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Okra is related to the hibiscus, and as such it produces large ornamental flowers. The green pod-like fruits are very popular in the Southern United States, where they are enjoyed in soups and stews. Okra does not transplant well, so most gardeners grow their crops from seed. Popular seed varieties include Emerald, Clemson Spineless and Green Velvet.
Okra is easy to grow but the seeds have a hard coat that can slow germination. To speed up the process, soak the seeds overnight in warm water before planting. Wrapping the seeds in moist paper towels also works well.
Okras require full sun (at least 8 hours a day) and prefer soil that is loose, fertile and slightly alkaline. If the soil is more acidic, work some lime into the bed a few months before planting. Enrich the soil with compost, turning it into the bed with a rake. Finally, add a half cup of slow-release 5-10-10 fertilizer for every 20 square feet of garden space.
It is best to plant okra after daytime temps hit 85 degrees and nighttime temps reach the low 60s. Use a garden hoe to make 1"-deep furrows in the garden bed. Space the furrows 24" apart. Place the presoaked seeds into the furrows, spacing them 6" apart. Gently rake the soil over the seeds to cover them. After lightly firming the soil, water the seeds well. Place a garden marker to indicate the crops.
When the seedlings reach approximately 2" tall, thin the plants to one every foot. Apply a generous layer of mulch around the plants, but do not let the mulch come in contact with the stems. Okra grows very rapidly in hot weather, and the leafy plants do a great job of shading out competing weeds. Frequent watering is necessary during the germination and flowering stages, but after that okra can tolerate dry conditions. However, during extended dry periods, a deep soaking once every 10 days should be adequate.
In warm weather the immature fruit pods grow very rapidly, often reaching full size in just a couple days. When the pods reach about 2" to 3" long, remove them from the plant with pruning shears. Left too long on the plant and the fruit becomes woody and tough. The pods should be picked often to encourage continued production. The plants will grow and bear fruit right up until frost.
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