Insect Management for Okra

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Okra (Abelmoschus esculentum) is a warm weather crop grown in the summer throughout Florida, but commercial production is concentrated in south Florida where it can be grown most of year. It is often grown as a second crop after more valuable vegetables. Historically, relatively few insecticides and miticides have been registered for use on okra making it difficult to manage insect and mites effectively. Recently, okra has been added to the Fruiting Vegetables Crop Group (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) and when this change is published in the Federal Register there will be many more options for pest control. Arthropod pests of okra include caterpillars (larvae of Lepidoptera), aphids, thrips, whiteflies, and mites.
Leaf-feeding caterpillar pests (lepidopteran larvae) that attack okra include beet, southern, and fall armyworm, cabbage looper, and corn earworm. Cabbage looper and corn earworm can also bore into pods. Scouting for these pests is essential because the pesticides available (Bacillus thuringiensis products, spinosad, and methoxyfenozide) are most effective on young caterpillars and are less effective on later stages that can defoliate plants. Melon aphid, green peach aphid, and silverleaf whitefly can be very damaging. Imidacloprid will control these sucking insects but effects of a soil application will wear off before the end of the growing season. Melon thrips and southern green stink bug can also cause serious damage and growers have very limited options for control at this time. Spinosad is effective for reducing thrips populations but overuse could lead to the development of resistance and loss of control. Sulfur and bifenazate can be used for mite control. Products containing neem or azadirachtin can be used for all pests of okra but are generally only moderately effective.
Because of limited options for chemical control of insects, conservation of natural enemies is important and possible. As with all crops, destruction of the crop after harvest can help reduce pest populations. The practice of prolonging production by topping plants may contribute to pest problems even though it reduces the cost of production.

S. E. Webb
University of Florida IFAS Extension