you can cook the young tender leaves like spinach or chard.  Or use them fresh in a salad.  

Are Okra seeds edible?

Another yes.  :). I’ve never tried it and I don’t know if I ever will but some old timers say you can grind okra seeds and use them as a coffee substitute.  

Okra; Some Folks Love it, Some Folks Don’t.

I personally am in the LOVE IT category.  And it is so very good for you.  And easy to grow.

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How to grow okra

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