Every gardener faces the eventual problem that can’t be easily solved by talking with friends or looking online. This year presented one of those problems for us. We have big okra plants that aren’t producing any pods. Yes, there are a lot of flowers, but they aren’t producing anything. Instead, the flowers are opening, shriveling back up, and then dying as shown here.
You can see two flowers in this picture—both of which have dried up without producing fruit. All five of our okra plants are precisely in the same condition. They’re all nice big plants, but nothing to show for an entire summer’s worth of growth except some exceptionally beautiful leaves and dried flowers.
According to any number of sites, okra is self-pollinating in many cases. However, many of these sites also indicate that there hasn’t been any study done of the pollinators for okra and their effect on the plant. When I first noticed this problem, I spent time on a sunny day observing the plants carefully. A number of pollinators visited the plants, so it seemed at first that the issue isn’t one of pollinators.
However, I also noticed something else. On every other year, the okras in our garden are infested with ants. This year, there is not an ant to be found anywhere near our okra. A number of sites seem to indicate that the ants have no purpose for okra, but everyone complains about them. Now I’m starting to wonder whether the ants are pollinators or somehow help the plant in other ways. The okra certainly seems to put out a nectar that attracts ants like crazy.
The only other change in that particular part of the garden this year is that the patch has tomatoes in it. The okra is growing in row 4 of that patch and the tomatoes are growing in rows 1, 2, and part of 3. Last year, the okra was in row 1 of the same patch. Checking for relations between okra, tomatoes, and ants online proved fruitless. In short, there is no quick or easy answer for this particular problem except to say that it exists.
Our summer has been hot enough for the okra to grow quite large, so I’m sure it’s not a problem with heat. The okra has also been mulched and watered, so moisture isn’t a problem. Because the okra has been moved to a new row and that patch also received a nice layer of new mulch this past spring, it can’t be nutrients. I’ve checked the flowers and each one is producing the same amount of nectar as normal. I keep coming back to the lack of ants or some deleterious effect of putting tomatoes and okra in close proximity. If anyone else has a thought on this issue, please contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.