Okra is a gorgeous heat-loving plant that belongs to the mallow family. This edible vegetable is as pretty to look at as it is to eat, with a sweet, natural flavor that intensifies as you cook it. Mixed into dishes like gumbo and barbecue roasted vegetable medleys will make your mouth water! This blog discusses the basics of caring for your okra in Southern Florida, from seedlings to harvest.
Growing Okra in Southern Florida
In Fort Lauderdale, okra thrives because it loves the sun and heat! While it’s grown all over Florida during the summer, only Southern Floridians can grow it in the spring and autumn.
To grow okra successfully in your backyard this summer, give it full sun and lots of water to keep the soil moist, particularly during dry spells. You can start okra seeds in Florida as early as January or as late as September, but most gardeners plant from March through May. Following a vegetable planting calendar tailored specifically to Southern Florida helps you plant your veggies at the right time so that they have the perfect conditions to grow big and delicious.
How to Plant Okra
Try soaking your okra seedlings in tepid water the night before they make their way into the ground! You can speed up germination by soaking your seeds before sowing, which encourages your seeds to germinate evenly. Plants in rows should be three to four feet apart to give them enough room to grow, or you can plant them in a pot about 12 inches wide.
Okra prefers moist, well-draining soil with an optimum pH level of 6.5, never falling below 6. Avoid wet, poorly drained options but ensure it can retain enough water to keep your growing okra hydrated. Your okra will also appreciate a compost-rich organic mixture, which you can combine well into the soil before planting your veggies in the ground; this will ensure your soil has enough nutrients to produce a robust yield of okra.
Insects, nematodes, weeds, and mites are all pests to watch out for when growing okra in your home garden. In Southern Florida, caterpillars, aphids, thrips, whiteflies, and stink bugs are all fond of okra. We recommend spraying your plant with organic pesticides such as neem oil, insecticidal soaps, homemade soap and water mixtures, and essential oils to deal with these pests and protect your crops.
Harvesting your okra is the best part of this whole process because you get to eat it and finally enjoy the fruits of your labor! You can expect to harvest your okra about two months after you plant it. You’ll know your okra is ready for harvest when it’s about two to three inches long with a beautiful vibrant green color, around five days after the plant flowers.
We recommend picking your okra and eating it while it’s still relatively small; if you leave them too long, the pods get hard and woody. If you have an excess of okra, store the pods in plastic bags in your refrigerator where they will last about a week, or freeze them if you don’t intend to use them all. You can harvest this fast-growing veggie regularly, which is a bonus for your kitchen pantry to save you trips from the grocery store!
Cooking with Okra
Okra is delicious, and you can include it in various recipes, from okra pickles soaked in vinegar to delicious soups and stews for a rainy day. One of our favorite summer dishes is shrimp sautéed with the okra from your garden. It’s equally as delicious just by itself, especially mixed with a few garden herbs like fennel, lemon thyme, and bay leaves.
For more information on growing okra in your Southern Florida garden, visit us at Living Color Garden Center in Fort Lauderdale today!