Okra: growing the trendy vegetable in your own garden


Having studied organic farming, I enjoy trying out new cultivation methods and other gardening experiments with friends in our community garden. I care deeply about exploring sustainable and mindful approaches to working with nature. This is my biggest passion, but I am also a real ornamental plant enthusiast!

Favourite fruit: strawberry, mango, guava
Favourite vegetables: artichoke, tomato, rocket

These healthy green pods are very trendy right now. Here is what to consider when buying, growing, and caring for okra.

Okra plant
We tell you everything you need to know about growing okra – the new superfood [Photo: Saksri Kongkla/ Shutterstock.com]

Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) likes it as warm and sunny as possible. Is it then impossible to grow these tropical vegetables in our gardens? With enough expertise and the right approach, okra can actually grow in your garden. You’ll learn everything you need to know about this in our article. Here, we tell you where okra comes from, what varieties there are and how to grow, care for and harvest it.

Okra belongs to the bisameibia (Abelmoschus) genus and is from the mallow family (Malvaceae). Incidentally, hibiscus (Hibiscus) also belongs to the same family, which explains the beautiful flowers of the okra plant. This delicious pod is known by many different names around the world. In Asia, it is called ‘Lady Fingers’ or ‘Bhindi’ because of its shape, but it is also known as ‘Quiabo’ in Brazil, ‘Quimbombó’ in Cuba and ‘Bamya’ in the Mediterranean. Other names for okra include gombo bean or okolo, Egyptian bean, gambo, gombo, Greek horn, green beak or hibiscus fruit.

This pod with numerous names is valued as an important vegetable and used in many ways in local cuisine, especially in Africa and Asia. For example, it is used in spicy curries, soups or chutneys. Oil can be obtained from the seeds of the okra – they are even roasted and ground as a coffee substitute. With us, okra is still an insider tip. This may also be due to the fact that climatic conditions in this country are not optimal for the tropical vegetable. If it is not warm and sunny enough, the cultivation of okra will not be successful. It is considered even more difficult to grow in our latitudes than, for example, peppers (Capsicum) or aubergine (Solanum melongena). In terms of taste, the pods of okra are similar to green beans and are not only delicious, but also low in calories and good for digestion. In traditional medicine, they are even used to treat stomach irritation.

Okra: origin and characteristics

Okra is one of the oldest crops on earth – it is said to have been cultivated 4000 years ago. Originally, the vegetable comes from the highlands of Ethiopia. From there, it spread rapidly across the entire African continent and continued on to southern Europe. Okra then found its way to North and South America through the slave trade. Today it is cultivated in all tropical areas of the world, the main cultivation areas being Nigeria, India and Pakistan.

Yellow flower of the okra
A close relative of the hibiscus, the okra flowers particularly beautifully [Photo: chanus/ Shutterstock.com]

Okra is an annual plant and can grow up to two metres in height under optimal conditions. The stems of the plant are light green to reddish and covered with hairs. Large leaves on long stalks grow at the nodes of the stems. From July, pretty flowers in white to light yellow or even purple appear on the leaf axils. These quickly develop into 10 to 20cm-long tapering ones. Pods covered with fluff. The fruit can be light green, dark green, yellow or even red, depending on variety. Small, white seeds form in the cross-section of the five- to six-sided pods.

Okra varieties

As varied as the names are for okra, as is the range of varieties that are available. The variety dectermines the shape of the fruit and the colour of the pods. Below, we have compiled a selection of different varieties for you.

Varieties with green shells:

  • ‘Sunshine love’: The pods of this variety are rich green
  • ‘Alabama Okra’: The special feature of this variety is its bicolour fruits: they are both green and red
  • ‘Cajun Delight’: This variety gives you green pods, as well as beautiful white flowers
  • ‘Cow horn’: Like cow horns, the fruits of this variety are particularly long
  • ‘Eagle Pass’: This variety bears short, thick pods as well as yellow flowers
  • ‘Clemson Spineless’: This variety is high yielding and without spines
  • ‘Emerald’: No spines are borne by this variety, which produces roundish pods
  • ‘Lee’: The pods of this variety are small and tasty

Okra varieties with red skin:

