While it is okra pods that we normally think of eating, okra leaves and flowers are also edible. Cousin to hollyhocks, cocoa, cotton, hibiscus, and mallow, okra is a simple addition to your garden.
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is an attractive plant. Large flowers tend to be white or yellow with red or purple spots at the base. These are big, impressive plants, similar to artichokes. They can reach 5’ in height and 2 or 3 feet wide.
How to grow okra
Okra prefers hot, sunny weather and warm soil (at least 75°F). It will tolerate clay soil but grows best in soil with lots of organic material. Okra can be planted in large containers.
The roots of okra seedlings are very delicate and easy to damage. Seedlings can be difficult to find, depending on where you live. Okra can be started from seeds, but it is a slow growing plant. Seeds should be sowed 3/4” deep in mounds.
Okra is a heavy feeder, so top dressing with some aged compost when plants are 8” tall and again when pods set and when plants are 4’ tall. This will ensure they have all the nutrients they need. [Of course, it is always a good idea to get a soil test, so you know what your plants are growing in.] Over-fertilization of okra creates huge, beautiful leaves and zero pods.
Once pod-formation begins, be sure to harvest pods every other day, while they are less that 4” long. Larger pods are tough and inedible. If pods are allowed to ripen on the plant, pod production will stop.
Okra pests and diseases
Okra is frequently attacked by aphids, cutworms, earwigs, flea beetles, and whiteflies. You can protect young okra plants from earwigs and cutworms by using brassica collars.
Being susceptible to Fusarium wilt and Verticillium wilt, okra should not be planted where tomatoes or peppers have been grown recently.
Okra is a drought-tolerant plant, but it grows best with regular irrigation. Some people are sensitive to okra leaves, so you might want to wear gloves. Just in case.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!