Growing okra in a container garden wasn’t even a vague consideration for me prior to the pandemic. I had never eaten okra, as far as I know. I didn’t know anything about growing it. I had no idea how to harvest or cook it. But Andy likes okra, so when we first bought tomato seedlings from a neighbor back in April of 2020, he also purchased a single okra plant. Thus, our adventures in growing okra in a container garden began.
Okra Likes Warm Temperatures
The first thing you need to decide when growing okra in a container garden is whether or not you have a suitable climate to sow the okra seeds outside. Because okra likes warm weather, you may have to start your okra seeds indoors until your temperatures are routinely above 65 degrees. And when your summer temperatures soar into the 90s, your plants will thrive. Thank goodness because we are still having heatwaves in Los Angeles, and it is the first week of October.
Okra Plants Need Ample Sunlight
For okra plants to flourish, they need between six and eight hours of sunlight per day. If you are growing the plants in pots, you’ll need to keep them in a window (preferably an open window or window with a screen so that the light isn’t partially blocked out by the glass). If you are growing the plants outside, add them to raised beds or other containers in your garden that have long sun exposure, even in the late fall.
Give Okra Plants Room
Our okra plants have gotten quite tall, but they are sturdy, even when heavy with vegetables. They can branch out, so make sure that if you are growing okra in a container garden and planting them in rows, the rows are at least two feet apart. Each seed planted within the row should be at least six inches from the next seed (or seedling).
Okra Survives Drought Conditions (So Far)
In Los Angeles, we are once again under drought conditions and water restrictions. Luckily, okra is a drought-resistant plant, so despite only being able to give it significant water two days per week, our plants seem to be thriving and producing vegetables. In fact, we are on our second round of vegetable growth right now following a brutal 10-day, 100+ degree heatwave. Obviously, it’s possible that the plants might have produced more under better conditions, but we have no complaints.
Companion Plant Okra with Beans or Peas
Okra is a heavy nitrogen feeder, so companion planting it near nitrogen fixers (like beans or peas) tends to bring balance to the soil in your raised bed or other container. We have ours near beans at the moment, as well as eggplant seedlings. The plants are also close to our flowering lavender, so when the okra plant flowers, it benefits from the pollinators already attracted to the lavender. Lavender is also beneficial in keeping away some pests.
When to Harvest Okra
Take a sharp knife or pruning shears to the stem just below the cap when the okra hits maturity. Okra is typically ready to clip when it is between two and four inches long. The veggie has some give (not squishy, but soft enough to have some give when gently squeezed). That’s actually a better indicator than size for me to judge when to harvest the plant. We returned from our road trip to find that some of our vegetables were huge and very firm. While they were gorgeous to look at, no amount of stewing softened the harvested veggies, and they were far too fibrous to enjoy eating. Lessons learned! I’m keeping a closer eye on the current crop, so they don’t stay on the plant too long.
Our Experience Growing Okra in a Container Garden
The good news is that we haven’t had any difficulty growing okra from seeds or getting them to bloom. As I mentioned above, I waited too long to harvest the first crop of okra, and they were unpalatable. Maybe if we had roasted them? No idea. We have slowly started harvesting the next crop, and those have been delicious.
I highly recommend growing more than one or two plants at a time if you love okra. Why? Because you want to be able to harvest enough to add to a dish or eat as a side, and one lone okra won’t do the trick.
Okra is often grown as an annual, but you can keep it going as a perennial if you live in a temperate climate. We are inclined to keep it as an annual because we tend to turn over the container garden for winter vegetables, but if it continues to produce into November, we might rethink that plan.
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