Never Prune Okra

Several months ago, I decided to try an experiment. I pruned back several okra plants by cutting a few inches off the top. The idea was to see if, as happens with some plants, pruning makes it more productive. In addition, the plants were getting pretty tall. I am 6’6″ tall, and I now have to bend some of the plants down in order for me to pick the pods off the top (remember that this is in a raised bed, so they aren’t as tall as it may seem).

The results? The trimmed plants have produced absolutely nothing from that point on. Let your okra grow as it will and keep it picked – don’t cut anything but the pods.

About Stephen Clay McGehee

Born-Again Christian, Grandfather, husband, business owner, Southerner, aspiring Southern Gentleman. Publisher of The Southern Agrarian blog. President/Owner of Adjutant Workshop, Inc., Vice President - Gather The Fragments Bible Mission, Inc. (Sierra Leone, West Africa), Quartermaster and Webmaster - Military Order of The Stars and Bars, Kentucky Colonel.
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24 Responses to Never Prune Okra

  1. I learned this one the hard way, too, although my garden is not a tenth as impressive as yours.

    Okra does not regenerate structures, but keeps expanding, so any damage or cuts will cause it to grow more in that area. This takes away from pod production, which is a shame if you truly love okra.

    The one thing I could get away with and recommend is that if a leaf appears to be dying, cut it off where it joins its stalk — not the main stalk, the stalk of the leaf itself — so that no energy is expended in keeping a mostly-dead leaf alive.

    Where we are, sunlight is abundant and so okra can even be grown in large pots. Add water and compost and it rockets up to six feet in just about no time. It also has really pretty flowers that tend to make neighbors stop in to see.

  2. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    I understand what you’re saying – keep the plant focused on producing pods rather than repairing a non-productive leaf. I do that regularly with tomatoes, but never thought to try it with okra. Thanks for the tip!

  3. eve says:

    I live in Greece, we have plenty of sunshine here and warm weather, perfect for okra planting, however my plants are producing very few pods just on the top parts. Some other plants are producing nothing at all. I harvest my pods ever other day. What seems to be the problem?

  4. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    Hello, Eve. It’s great to hear from you in Greece.

    It sounds like your okra plants are producing much like mine, although production has increased over the past few weeks. During the hottest part of the summer, they just didn’t produce a lot, but now that the weather is beginning to cool down a bit, they are producing quite a bit more. Okra forms pods only at the end of branches. The most dependable location is at the top of the main stalk, but other branches also produce okra pods, although not as regularly.

    In this photo, you can see the stubs where pods were previously cut, and the okra pod growing at the top. I harvested yesterday, and this will be ready to pick tomorrow morning. The okra plants are 7 feet tall at this point.

    Another shot of the okra. I had hoped the okra pods would be visible, but they aren’t. There are a fair number of them at the ends of the lower branches as well as on the very top.

    Where we are, the okra started to increase production again around the first of September. I haven’t paid enough attention to see how long it continues before it gets too cool to produce.

    By the way, I have some good friends currently in Thessaloniki working on this project – http://www.jameswknox.net/thess/ . Here is another site (this one in Greek and English) for the project – Το Σχέδιο για τη Θεσσαλονίκη

    My wife and son will be going to Thessaloniki for two weeks in April to work on this project.

  5. Anupam Tiwari says:

    Hi,

    I was looking to find out if we prune Okra plants or not. Your website and this thread helped. Thanks a lot.

    I live in India (Navi Mumbai) and have recently started gardening in my house. Okra plants have really grown quickly and some of them are reaching 4-5 feet. Now we are in Monsoon season and I’m wondering if I will get a good harvest.

    Thanks again for all your help.

    Regards,
    Anupam.

  6. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    Thanks for writing, Anupam. I’m glad to hear you found it helpful. This year is the first in a long time that I didn’t plant okra, and I’m regretting that decision. I wanted to let a section of the garden “rest” and I also solarized for nematodes, so that effectively took half of my raised bed garden out of production. I could have done it differently, but I suppose one year without okra isn’t going to be a disaster. If you think of it later, please stop by again and leave a comment about how the okra handled the monsoon season – that’s something we don’t face over here, and it would be very interesting to know. I have friends in West Africa where they have a rainy season, and that’s something they would like to hear about also.

  7. Anupam Tiwari says:

    Sure Stephen, I will let you know how my Okra did in Monsoon season :-).

    One more question: how long does Okra plant produce? What is its lifecycle like? When do we need to discard the ols plant and go for the new plant?

    On a related note, are you aware of any website that has such lifecycle details about other vegetable plants variety?

    Thanks,
    Anupam.

  8. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    I don’t know for sure, but I strongly suspect that the bigger question is what is the most productive way to grow it rather than how long it could last. For me, I would rather pull up the okra at the end of the summer and use that space to plant a Fall garden. Otherwise, I’ve got to protect the okra from the frost (okra is native to Africa, and definitely a hot weather plant), and then wait until the next summer since it only produces during the summer. Much better is to just save the seeds and then replant in the Spring so you’ve got nice productive plants for when the weather gets hot. That’s my thinking, anyway. I’d be interested in hearing other views from anyone on the topic.

    I am not aware of any web site that would have that information. Your best bet is just to go to a source that has detailed information about the plant you’re interested in.

  9. Anupam Tiwari says:

    Thanks Stephen and it makes sense. The weather where I stay in India (Navi Mumbai) doesn’t go through the frost cycle. So, I guess, I just need to get some experience on how it behaves here in the entire year’s cycle.

