Okra can be relatively easy to grow, unless you have nematodes. Nematodes are a serious pest of okra and can reduce a stand and greatly decrease production of pods. Nematodes are microscopic round worms that can be naturally found in soil. These worms can wreak havoc on a wide range of horticultural and agronomic plants (tomatoes, sweet potatoes, strawberries, collards, and cotton to name a few.) Not all nematodes are bad- some feed on soil-borne pests and many help recycle nutrients by aiding in the decomposition of organic matter.
However, okra roots are very susceptible to the damage caused by root knot nematodes and sting nematodes. There are some “typical” damage patterns that will help in diagnosing if nematodes are to blame for your okra decline. Foliar symptoms include early wilting, leaf yellowing, and a general look of decline in the plant. Plants can be stunted in growth and usually show up sporadically in a large field and cause patchy areas of unhealthy looking plants. The telltale signs of nematode usually occur on the roots. Sting nematodes cause the plant to produce a tight mass of short roots, while root knot nematodes cause galls to form on the root (see below). These galls look like swollen areas on the root. The galls will often develop infections and will leading to the roots rotting. With the roots being severely limited to water and nutrient uptake, the leaves suffer, and the plant will struggle to put on usable pods.
Controlling nematodes is a difficult task for either the producer or a home gardener. For management options and more information, please contact Libbie Johnson or Beth Bolles or see this publication Nematode Management in Okra.