Okra

Introduction

Okra, also called Lady’s fingers, is a heat loving plant in the hibiscus family. Okra plants are drought and heat resistant. The immature pods are used in soups, stir fries, pickles, and stews. The mucilage in okra acts as a thickening agent in soups, such as gumbo. Its nutritive value includes high fiber content; soluble in the form of gums and pectins that lower serum cholesterol, and insoluble fiber which helps maintain a healthy digestive system. 

Okra does best in warm weather and will die with frost. Most varieties have hairs on all parts of the plant that can cause skin irritation, so gloves and long sleeves may be needed for harvest. There are also spineless varieties and red-fruiting varieties. Though okra is often listed on pesticide labels along with eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes, they are not a related species and share few pests.

Types and Varieties

Okra Varieties
Annie Oakley II
Candle Fire
Clemson Spineless
Cajun Delight
Emerald Green
Jambalaya
Silver Queen
Zarah

Soil Fertility

Apply lime according to soil test to maintain a soil pH at 6.0-6.8.

If plants are to be grown on plastic mulch, the amount of nitrogen fertilizer to be sidedressed can be reduced, since leaching is minimized. If using transplants, apply a liquid fertilizer at transplanting, especially with cool soil conditions. Use a high phosphorous starter fertilizer mixed at a rate of 3 lb/50 gal water. Apply 8 fl oz (1 cup) per transplant.

PLANT NUTRIENT RECOMMENDATION ACCORDING TO SOIL TEST RESULTS FOR OKRA
OKRA NITROGEN (N) LBS PER ACRE PHOSPHORUS (P) LBS P2O5 PER ACRE POTASSIUM (K) LBS K2O PER ACRE
SOIL TEST RESULTS   VERY LOW LOW OPTIMUM ABOVE OPTIMUM VERY LOW LOW OPTIMUM ABOVE OPTIMUM
Broadcast and Incorporate 50 150 100 25-50 0 200 100 50 0
Sidedress 3-4 Weeks after Planting 40 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sidedress 6-8 Weeks after Planting 40 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL RECOMMENDED 130 150 100 25-50 0 200 100 25-50 0

Planting

Seeds are sometimes soaked in water for 24 hours due to their hard seed coat to encourage germination. Transplants may be started in the greenhouse, preferably on a heat mat kept at 75-90º F, and transplanted to larger pots 6 weeks before planting into the field at the 3- to 4-leaf stage. Okra is generally grown in locations where it will receive full sunlight throughout the day. Okra grows best at 75-90º F and should not be planted outdoors before the soil temperature reaches 65º F at 4" depth, usually in early June. Plastic mulch, row cover and high tunnels can be used to help achieve the heat requirements. Black plastic mulch with drip irrigation will increase yields.

Plant populations range from 7,000-15,000 plants per acre, depending on the variety. Spacing ranges from 12-24" in the row (100-50 plants per 100 feet of row respectively) with 36" between rows.

Harvest and Storage

Flowering will occur as soon as 45 days after seeding, depending on the variety, and pods are ready for harvest 5-6 days after flowering. Pod tenderness (which is desirable) decreases as size increases. Most varieties will lose their tenderness when they exceed 3" in length. For this reason okra plantings must be picked almost every other day. Pods are harvested by twisting them off the plant or cutting with a knife. After harvest, room cool or use forced air to bring the okra down to 50-55º F at 85-90% relative humidity, where it may be stored for 7-10 days. Below 50°F, okra pods are subject to chilling injury.