Traditionally a favorite in the South, okra is growing more popular in home gardens everywhere. It's easy to learn why. Okra is a nutritious vegetable that's easy to grow and ornamental—what's not to love?
While okra is often associated with gumbo because of its thick, viscous texture, there are a variety of other ways to enjoy it, too. Harvest fresh okra from the garden and enjoy it breaded and fried, baked, grilled, or pickled.
And if you don't eat it, you can still enjoy its textural hand-shape foliage and attractive yellow flowers that appear all summer long.
Okra is a relatively large (as much as 6 feet tall, depending on the variety and growing conditions) warm-season vegetable that's ideal for growing in the back of the garden mixed in with other summer flowers and veggies, or featured by itself or combined with other veggies in container gardens.
Okra is related to hibiscus and has similar-shape flowers. Be sure to plant it where you can enjoy the beauty of its golden-yellow blossoms. Though each flower only lasts a day, there's a profusion of flowers throughout the summer.
Make the most of your space by planting lettuce early in spring, then once summer heat arrives and the lettuce fades, plant okra in its place. Plant okra with eggplant, another summer vegetable that's surprisingly ornamental. It pairs beautifully with okra as its purple flowers and fruits contrast with okra's yellow blooms. Or, play off okra's tropical look with the flamboyant edible flowers of nasturtium.
Okra is an annual vegetable that loves summer heat. Whether you grow it from seed or buy transplants, you'll find it does best if you wait to plant it outdoors until night temperatures reliably stay above 55°F.
Site okra in a spot that sees full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours of direct light is best) and has rich, well-drained soil. If your garden has a lot of sand or clay, amending liberally with compost will help keep your okra plants looking their best and staying productive through the season. If you have nutrient-poor soil, fertilize regularly with a water-soluble fertilizer or add a time-release product into the planting holes when you plant okra in your garden.
After planting, spread a 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of mulch (such as pine needles, shredded bark, or straw) over the soil around the plants to help keep the ground moist and prevent weeds from sprouting. Unlike most vegetables, okra has a tap root, and this helps it survive drought conditions well. However, regularly watering your okra will help ensure steady harvests all summer and into the fall.
While most okra varieties have green pods, there are a few varieties that have edible and delicious seed pods in a range of other colors, including burgundy and red.
More Varieties of Okra
'Annie Oakley II' okra
Abelmoschus esculentus 'Annie Oakley II' is a good variety for the north because of its short growing season. Plants grow 3-4 feet tall and produce spineless green pods. 48 days
This variety offers deep red stems and pods. The pods turn deep purple when cooked. The plant grows 7 feet tall. 60 days
'Clemson Spineless' okra
Abelmoschus esculentus 'Clemson Spineless' is a classic green variety that produces pods up to 9 inches long before they become tough. Spineless plants grow to 5 feet tall. 56 days
'Little Lucy' okra
This variety has the same coloration as 'Burgundy' but grows only 2 feet tall and produces 4-inch-long pods. 55 days