How to Transplant Okra
Okra plants, being as unique as they are, have a tendency to be extremely picky about being transplanted. Their root system is comprised of a main tap root with branching lateral roots, similar to a carrot, and damaging/depriving these roots even the slightest bit can set the plants back by several weeks. In temperate climates like the one I’m in where okra is forced to be an annual plant in a very short growing season, this is a big issue.
In past years, we were forced to directly sow okra seeds into the ground in order to avoid damaging the plants, but this year we actually went ahead and tried to transplant some early okra starts, which were very successful! The trick was to have very early starts in large enough seedling pots that could be set into the ground completely without disturbing any part of the plants.
Choosing Seedling Pots for Starting Okra
The okra plants need to be fairly big in order to transplant them safely, at least about 4 to 6 inches tall. This means that their roots will be big as well, so pots with a depth of 4 to 6 inches should be big enough to ensure that the plants won’t be stressed from being root-bound come transplanting time. Biodegradable peat pots would be great, but I have never been able to find any that I felt were big enough or deep enough for okra babies. We planted our okra starts in 4-inch deep coffee can containers and found them to be barely just big enough for the plants, though they were on the verge of becoming root-bound by the time we transplanted them. If possible, choose deeper containers or pots that have detachable bottoms so that you can slide the whole plant, dirt and all, out of the pot without having to dig in from the top and potentially damage the roots. You can remove both the top and bottom from a coffee can or an oatmeal cylinder container, then pop the plastic lid onto the base, leaving the top open for the plant.
If you’re in a temperate climate, you’re going to have to wait until soil temps become 70 degrees F (21 degrees C) or higher to even plant the okra in the first place, which is rather late in the planting season. Make sure to plant your okra seeds in the seedling pots ASAP so that they can be mature plants by the time the short, hot harvest period comes and not when the cold snaps arrive.
If you’re in a hot climate, you don’t need to worry about the timing of your planting as much as people in temperate climates, but do keep in mind that okra needs two months on average to become a mature plant and start producing its seed pods. You also need to decide whether you’re going to keep it as a perennial or have it as an annual plant, mainly to decide where you’ll transplant your okra to.
When and How to Transplant Okra
Okra seedlings should be at least 4 to 6 inches tall before thinking about transplanting them, as they are extremely fragile before this point. Their root systems will be the most developed they can be without the plant being too cumbersomely big to handle. Transplanting should happen roughly 10 to 20 days after germination, depending on which variety of okra you’re growing and how fast it’s growing due to the climate. Once you’re ready to transplant:
- Prepare the place you’re going to transplant your okra. This means weeding, fertilizing, and watering before planting as needed. This place should be in an area with good water drainage and full sun, as much sun as possible.
- Dig holes at least 4 to 6 inches deep, 18 to 24 inches apart. Make sure the holes are equal in width to the width of your seedling pots.
- Carefully take the okra seedlings, dirt and all, out of the pots and place them in the holes. If you have removable bottoms, they should slide right out and into the holes with minimal handling; if not, be extra careful that you don’t break off roots or stress the plants too much.
- Fill in the remaining gaps in the holes and lightly press the soil down around the plants. The dirt should be level around the plants, not mounded or sunken in.
- Lightly water in the plants if necessary.
Watch the plants carefully for signs of transplant shock or stress. If all goes well, they shouldn’t be affected by the transplant in the slightest, since ideally all of the dirt they had in the seedling pots should still be with them.
Transplanting okra is a little tricky due to its tap root and hot climate preferences, but it’s entirely doable with enough care. Mainly it’s just planning ahead of time and being smart about it. I highly recommend having pots or containers with detachable bottoms for transplanting, it makes the process so much easier. In colder growing zones, giving the okra a head start in seedling pots is extremely valuable, since the hot growing season required for okra to produce its seed pods is so short and the plants can’t tolerate anything under 65 degrees F (18 degrees C). It’s also beneficial for those in hotter climates, as you’ll get your harvest sooner in the year and potentially for a longer period of time. Either way, you’ll get a lot more okra by starting it earlier than direct sowing and then transplanting it later.
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