Sow Okra Deep or Shallow? The Answer’s in the Blowing Wind

Okra can be grown in the garden or in containers if the containers are deep enough to accommodate okra’s tap root. If you are growing okra sprouts, however, you will harvest it almost as soon as the leaves sprout. In that case, you can use a shallow container. The depth for planting your okra seeds depends on the soil and where you are planting it.


Planting Okra Sprouts

When you grow okra sprouts, or any other type of sprout, you actually harvest the cotyledons. These are the first leaves that appear when plants sprout, but they are not actually true leaves. They are part of the seed, and they are contained within the seed, like the tiny plants you see when you split apart the two halves of a roasted peanut.

The cotyledons are there to capture the sunlight needed for the photosynthesis that produces food for the beginning stages of root development and the growth of the true leaves.

When you are planting okra sprouts, either nick the hard coating surrounding each seed with a file or soak the seeds for 12 to 18 hours before planting. This helps the seeds to sprout.

Choose a shallow container and fill it with a potting soil that’s blended for vegetables or herbs and vegetables, and then pack your okra seeds close together in the container at a depth of 1/2 inch. When the sprouts emerge they will form a thick, green, leafy carpet.

Water your seeds, and keep the soil moist but not soggy. Place the container in a warm sunny room or under a grow light or a cool white fluorescent light.

When the cotyledons appear, pull your sprouts out of the potting soil, roots and all, wash them off, and they are ready to eat. You can replant more seeds immediately.

Planting Okra in Containers

While it’s best to sow your okra directly in your garden, if you do decide to start okra indoors for transplanting as seedlings, nick or soak your seeds and sow them in peat moss starter pots. When the seedlings are ready for transplanting, either remove the pot leaving the soil intact or carefully slit the sides and bottom before transplanting to avoid damaging or disturbing the roots.

For container gardening, nick or soak your seeds and plant your okra in individual containers that are at least 10 inches in diameter or in containers that allow 18 to 24 inches between plants. To allow room for the taproots, the containers should be at least 12 to 14 inches deep.

Sow the seeds 1/2 inch deep, and, if you plan to grow multiple plants in a container, space the seeds 3 inches apart. When the plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin them so that the strongest plants are 18 to 24 inches apart.

Okra produces such an abundance of pods that you should need only four to five plants unless you are planning on extensive canning, freezing, and pickling.

Dwarf varieties that grow well in containers include:

  • Baby Bubba
  • Cajun Jewel

Sowing Okra Seeds Directly in Your Garden

Before sowing your okra, work a 2 to 3 inch layer of aged manure or rich compost into the soil to a depth of 14 inches. Remember to soak or nick the seeds.

Some varieties of okra that grow well in most areas include:

  • Annie Oakley II
  • Cajun Delight
  • Clemson Spineless

All three are spineless varieties.

How deep you sow okra in your garden depends on the type of soil you have. If your soil is the type that okra prefers — light, loamy or sandy soil — you can sow your seeds from 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep. However, if you have heavier clay soil, you may want to plant your okra 1 to 2 inches deep under certain conditions.

Because of the fragile tap root, it may seem counterintuitive to plant okra deeper in heavy clay soils that tightly compacts. In fact, soil compaction and how hard the soil is when it dries out are two issues to consider when deciding how deep to plant your okra. If those are the main concerns, both conditions interfere with the growth of the roots and the seedlings, so seeds should be sown at the more shallow depth of 1/2 inch.

However, okra is a tall plant. If you live in an area with consistent winds that dry out hard clay soil, your okra plants may have a more shallow root system. Okra’s height combined with shallow roots and a windy area can add up to issues with stability.

To counter problems with stability, till the soil to a depth of at least 10 inches at the end of each growing season, work in your compost or manure to a depth of 14 inches before planting your okra, plant your okra seeds 1 to 2 inches deep, plant radishes in between your okra, and stake your okra with 72 or 96 inch wood or metal tree stakes. Radish roots, especially the long, tapered varieties, will help break up the clay soil, and that will help your okra to grow deeper root systems.