How to Grow Okra—A Southern Staple

No summer meal in the South is complete without okra, but no matter where you live, your garden should boast this beautiful vegetable.

by Dani Yokhna

How to Grow Okra—A Southern Staple #okra #urbangarden #urbangardening

One of my favorite summer crops in the front yard garden is okra, and I’m still busy picking pods this season. This classic southern staple thrives in the humid South Carolina summers that seem to last from April to October. Okra always has a plentiful harvest of tasty green pods and doubles as a show stopping ornamental. A relative of the hibiscus, most okra varieties feature a gorgeous large, yellow bloom with a deep-purple interior helps attract many beneficial pollinators to your yard.

Grow and Harvest

When planting okra in a small garden you need to think about the exact placement within the plot. Okra is a very tall plant with some full-sized cultivars easily reaching 7 feet or more. This extreme height means that you need to place your okra so that it does not shade out other crops or block access to other plants.

When your okra plants start producing pods, you will need to plan to harvest every two or three days. Harvest okra with a sharp knife or clippers when pods are 2 to 4 inches long to ensure they’re tender, not tough and fibrous. Remove larger pods to encourage continued flower and okra production. I recommend wearing gloves when harvesting okra because the plant is a known skin irritant to some individuals.

How to Grow Okra—A Southern Staple #okra #urbangarden #urbangardening

Choose a Variety

I like growing the popular Clemson Spineless okra variety, which is noted for its high productivity and good disease resistance. You can add some variety to your okra harvest by growing interesting heirlooms, such as Cowhorn okra that features extremely long curved green pods, or selecting unique varieties, such Burgundy okra that produces stunning red pods, stems and colorful tinted leaves.

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Folks living in cooler northern climates can think about growing shorter hybrid okras, such Annie Oakley II or Dwarf Long Green. These dwarf okras only reach 2 to 3 tall and can start producing in a short 50 or 60 days, which is perfect for gardeners with shorter growing seasons.

Save Your Seeds

One of the fun aspects of growing heirloom or conventional okra (excluding hybrids) is saving the seeds for next year. Near the end of the summer, leave several large pods on your okra plant, letting them dry out. When the pods are dry and the seeds rattle, remove the pods and store them in a dry, cool space until next summer.

I know okra is a divisive vegetable in many families, but even if you don’t love the taste or its peculiar texture, consider saving a spot in your garden for this attractive vegetable. No one says you have it eat it. Give it to your neighbors, share it with your co-workers or compost away.

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