Q. How often should okra be harvested and how can you tell when it is ready?

A. Okra requires frequent harvesting. For peak quality, it must be harvested before the pods become tough. Okra matures rapidly, especially in hot weather. Approximately 4 days are required from flowering to harvest maturity. Okra should be harvested every other day. Pod size will vary with variety, but length will generally be 4 to 6 inches. Test larger pods by cutting through them with a sharp knife. If it is difficult to cut through them, they are tough and unsuitable for serving. Remove old pods from the plant or it will stop producing.

Q. Can okra plants be pruned during late summer or early fall for additional production until the first killing frost?

A. Yes, but it might be best to simply make a mid-summer planting instead of pruning off spring-seeded plants. When pruned, the plants will develop a bush rather than a single stalk which usually makes harvesting difficult. Pruning should be done 80 to 100 days before the first anticipated fall frost is anticipated allowing the plants time to produce additional pods.

Q. Can seed from this year's okra crop be saved for next year's planting?

A. Yes. Okra is a self-pollinated crop and seed can be saved from one year's garden for the next. Toward the end of the season allow some of the pods to remain on the plant and harvest them when they become fully mature and almost dry. If you allow okra pods to remain on the plant and fully mature, subsequent production is greatly curtailed.

Q. Is there anything special about the red podded varieties of okra?

A. No. This is a selection or variety which produces red- colored okra. When cooked, the red color disappears and the pods take on the normal green appearance.

Q. Small drops of liquid are oozing from various areas of the leaves and stems of my okra plants. What causes this?

A. You are describing natural secretions from the okra plant through glands on the leaves and stems. This is a natural process of the plant and causes no damage.

Q. What causes my garden okra to fail to grow properly when planted in the early spring?

A. Maybe it was planted too early. Okra should be planted 3 to 4 weeks after the last spring frost to produce an abundant supply of fresh garden okra. If planted before soil temperatures warm up and before night temperatures average above 50 degrees F., okra fails to grow properly. Okra is a close relative of cotton and should be planted about the same time cotton is planted.

Q. I transplanted some okra I purchased at a local nursery. It is stunted and not growing. What should I do?

A. Please, don't waste your garden dollars! Always plant crops such as beans, beets, cantaloupe, carrots, chard, collards, corn, cucumbers, kale, mustard, okra, peas, radishes, squash, turnips and watermelons from seed. These plants are difficult to transplant and transplanting offers no advantage over seeding directly in the garden.

Q. Are there any foliage diseases that affect okra in the garden?

A. Several foliage problems occur on okra. One commonly observed is Ascochyta, a disease normally found on cotton, a close relative to okra. Losses from this disease are minimal and do not warrant a control program.

Q. My okra did not grow properly last year. When I removed it at the end of the season, the roots were damaged by galls and swellings.

A. The damage was a result of root knot nematodes. Root knot is a species of nematode which causes galls or swellings on plant roots. It restricts the uptake of nutrients from the root system to the foliage, resulting in a yellow and stunted plant. Root knot lives in the soil and can survive on a number of weed and vegetable crops. It is best controlled by planting a solid stand (close enough for root systems to overlap) of marigolds three months before the first killing frost of fall and/or planting cereal rye (Elbon) for a winter cover crop. Cereal rye should be shred and tilled into the soil 30 days before planting a spring crop.

Q. What causes okra pods to be crooked and bent rather than straight?

A. This could be caused by insects feeding on the pods. Certain sucking insects, such as stinkbugs and leaf-footed bugs, inject chemicals into the pods causing the pods to stop or slow down growth in that area. The other side, which is growing normally, results in a curved or bent pod. The pods can still be eaten. No control is necessary unless the bugs are still feeding on the plants.

Q. I have long funny-looking insects running around my okra stalks. Do they hurt the plant?

A. These insects are sharpshooters. They suck juice from the plants causing buds to shed. Control with Sevin. Use as directed on the label.

Q. I have ants all over my okra. Do they hurt the plants?

A. It was once thought that ants did not hurt okra production and were mainly visiting okra plants to get honey-dew produced by sharpshooters, aphids or other sucking insects. However, that was before the imported fireant. Fireants feed on the base of developing blooms before the bloom buds open causing them to abort. This will cause okra to stop producing. Locate fireant mounds and kill the mounds or use baits around the outside of the garden area to kill the inconspicuous mounds.

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