    Thanks,
    Anupam.

  10. Doug says:

    I have pondered whether to prune the side branches in order to produce at the top of the plant. The plant can only process as much nutrition as the roots are able to supply. I tried both and it seems that it is best to harvest from both top and side branches until the plant begins to show signs of diminished production, then, I prune the side OR top branches, allowing the remaining plant to produce pods. Okra is native to Egypt (of course, a part of the African continent) and is very well suited to hot climates where it’s hot weather survival traits have prepared it very well for southern U.S. weather, such as where I live, southern Louisiana. I have noticed that some varieties are more prone to producing tall plants while others produce pods very well on shorter plants with less spacing between joints. I believe that this is a kind of unexplored potential of okra since so much nutrient circulation is expelled in making the large, woody stalk on some varieties that could be used to produce less stalk and more fruit on shorter varieties.

  11. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    Excellent information, sir! Thank you for adding it to the collection. This looks like a prime candidate for some more precise experimentation – varieties, pruning methonds at different stages, etc. It may well be beyond the capability of my garden space available for something like this, but perhaps someone will take up the challenge.

  12. cording ranara says:

    i live here in the phil.and started planting okra in my back yard but my problem is there so much ants in my okra and egg plants,the leaves are starting to die..please help me..i used organic pertilizer

  13. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    Ants are a big problem with okra, and they can really mess things up. The best trick I’ve found to take care of ants in okra is to smear some petroleum jelly around the base of the plant. Apply a heavy band of it about an inch or so above the ground level so that dirt doesn’t spash up into it when it rains. The ants get stuck in the petroleum jelly and can’t get up to the flowers and the seed pods. You’ll need to check it once in a while and apply more as needed.

  14. Swami Nathan says:

    Hello!
    I am living in India ( Chennai ), southern part. It is summer here and very hot and whole day has sunshine. Okra plants are healthy , 2 feet long and leaves are large. Pods started appearing and flowers too. My problem is the pods do not grow longer than 1″ to 2″. If I leave them in the plant for more time ,then it becomes hard. Am I watering more ? OR do I have to compost or fertilizer ? Pls help
    Swami Nathan

  15. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    If the plants look healthy and green, then I’m wondering if perhaps it is the variety of okra you have planted. If you’re not sure, try getting some okra seeds of another variety or from another source. The variety that I have is called “Clemson Spineless.” The climate that you describe should be ideal for okra. Let us know what you find – perhaps others may have the same issue. Thank you for stopping by!

  16. Swami Nathan says:

    Hello Stephen,
    Good Day !
    Thanks for your reply. I will look in to the photo on the wrapper of these Okra seeds. next time I will try other seeds.
    Now I have another problem. Custer beans plants have grown very well. tall, Thick stem, flowers have appeared. waited for long time but no beans appeared. What is the problem ? Pls guide.
    Regards,
    Swami Nathan

  17. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    I’m afraid that I won’t be able to help with that one. I’ve never grown castor beans (I’m assuming that’s what you meant, since I couldn’t find anything about “Custer” beans). I’ve seen castor beans growing in the wild, but that was many years ago. Perhaps someone else here can help.

  18. Swami Nathan says:

    Dear Stephen,
    Sorry ! I made a spelling mistake. it is Cluster.
    The plant is ” CLUSTER BEANS”

    Regards,
    Swaminathan

  19. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    I had never heard of Cluster Beans until you brought it up. Interesting crop! I learned that 80% of the world’s production comes from India and Pakistan. In reading about them, it sounds like their growth pattern can vary a lot depending on how much water it gets. That’s the first place that I would look regarding a solution.

  20. Swami Nathan says:

    Dear Stephen,
    Good Day !
    I am bit surprised ,this is not grown in USA.
    This cluster beans ,is a very tasty one, slightly bitter.
    The plant is growing tall every day . there are flowers but no beans. can I clip the tip at top ?
    Regards,
    Swami nathan

  21. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    I really don’t know the answer to that one, but my “gut feel” is that you’re better off leaving it alone. Pruning should always be done for a specific reason, so unless you have a specific goal in mind – leave it alone.

  22. Swami Nathan says:

    Dear Stephen,
    A garden specialist here says that if the soil has too much Nitrogen, then it will make the plant, leaf,& stem to grow well. it will bloom also but , there will be no beans. A soil with sand and large amount of Cow manure will have very high nitrogen. I made my soil like this mixture.
    Is that correct ? What is your opinion ?
    Swaminathan

  23. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    I don’t know just how that relationship works, but remember that beans are a legume, which means that they fix Nitrogen in the soil. That is why they are sometimes use as a cover crop. I would think that adding more Nitrogen to a plant that already produces Nitrogen would not necessarily be a good thing. Perhaps someone else can add to this.

  24. Spike says:

    I grow a variety of beans and I found out that Nitrogen is used only when you plant the seeds. Since Beans produce Nitrogen in tiny pods on the roots that is used for food when the soil is really dry, added Nitrogen is not required. Blood Meal can be used after a long drought to enrich the soil again. I also learned that using Humic Acid is better for your plants that compost. It’s easier to use and not near as messy. Cow manure actually has too much Nitrogen in it for beans but is perfect for Okra. I use Humic acid (liquid compost) every three weeks on my Okra. Mix one ounce (two tablespoons) to one gallon of water and water the plants well. Hope this works for you.

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