QUESTION: How do you grow okra at home? Does it grow well in the home garden? -Ted S.
ANSWER: Okra is a warm weather crop that thrives in USDA zones five through 11. If you don’t have enough space for an outdoor garden at your home, you can still grow okra plants indoors. Growing your okra indoors will also help to protect your plants from common pests and bad weather conditions.
Purchase a five-gallon container or a container with a ten-inch diameter. If the container doesn’t already have drainage holes, drill three to four holes into the bottom, making each hole no larger than a quarter of an inch. Fill the container with a fresh potting mix. Never use soil dug up from the yard or any outdoor location, as it will typically contain insects or pathogens that could harm or even kill your plants.
Soak your okra seeds in a cup or dish with lukewarm water and leave them overnight before planting. Soaking the seeds will help to soften up the seed coat which will help your seeds germinate faster and easier. Plant a row of three to five okra seeds one inch deep into the soil and spaced about three inches apart from each other. Provide enough water to moisten the potting mix but do not allow it to become soggy. Keep the soil moist at all times during the seed germination period, until sprouts begin to emerge.
If your home has a location that gets plenty of sunlight each day, use it as a light source for your okra plants. You may also need to bring in an alternative light source to supplement, if the location doesn’t get at least eight hours of sun per day. Use a fluorescent lamp, or another form of artificial light, and a sunny spot in your home to shine light over the container for at least eight hours per day. Keep the temperature at or over 60 degrees F and look for emerging sprouts anywhere between six and 18 days after planting.
Once sprouts emerge, increase the temperature to 70 to 75 degrees F or warmer, as okra performs better in warm weather environments. Continue to provide eight or more hours of light per day after germination. Provide approximately one-half inch of water per week, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. Okra is somewhat drought-tolerant and can survive for up to a month without watering, though it will perform much better with a consistent but moderate supply of water. Overwatering can lead to fungal diseases like root rot.
Once your plants have reached three inches in height, thin out the weakest seedlings, leaving only the healthiest one. If you try to grow more than one okra plant in the container, pod production and quality will suffer as a result. Following the instructions on the packaging for application, feed the plant with an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer when it grows to six inches tall, and apply it again when it begins to blossom.
Okra plants that are grown outdoors can grow up to over six feet. Container plants won’t get this tall, but they may still require staking as they continue to grow. Watch for okra pods to start appearing around 50 to 60 days after planting. Harvest pods when they become three to five inches long by cutting their stems with a knife, but be careful not to cut into the seed pod. Don’t leave pods on the plant for too long, as they will become woody and lose their flavor and will only be good for seed harvesting if they aren’t harvested when ripe. Harvesting okra often will also boost your plant’s production.