  • ‘Red Velvet’: The fruits of this variety bear a beautiful bright red colour
  • ‘Bowling Red’: This variety bears light to dark red pods
  • ‘Red Burgundy’: The fruits of this variety are particularly intensely coloured; they shine in a rich dark red to purple colour
Red okra
The okra varieties with red colour are particularly beautiful [Photo: David Kay/ Shutterstock.com]

Varieties with yellowish and white shells:

  • ‘Five Creek Cowhorn’: This variety bears light green to yellow long pods
  • ‘Burmese’: The light green to yellow pods of this variety are as beautiful as its white flowers with purple centres
  • ‘Edna Slaton’s Candelabra’: The fruits of this variety are particularly long, but they are also rather thin
  • ‘White Velvet’: The pods of this variety are white

Growing okra

In its tropical homeland, okra only knows sunny and hot conditions. And that is what it would like in our gardens. In the following, we present which locations okra feels most comfortable in and how the plant can be sown and finally planted out.

The right location

Okra is best grown in a greenhouse. Only in sun-drenched vineyards would you dare to grow it outside in the garden. The tropical fruit wants at least six hours of sun a day, otherwise it will bear little to no pods. The soil should be loose and permeable. Besides, okra is always hungry, it needs a lot of nutrients. The optimal pH for the cultivation of okra is between 6.5 and 7.0.

Garden greenhouse with flowers
Growing okra in a greenhouse is ideal [Photo: sirtravelalot/ Shutterstock.com]

What is the right location and soil type for okra?

  • As warm as possible
  • Sunny
  • Ideally, in a greenhouse
  • Loose, permeable soil
  • Nutrient-rich soil
  • Ideal pH value: 6.5 to 7.0

Sowing okra seeds

To give okra a head start in the garden, we recommend that you grow plants from seed as early as spring. You can start doing this from the beginning of April. To do this, prepare pots with a suitable growing medium – for example, with our peat-free Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost. The seeds should be soaked in lukewarm water for 24 hours before sowing – this accelerates germination. The seeds then need to be placed 1cm deep in pots, covered with substrate and moistened. The seedlings will now feel most comfortable in a homemade mini greenhouse. You can place the seed trays in a spot on the windowsill at temperatures between 22 and 25 °C, but never below 21 °C. Now the seeds should germinate within ten days. A week after emergence, the seedlings should be separated and the weakest little plants discarded.

Organic Herb & Seedling Compost, 20L
Organic Herb & Seedling Compost, 20L
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  • Perfect for herbs as well as sowing, propagating & transplanting
  • For aromatic herbs & healthy seedlings with strong roots
  • Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition

Step-by-step instructions:

  1. Soak seeds in water for 24 hours
  2. Prepare pots with growing medium
  3. Plant seeds about 1cm deep
  4. Cover with soil
  5. Water
  6. Place in mini greenhouse
  7. Ideal germination temperature: 22 – 25 °C
  8. Germination period: 10 days
  9. Separate one week after emergence
Okra plant seedling
The best way to grow okra is to grow the young plants in advance [Photo: Wasitt Hemwarapornchai/ Shutterstock.com]

Planting okra

Then, in mid-May, the time has come: the seedlings can be planted outdoors. First prepare the bed well by loosening the soil and removing any weeds or stones. To meet the high nutrient requirements of okra, enrich the soil with compost or a fertiliser with slow-release effect. Our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food with long-term effect is suitable for this purpose and sufficiently provides the okra with the right nutrients. Now prepare planting holes with a planting distance of 30cm and a row spacing of 90cm. Then very carefully remove the seedlings from the seedling pots. Here, it is especially important not to damage the delicate roots of the plants. The plantlets should then be placed in the ground only as deep as they were in the pot. Finally, water everything well.

How is okra planted outside?

  • Loosen the bed and remove weeds
  • Then enrich the soil with compost or a slow-release fertiliser
  • Prepare planting holes with the distance 30cm x 90cm
  • Very carefully remove seedlings from the seedling pots
  • Insert plantlets only as deep as they were in the pot
  • Water

Tip: good vegetable bed companions for okra are peas (Pisum sativum) or turnips (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa var. majalis). Nightshade crops such as potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) or tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) are less suitable.

Proper plant care

Growing okra is not for those who lack a green thumb, because the plant also makes certain demands on its care. In the next section, you will learn what to look out for when fertilising and watering okra.

