Holle is an expert in all things dogs, gardening, and horses. She is a professional writer by trade.
Okra: A Deep South Staple You can Grow at Your House
Here in the Deep South, okra is basically a staple. We batter the sliced pods and fry them, we roast them in bacon grease, we use them in stewed okra and tomatoes, and we pickle them.
Sliced okra also makes a great addition to homemade vegetable soup and Brunswick stew. Some people enjoy okra boiled by itself, often referred to as “slimy okra.” Other cooks might add a few pods to green beans or field peas.
If you're interested in growing your own okra but are afraid you don't have enough space, think again! Okra is actually pretty easy to grow in containers. Read on to learn how!
A Farmer at Heart
I think I must have been a farmer in a former life. I love growing things, especially fruits and vegetables. We live in town, on a 1/3 acre lot. The house, pool, and large deck take up a lot of the yard, so there's not much space left for me to garden. I don't let that stop me, though.
I created a large container garden where, in the spring and summer, I grow green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, pattypan squash, bell peppers, jalapenos, okra, and lots of herbs. In my fall garden, I grow cabbage, carrots, kale, broccoli, collards, mustard greens, onions, spinach, and a variety of lettuces.
I've had very good luck with my container farm, and I always fill up our freezer. I also have fruit trees and bushes in our yard, and I make jams, jellies, pickles, sauces, and relishes.
You Actually Can Grow Okra in Pots!
Three years ago, I decided to try growing okra in containers. I can't tell you how many farmers and gardeners told me it couldn't be done. Of course, that just made me more determined to prove them all wrong, and I did.
The first year was good, and the second year was better. This year, my okra crop is booming! In fact, I have to pick it almost every day. We've eaten lots of fried okra, okra and tomatoes, and roasted okra. I've made jars and jars of pickled okra, and I have plenty of it in the freezer. At this point, I'm giving okra away. These plants are 12 feet tall!
Choose the Right Variety
There are numerous varieties of okra. Most gardeners recommend a dwarf variety for containers, but I didn't follow this advice. The first year, I grew four varieties, so I could discover which one did best in my area, zone 8B.
I found out Clemson spineless outperformed the other varieties, so I stuck with it. Last year and this year, Clemson spineless was the only okra variety I planted. It produces a lot of pods, it's tasty, and it doesn't have prickly spines that irritate my skin, making it easy to pick.
When and How to Plant Okra in Containers
Okra likes hot weather, so I don't plant it until the first of May. I use containers that hold at least 5 gallons, and I make sure the containers have good drainage.
For the planting medium, I mix about three parts potting soil with one part compost. I plant my seeds 1 inch deep and about 8 inches apart. Everyone says to plant okra farther apart than that, but planting the seeds closer together works for me. I get more okra in the small space I have, and the plants help support each other in windy conditions.
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After planting the seeds, dampen the soil. When the plants are about a foot tall, I fertilize them. Most gardeners suggest using a low nitrogen fertilizer, but I use 12–10–5, and it's worked well for me. Once the plants begin blooming, I give them another dose of fertilizer.
Among the okra, I plant peppers and basil. These help repel cabbage worms and flea beetles. Last year, I found some aphids on my plants, which I removed with a jet of water from the hose. If you have a lot of aphids, you can use insecticidal soap. Other than these pests, I haven't had problems with insects on my okra.
Watering Your Okra
Okra needs a good amount of water, but too much water can cause a lot of problems.
You don't want to keep the soil soggy. How often you need to water depends on your soil and on the weather.
When we have spells of 100+ degree weather, I have to water every day, unless we get rain. When you water, water the soil at the base of the plants—not the leaves.
How to Pick Okra
Once the beautiful yellow flowers appear, you know the pods aren't far behind. In a week or so, your okra should be ready to harvest.
Most people cut okra, and I've never understood that. I don't cut mine—I pick it. Unless the stems are tough, the pods snap off easily. I pick my okra when the pods are around 4 inches long. Large pods are usually too woody to eat.
Keep a close eye on your plants! You need to inspect them on a daily basis. The pods can go from perfect size to too big and tough overnight. As long as you pick every day or every other day and take good care of your plants, you'll be harvesting okra until frost kills the plants.
What to Do With Okra
You can cook your okra right away, or you can keep it in the fridge for a couple of days.
It's also super easy to freeze. Just rinse the pods and dry them well on paper towels. Remove the cap and slice the okra, crosswise, into 1/4-inch slices. Place the sliced okra in freezer bags, remove as much air as possible, and freeze. Another way to preserve your harvest is by pickling.
Okra is easy to grow, as long as you follow a few guidelines and have a warm, sunny growing space. You'll probably be surprised by just how much you can grow in containers. Be sure to experiment with a few varieties your first year, so you can find out which one performs best for you. I strongly suggest trying Clemson spineless as one of your varieties. It has certainly worked well for me!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Holle Abee
Jo Miller from Tennessee on August 26, 2021:
I grow okra every year in our small garden, but mine is not doing too well. It's one of my favorite summer vegetables. I love it mainly just cooked in skillet with tomatoes and onions--or in gumbo. Don't like it fried and that's the way I see it usually cooked around here.
Kalpana Iyer from India on August 15, 2021:
Helpful tips for growing Okra! Thanks for sharing.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 15, 2021:
I am going to plant more okra next spring. I ran out of space this year. I love growing okra. You are correct about checking it each day. If you miss seeing one that is the right size to pick, by the next day it is often too woody.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 15, 2021:
I grow a lot of vegetables, but never okra. I don't know if I've ever seen it. It's definitely not a staple here in the Pacific Northwest, so it was interesting to learn about it. Thanks for the info.