GARDEN TIP: Beating the Okra

Post last updated: July 2nd, 2019

Mr. Harden, the mason bee consultant, asked me if I beat my okra. I raised an eyebrow at such an outrageous suggestion but I wasn’t about to admit to a stranger that okra never makes it past my front teeth. What if he was moonlighting as the Deep South Veggie Police? The last thing on my agenda was being expelled to the frozen north for conduct unbecoming a southerner.

Not wanting to eat okra was only part of my story. The other part included all the wild tales I’d heard about getting out there in the garden every day to pick your okra because, left unpicked, it could grow to the size of a banana within hours.

Banana-sized okra

I pressed my lips together and just looked at him. Confident that he was about to divulge a deep dark secret to the uninitiated, Mr. Harden pressed on. “An old farmer from South Georgia told me about it. When my okra stopped blooming, I got out there with a stick and beat it to shreds.”

My other eyebrow shot up. Looking like a cartoon character, I asked him a few questions but my feeble mind can’t recall what they were. What I do recall is how suspicious I was that he was pulling my leg.

It was late when I returned to my neck of the woods but I fired up my computer and punched in “beating the okra.” Brenda Beust Smith, The Lazy Gardener with the Houston Chronicle, beats up most of her garden – roses, dogwoods, wisteria, bougainvillea. I was amazed.

The science behind whupping up on your okra involves traumatizing your okra enough for it to produce traumatin, a plant hormone produced in response to a wound. The beating stimulates new growth and flower buds.

I experienced my own trauma in the acquisition of these photos. My okra was not photo-worthy and I wound up in the vegetable garden of Evie’s boss to take photos. It was hard to focus on my task with Evie screeching about mosquitoes biting her as she jumped and flailed like a vaudeville performer. No doubt, this was her aversion to dirt manifesting itself in her imagination because mosquitoes weren’t bothering me.

I was further traumatized at the size of her employer’s okra bushes. I’m not kidding you, they were nine feet tall. It was enough to turn Jack and the Beanstalk into an adult-sized nightmare. The tallest plants in my garden top out at four feet.

I would have snapped a photo of Evie in front of the giant okra trees as proof but she was too busy slapping herself and admonishing, “Hurry up, fool.”

I can’t get any respect.

18 thoughts on “GARDEN TIP: Beating the Okra”

  1. Whatever. Those were not antics I was trying to save myself. You are lucky those mosquitos didn’t fly off with us. I have all of these big red raised bumps on my body and I’m sure you don’t care. You could have helped swat them.

    1. Hey PJ — Not according to the okra beating crowd. One guy, in the comments, of one of the websites I went to, talked about the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants. I’m hoping he was joking because now I’ve got to fram around on my trees and plants.

      1. How hard do you beat the okra, and do you beat the whole plant or leaves or just the stalks? With a floppy switch or a firm switch?

        1. Nancy — I’m not a fan of okra so I’ve never grown it again and that puts me at the bottom of the list for okra experts. If you read my post, you’ll see that the guy who told me about it, beat the daylights out of it. That doesn’t make sense to me because you don’t want to destroy the plants. Other sources say to beat it with a switch which, I assume, is a 1/4 inch limb from a tree. Here are some additional sources: https://www.uticabc.com/pastors-blog/switching-the-okra and http://scliving.coop/home–garden/keep-the-okra-coming/. The link within my article refers to beating it with a broom and explains what you are trying to accomplish.

  2. My mother’s okra always grew up to 9 feet high. I don’t recall her ever beating them nor talking about it. The stuff would produce for months. I hated cutting it as those bushes will make you itch to death. You need to wear long sleeves and gloves if you can work in them. Mother always declared if you want the okra to keep producing you must pick it every day. Therefore, not a pod of it ever hardened on her plants. Once the plants reached about 12″ high, she would pinch off the top inch so the plant would have more limbs on which to produce. Some fertilizer and lots of water and sunshine did the rest.

  3. Giant okra trees sounds like heaven with great landscaping. LOVE THE STUFF! Good tip, too, as I’ll be growing it next year in my garden. Can’t wait!

  4. This was such an entertaining story, I was smiling. But seriously, although I do not beat my plants, I have read on this. The stressed plants, sensing their imminent demise, do indeed produce more seed and flowers.

    1. Donna – I am to entertain, seriously. Just as seriously, however, I had never heard of beating one’s okra. I was standing in front of Mr. Harden saying to myself, “Oh, I am SO going to use this in my blog!” Then I get on the internet and discover people beating their plants, trees, whatever they took a notion to whupping up on. I was blown away. I guess it’s the same principle as cutting a rosebush back.

  5. I lost all respect when my late husband said “okra is just like a woman. It’s stubborn; you got to whip it!”
    Idiocy gone to seed …. Pruning is sensible but we don’t whack fruit trees to shreds nor squash… And I am a southern girl….sincerely , Iloveplants

  6. I first heard about beating okra a few years ago. Mine was doing fine in my opinion, but it hadn’t bloomed. My son told me I needed to beat it. Just a joker, as usual. When the plants hadn’t produced any blossoms a few days later I thought ‘what can I lose?’ So I hit the plants with a ruler, not hard or long, in case my neighbors were watching. The next couple of days I had a few blooms and a couple of days after that I had a lot of them. Maybe the spanking worked!

    1. Beverly — You gave me a delicious laugh. We ALL worry what the neighbors will think but I don’t think we have to worry about them calling the Vegetable Police. More likely, they’ll stay on the other side of the street just in case we’re C-R-A-Z-Y. My own brother and sister are CONVINCED I’m playing with half a deck.

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