QUESTION: Can okra be grown in pots? Are they too big to plant in a container? -Paul R.
ANSWER: Like most vegetables, okra is well suited to container gardening. To begin growing okra in pots or containers, first, pick out a large pot made of whatever material you prefer. The container should be at least three gallons or larger. For best results, a five-gallon pot that is ten to 12 inches deep with a similar diameter is the perfect size for a single okra plant. If you use a larger pot, you can grow a few plants in it instead. It is best to pick out a container that is black, because it will draw in extra heat, which your okra plants will appreciate.
When picking out your seeds, look for a dwarf okra variety that will not grow larger than five feet tall. You can grow any variety of okra in a container, but dwarf varieties are better suited to container gardening than other okra plant types. If you live in an area with shorter summers, pick out a variety that matures quickly.
Plant when the temperature begins to stay above 55–60 degrees F and all danger of frost has passed. Growing okra year-round is possible if you live in a subtropical or tropical region, or in USDA zones 9-11. Due to its taproot, okra will not transplant well, so it’s best to plant seeds into your containers directly. Sow two or three okra seeds one half to one inch deep into each pot. Water with a watering can or a sprayer set on shower and place your containers in a bright, warm location. The soil needs to remain moist until your seeds germinate, which takes about five to ten days after sowing seed. The warmer the weather, the faster germination will occur.
Once your seedlings have sprouted, pick a location that gets full sunlight for at least five to six hours per day, more if possible. Like other prolific southern vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers, okra needs lots of sunlight to thrive. The potting soil you use for okra should be loamy, crumbly, and well-draining. Soilless potting mixes rich in organic matter work wonderfully. Otherwise, you can add in a lot of organic matter, such as compost, or aged-manure to give a constant supply of essential nutrients to your okra plants.
Keep the soil (or soilless medium) slightly moist at all times, watering regularly to keep the soil uniformly moist. Pay close attention to the moisture levels of the soil during the most critical period of growth, from the start of the flowering period until the end of production.
The most important factor in growing good okra is the temperature, as okra requires a lot of heat. The plant can grow above 50 degrees F, but to flower and bear fruit with abundance, the temperature needs to be around 75 to 95 degrees. Okra plants can tolerate higher temperatures very well but will fail to produce pods when the temperature gets too cool.
To fertilize, mix manure into the soil to give nutrients to your plants and side dress the plant occasionally with it as well. At the time of planting, you can also add a balanced fertilizer for an additional nutrient boost if you would like. Once the plant reaches six inches in height, add a dose of balanced fertilizer again. If the soil is nitrogen rich, adding balanced fertilizer may tip the scales, promoting vegetative growth at the expense of fruiting, so do what you can to keep the balance by keeping an eye on your pH levels. Later on in the growing process, feed the plant with lower nitrogen fertilizers instead of balanced blends, like a 5-10-15, or 6-12-12.
Okra self pollinates, so there is no need to worry about pollination. As long as you select a dwarf variety for container growing, there is also no need to worry about pinching or topping, as your plant will not grow higher than five feet tall. Okra is often plagued by fusarium wilt and is also susceptible to attacks from nematodes, aphids, and whiteflies. These problems are usually only an issue when growing okra in large quantities, however, and should be easy to control in smaller container gardens.
Okra will bloom about two months after planting and the fruits will begin to appear about 5-7 days afterwards. Okra will require frequent harvesting, and pods should be harvested while they are still tender or they will become too fibrous and too hard for consumption. The best time to pick your pods are when they are between three and five inches in length. Bend the tip of any fruit and if it breaks with ease, it is still tender and ready for picking.