If you want to grow okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) but don't have the garden space, a 5-gallon bucket can provide the perfect alternative. The plants thrive during frost-free summer weather when temperatures are above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Okra produces yellow flowers that develop into the tender edible pods when harvest time approaches. Container-grown plants require proper planting and care to ensure best health and production.
1. Bucket Preparation
A standard 3- or 5-gallon bucket provides enough room for a single okra plant. The container must drain well, so it's necessary to drill three or four 1/2-inch diameter holes in the bottom of the bucket to provide adequate drainage. If you reuse a bucket, rinse it in a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water to disinfect it. Don't use buckets that held chemicals, because these may damage the okra plant or release toxins into the soil.
2. Soil and Site
Soilless, sterile potting mixtures provide optimum drainage. You can create your own potting soil mixture by combining equal parts peat and vermiculite with 1/2-cup ground limestone. The addition of 1/4 cup 5-10-5 fertilizer supplies sufficient nutrients for initial growth. Okra requires all-day direct sunlight, so place the bucket in an area that receives as much direct sun as possible. Water the soil until the excess moisture drips out the bottom of the bucket before you plant.
Okra plants can't tolerate root disturbance. Sow a seed 1 inch deep in the bucket after soaking the seed in warm water to speed germination the night before. Planting the bucket indoors up to four weeks before the last frost date, then moving it outside after frost danger has passed, gives you a head start on the growing season. If you do use seedlings, grow them in a plantable peat pot so you can plant the entire pot in the bucket, which minimizes root disturbance. Plant seedlings so the pot rim is 1/2 inch beneath the soil.
4. Basic Care
The soil in a bucket dries out quickly. Feel the soil daily and water the okra when the top 1 inch begins to dry out. Okra is sensitive to over-fertilization and usually won't require additional applications when it's grown in a container. The plants also suffer few diseases when grown in sterile potting soil. Aphids and other sucking insects may bother the plants, but you can usually rinse these off the foliage with a sharp spray of water. Harvest the okra pods as soon as they reach their mature 4- to 6-inch length. The okra produces more flowers and pods if you harvest often. Okra plants have spines, so position the bucket away from your children's play areas and wear gloves when you pick the pods.