Okra: Edible and Ornamental
Plus garden to do’s for April & MayBy L.A. Jackson
Growing okra is a Carolina tradition, but why confine it to the veggie patch? Okra is a rather handsome plant in foliage and especially flower, as a member of the highly-ornamental Hibiscus family. Just the sight of its beautiful blooms should be a clue to the decorative possibilities of this vegetable in the landscape.
Some okra selections even have additional ornamental attributes. The short stature and tropical-looking leaves of 'Lee' (order seeds online from Park Seeds) and 'Cajun Jewel' (Southern Exposure Seed Exchange) make them candidates for being snuck creatively into perennial beds or flower borders.
And if you want to see red — in a good way, of course — grow an okra variety such as 'Burgundy' (Southern Exposure Seed Exchange), a flashy floozy with red stems and leaves streaked in crimson, matching the dark red of the flavorful pods. 'Red Velvet' (Burpee) closely compares to 'Burgundy'. Compact in size but just as pretty — and productive — is 'Little Lucy' (Reimer), a 2-foot okra sporting scarlet pods that are as pleasing to the eyes as they are to the taste buds.
Mixing okra with landscape plants does come with one caution — make sure that any pesticides sprayed on the plants are cleared for use on the edible pods.
Garden to do's
- Go wild. Introduce your garden to such pretty native wildflowers as turtlehead, ironweed, cardinal flower, climbing aster, coral honeysuckle, black-eyed Susan or Joe-pye weed.
- As long as the foliage of spring-blooming bulbs is green, leave it alone to allow the plants to absorb more energy for next year's flower show. When it begins to turn brown, you can unleash the weed eater or lawn mower.
- Don't over-apply nitrogen to plants such as blackberry, cotoneaster, pear, apple, quince, raspberry and pyracantha, as new growth that develops too quickly will be susceptible to fire blight.
- Cool-season vegetables that were seeded in the garden last month should now be thinned to their proper spacing requirements.
- Begin planting summer vegetables such as corn, cucumbers cantaloupes, tomatoes, pumpkins, snap beans, squash and watermelons after the threat of frost has passed.
- Remember to set aside an area for the little gardeners in your family. Show them how to prepare the soil and then help them grow such easy plants as sunflowers, zinnias, pole beans and pumpkins.
- Two secrets for a full-flowering clematis: (1) Make sure it gets at least five to six hours of sun a day; and (2) keep the roots cool with a 3- to 4-inch thick covering of organic mulch.
- It has finally warmed up enough to plant such summer beauties as gladiolus, dahlias, caladiums and cannas.
- Now is a good time to think of everlasting — well, at least everlasting flowers. The blooms of celosia, gomphrena, Chinese lantern, statice and strawflower are easily dried and hold up nicely in indoor arrangements.
- Want to cover a fence or trellis? Plant quick-growing annual climbers such as moonvine, cypress vine, morning glory, firecracker vine or purple hyacinth bean.
- By the middle to the end of this month, begin planting heat-loving okra, eggplant, lima beans and peppers.
- For the biggest watermelons, mulch heavily with compost, water often and thin each vine to three or four melons.