Companion planting is an organic method for controlling pests and diseases in your vegetable garden. This method can help your garden stay healthier and increase your harvest yield; as a bonus it can help prevent blight and other problems that can affect your garden soil. While there's not necessarily scientific data to back up the huge amount of information on companion planting, it's reassuring to know that this advice comes mostly from gardeners who have personally seen the effectiveness of this method. Companion planting is central to the folklore and oral tradition of gardening: many gardeners can recall childhood stories from a parent or other relative who was also a gardener who insisted on planting certain plants next to other plants for all kinds of reasons.
Good Companion Plants for Okra
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is one of those vegetables that seems to inspire either love or hate, and never indifference. It has a texture for being somewhat slimy when cooked, but this can be overcome by roasting or other methods. It's a crucial ingredient in gumbo, so for that reason alone it has star power. Its rich juice also used to thicken sauces. It is a member of the mallow family and its flowers are quite showy.
Okra will tolerate some drought conditions, but in hot weather, make sure it gets at least an inch of water per week. Well-drained soil is also crucial for okra. Some of okra's best garden companions are plants that, like okra, need plenty of water. This includes cucumbers, melons, eggplant, and sweet or hot peppers.
- Cucumbers love water and rich soil, as does okra, so these will do well side by side. Don't plant too close, as cucumbers also need a large amount of sun to ripen.
- Pepper plants will repel cabbage worms, which can be a destructive nuisance to okra plants.
- Melons can be a good okra companion; like cucumbers, they need ample sun and water, so be sure the okra won't shade the plants too much. Plant on the east side of the okra so the melons benefit from morning, or on the west side for afternoon sun.
- Planting basil near your okra is also beneficial. The strong fragrance of basil repels a number of pests that like okra, including flea beetles, stinkbugs, spider mites, aphids and whiteflies. Okra's tall plants, which can grow up to six feet, can also provide some shade for this somewhat tender herb if summer days get hot.
- Flowering annuals are good okra companions also, to help attract pollinators that will visit your okra flowers. Late summer bloomers like cosmos, zinnias, and calendula are good choices.
Bad Companions for Okra
Most gardeners think of nematodes as beneficial for the garden. But they're detrimental to okra because these tiny creatures like to feed on the young roots of okra plants. Nematode presence can be increased in soil used to grow certain vine crops, like sweet potatoes or squash. Skip at least a year before planting okra in soil where vine crops (except for cucumbers or melons, which do well alongside okra) have been grown. Other than this consideration, okra doesn't really have any "bad companions."
Okra Makes a Good Companion
Okra's sturdy stems allow it to be a sort of windbreaker to more tender plants, such as peppers. It makes a good companion for lettuces, whose shallow roots won't compete for nutrients needed by okra, and the okra plants help protect tender lettuces from hot sun by providing some shade. Okra thrives in hot weather, so you may grow it as a shade plant for greens that do well in partial sun (like lettuces, kale and many herbs including parsley, tarragon, chives and cilantro).
It's also a good idea to plant some early cool weather crops alongside okra, like peas. Your peas will be ready for harvest before the okra plants get really big, so there's no danger of the bigger okra plants crowding the peas. Just remove your pea plants after the last harvest to free up space for the okra to get bigger as the weather gets warmer.
Some Resources for Companion Planting
Perhaps more than other gardening methods, having a handy reference guide for companion planting is useful, as there are so many combinations to keep track of. One great book that helped introduce many contemporary gardeners to this method is Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte. The book offers detailed advice and planting schemes to make the most of your vegetable garden. A new book now available for pre-order is Plant Partners by Jessica Walliser, which explains the scientific basis for companion planting, referring to scientifically-tested combinations, and discussing plant companions in terms of biodiversity and other important topics.