Okra, or Hibiscus esculentus, is often referred to as gumbo and is part of the Malvaceae family, which also includes hollyhock, cotton, rose of Sharon and hibiscus plants. This warm-season, tall, annual vegetable grows in a variety of soils. The undeveloped pods of the plants are harvested and used in many recipes.
When and Where
Wait 10 to 14 days after the last chance of frost passes in your area to plant okra seeds outside in the garden. The soil temperatures should be at least 62 degrees Fahrenheit, since okra needs more than 55 frost-free days where daytime temperatures remain above 85 degrees to develop fully. Find a location with full sun and well-drained soil. Enrich the planting area with 3 or more inches of compost mixed to a depth of 6 inches.
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Planting Okra Seeds Outdoors
Soak the okra seeds overnight or for several hours prior to planting to speed up germination. Plant the seeds 1 inch deep every 4 to 6 inches in a row. Space the rows 3 to 4 feet apart. Water the soil carefully to avoid displacing the seeds. Keep the area moist, but not soggy until seedlings emerge in a week or more. Thin the seedlings to one plant every 18 inches when okra seedlings reach 3 inches tall.
Planting Seeds Indoors
You can start okra seeds indoors six to eight weeks ahead of the expected outdoor planting date. This will allow you to transplant okra plants that are already several inches tall. Use pots made out of peat for planting seeds indoors because Okra seedlings do not transplant well. Fill the pots with good-quality soil and plant two seeds in each pot at a depth of 1 inch. Keep the pots in a bright location and water as needed to maintain moist soil.
Transplants and Care
Thin the seedlings to one per pot when okra plants are two inches tall. Dig holes in your garden that are deep enough to bury the entire peat pot holding the okra transplants. Space the okra plants 18 inches apart in rows. Saturate the transplants with water to settle the plants in place, and add more soil if the tops of the pots are exposed. Supply 1 inch of water weekly to the okra plants in the absence of rain until harvest time.