How To Grow And Care For Okra

Southerners love okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), the flowering plant with edible green seed pods. Here are our top tips for growing and caring for okra.


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Southerners love okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), whether fried, grilled, stewed, or pickled. Native to Africa, this iconic vegetable thrives in sweltering heat and withstands withering droughts. Its candelabra-like stems produce attractive crepe paper blossoms resembling hibiscus or cotton. These blooms give rise to the edible seedpods we crave all summer and fall.

Okra pods form in a flash, so check blooming plants every two days, or you might miss the perfect picking size for tender pods. Also, keep in mind that despite the summer heat, wear a long-sleeved shirt to reach underneath leaves when cutting off pods. Even if the pods are spineless, okra stems are not and will stick to you.

Plant Attributes

Plant Attributes
 Common Name:  Okra, Lady's Finger, Gumbo
 Botanical Name:  Abelmoschus esculentus
 Family:  Malvaceae
 Plant Type:  Annual, Vegetable, Herbaceous
 Mature Size:  3-8 ft. tall, 1-5 ft. wide
 Sun Exposure:  Full
 Soil Type:  Sandy, Well-drained
 Soil pH:  Acidic (5.8 to 6.8)
 Bloom Time:  Summer, Fall, Seasonal
 Flower Color:  Yellow
 Hardiness Zones:  Zones 2-11 (USDA)
 Native Area:  Asia, Africa

Okra Care

Grow okra indoors or outdoors by sowing the seeds directly into organically rich soil. Germination will be relatively easy if the soil is moist, well-draining, and fertile. Maintain warm weather or environmental conditions and give the plants room to branch. Overcrowding okra will yield fewer pods throughout the summer, but those in warm climates can receive a second harvest.


Okra grows best in areas with full, direct sunlight—at least six hours daily. Temperatures should remain around 60°F during the evenings.


Soil should be well-drained and rich in organic material. Okra will also grow in sandy soils. It will not thrive in heavy or soggy soil. The fertile soil should lend toward a neutral pH.


Do not oversaturate okra plants. After establishing, these plants are relatively drought-tolerant and enjoy bouts of warm weather. Water a total of about one inch per week, including rainfall, for best results. Young okra plants might need more water while establishing.

Temperature and Humidity

Since okra needs warm temperatures to thrive, starting seeds indoors or later in the summer will benefit growing conditions in the North. Since pods appear within two months of planting, waiting until June will help these heat-loving plants. Dry, humid conditions are the ideal temperature for okra. Maintaining temperatures near 60°F, even above 90°F, will yield good results.


Depending on soil conditions, fertilizer is unnecessary if the ground has organically rich nutrients. Supplement the soil with composted manure or another fertilizer if your plants need extra nutrients.

Types of Okra

Okra is an annual plant bearing edible pods. Here are a few varieties to consider:

  • 'Blondy': This spineless dwarf okra plant is ideal for northern growers because you can grow it in containers. It reaches about three feet tall and forms pale green, three-inch pods. 
  • 'Burgundy': This okra produces abundant six- to eight-inch pods growing on three-to-five-foot tall plants. This plant contains a deep red stem, edible ornamental branches, leaf ribs, and fruit. 
  • 'Clemson Spineless': This okra is a tasty variety that grows on four-foot-tall plants and produces six-to-nine-inch pods. 
  • 'Louisiana Green Velvet': This spineless okra is ideal for larger areas because it grows up to six feet tall. 


When okra plants reach five to six feet tall, prune the tops to stimulate side branch growth. Prune the side branches when necessary. Warm weather is good for okra growth but can also slow plant growth when extremely high. In warm environments, cutting plants about two feet after production slows down in the summer can encourage the plant to produce a second harvest in late summer or early fall. Cut the plants using a mower or pruning shears, leaving them about six inches to one foot above the ground.

Propagating Okra

Seeds or stem cuttings easily propagate okra plants. After harvesting seeds from the plants, store them in a cool, dry area throughout the winter and plant them in the following spring. When it's time to sow the seeds, soak them for 12 hours, so they rehydrate and plant at least a half-inch deep and one to two feet apart. Don't plant seeds until the last frost passes. To propagate stem cuttings, follow these instructions:

  1. Start by taking cuttings about eight inches in length from a healthy plant. 
  2. Remove the lower leaves. 
  3. Dip the stem cuttings in a container of water and rooting hormone. 
  4. After, place the stems into a moist potting mix and press the soil around it so it stands upright. 
  5. Keep stem cuttings in warm, humid locations and care for them like an okra plant.

How to Grow Okra From Seed

Okra is simple to sow and grow. Typically planted a few weeks after tomatoes, it benefits from a long, warm growing season. Soak the large seeds in water overnight, then sow them one inch deep in rows at least three feet apart. Cover and water thoroughly, giving them a deep soaking every four or five days. When seedlings are two inches tall, move them to 18 inches apart. As the plants begin to flower, apply a blossom-boosting fertilizer according to the label directions.


Okra produces until frost, but older plants need reinvigorating in late summer. Since okra will not produce anything over the winter, take cuttings from a tall plant back to one to two feet high, allowing side branches to form that grow for months. Keep picking the pods until you're ready to save the seeds. Then let a few pods dry on the plant at the end of the season before frost. Store the seeds in a sealed glass jar for next season.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Okra is susceptible to pests, primarily impacting the leaves. Aphids and whiteflies suck the sap from the foliage, but neem oil or a different insecticidal soap can treat these if the infestation continues. Insecticidal soap effectively treats the Southern green stink bug that sucks the sap directly from the okra pods, leaving them twisted or deformed. Another pest is the corn earworm, a type of caterpillar that will defoliate plants quickly. 

Some diseases also affect the okra plant—fungal infections like anthracnose, which damages stems, and rust, which forms rust-colored blisters of leaf and stem surfaces. Powdery mildew and root rot can occur in humid weather when soil-borne diseases stunt plant growth, cause root decay, and make foliage wilt. Overwatering plants is one reason these diseases form.

Common Problems With Okra

Leaves Turning Yellow

Yellowing or browning leaves are often indicators that a pest or disease is present. Aphids are insects that leave sticky excrement on the foliage until deformed or yellow leaves appear, along with distorted flowers and fruit. Fusarium wilt will also cause foliage to turn yellow until the entire plant wilts and dies. You know this disease is present if you cross-section a stem, and it reveals a brown discoloration.

Drooping Leaves

Okra flowers and buds drooping and falling off are common issues. The temperature significantly impacts drooping flowers and buds, typically over 95°F or under 55°F. If possible, try protecting your okra plants when your region experiences temperature fluctuations. Additionally, pods that appear woody or tough mean that they were left on the plant too long. The ideal time to harvest okra pods is two to three inches.

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