Okra plant flower and fruit
For a bountiful harvest, your okras need extensive care [Photo: Monthira/ Shutterstock.com]

Watering okra

These delicious, healthy pods need a lot of water so that they can grow and flourish. Okra will not survive drought, but you really cannot give it too much water either. Therefore, water your okra regularly, even daily on hot days. The best time for this is in the early morning.


To be able to form beautiful, large and especially many pods, okra needs sufficient nutrients. Therefore, fertilise it throughout the summer. Three fertilisations over the summer should prove effective: the first before planting, the second after flowering and the third after the first pods have been harvested. For this purpose, the best option is a fertiliser with a slow-release effect or compost. Our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food releases valuable plant nutrients gradually and is thus particularly gentle on the plant and the environment. In addition, the fertiliser stimulates soil life, which is important for a healthy garden.

All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
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  • Perfect for a variety of plants in the garden & on the balcony
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  • Long-lasting fertiliser that is free from animal products - child & pet friendly

Propagating okra

Okra can be propagated well by seed. Those who wish to harvest okra pods for seeds should wait a little longer than they would if they were harvesting the pods for consumption, so that the okra seed pod becomes as large as possible. To harvest the seeds, the seed pods must dry on the vine and begin to crack or split open on their own. Now you can harvest the pods. At this time, the seeds have already detached themselves from the seed pod and are also not covered with flesh. So you do not need to wash them. Dry the seeds in the open air for a few days. The seeds can then be kept in a cool, dark and dry place until the next gardening season.

How to propagate okra:

  • Allow the pods to mature and dry on the plant
  • Then harvest when the pods open by themselves
  • Remove the seeds from the pods
  • Leave to air dry
  • Store in a cool and dry place

Harvesting and storing okra

About two months after planting okra, it is time for the first harvest. Use a sharp knife or pruning shears for this purpose. The pods should be between 8 to 10cm long for harvesting. The stem should be cut just above the pod. If the okra is harvested in this way, new pods can continue to form throughout the summer.

Harvested okra in a basket
Two months after planting, the first pods can be harvested [Photo: Fit Ztudio/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: it is best to wear gloves during harvesting to avoid getting injured by the prickly hairs on the stems and leaves.

Okra does not like to be cold even after harvesting, so it is best to use it as soon as possible and not store them in the refrigerator. Fresh okra pods only keep fresh for a few days in the pantry. One way to preserve the delicious vegetables is to freeze them. This does not harm the pods, in fact, they keep up to a year. Or, you can put your okra in brine, which will preserve the flavour and texture of the vegetable for a long time.

Harvesting and storing okra:

  • First harvest 2 months after planting
  • Harvest pods from 8 – 10cm in length
  • Cut stalk just above the pod
  • Harvest throughout summer
  • Do not store pods in refrigerator
  • Consume fresh pods within a few days
  • Preserve by freezing or pickling

Uses and nutrients

This exotic vegetable is valued in the kitchen, mainly for its great ingredients. 100g of fresh okra contains just 19 calories and only 0.2 grams of fat. But the pods contain plenty of vitamin C, beta-carotene and vitamins K, E, B1 and B2. Okra also provides minerals and trace elements. In addition to calcium, potassium and magnesium, it also contains iron, zinc and folic acid. Thanks to its richness in dietary fibre and mucilage, okra is extremely beneficial for aiding digestion and intestinal flora.

Bowl of okra curry
The okra pod looks particularly good in various dishes, such as curries [Photo: vm2002/ Shutterstock.com]

Although okra pods can be eaten raw, they are most often cooked or boiled. But do not be surprised: okra secretes a slimy substance when cooked. This has the same effect as food starch, it is good for thickening all kinds of food. However, if you do not want this substance to escape, you can boil the pods in vinegar water for a few minutes and then rinse with cold water. Another option is to soak the pods in lemon water for a few hours before use.

For use in cooking, cut off the stem and dry end of the pod. Now the delicious vegetables can be processed and used in many ways. The healthy pods taste good in soups, stews, curries or noodle dishes. A popular Turkish appetiser is okra pods that are deep fried and seasoned with onions and garlic. Another delicious way to prepare it is as a stew, along with tomatoes, garlic and chili. A well-known African stew is gumbo with seafood, poultry, smoked sausages or other meats, with celery, onions, peppers and, of course, okra pods.

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