Spinach is an edible flowering plant from the goosefoot family and was native to Asia. Spinach is a popular vegetable loaded with nutritional value and considered by nutritional experts to be a “super food”. Superfoods are foods that are known to help reduce cholesterol, the risk of heart disease and cancer. Spinach is high in vitamin K, Folate, Vitamin A, C, and Beta Carotene. It also contains iron, calcium and is a great anti-oxidant.
Spinach can be prepared in a variety of ways including both cooked and raw. It is a very hardy cool-season vegetable that grows well in the home garden and can be planted at multiple times for successive harvests (both in spring and fall).
Conditions for Growing Spinach
Spinach is cool season vegetable that can tolerate colder weather and frosts. Spinach needs full to part-sun and moist, organically rich soil. Spinach does not grow well in highly acidic soils and performs best with a pH range of 6.3-6.8. Adding lime to your soil may be necessary. To determine your soil conditions prior to any amendments, have a soil test performed. Your local University Extension office can perform a soil test.
Spinach is a very cold-hardy plant and can be sown directly into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. In southern states, spinach seedlings or seeds from the prior season may begin growing again in early spring, even with snow still on the ground! If you sow successively (every few weeks) you can enjoy your spinach over a longer period of time. Seeds should be planted about 1/2 an inch in the soil and spaced about 2-4 inches apart in rows 18-24 inches apart.
It is best to sow freshly purchased seeds, and not seeds saved from the last growing season. Sow about 15-20 seeds per each linear foot of soil. Water the seeds well after planting. If your soil has a high level of organic matter, fertilizer is not necessary; if not, a fertilizer high in nitrogen should be mixed into the soil during planting. Once the plants start to grow, you can thin them to about 4 inches apart. Placing top mulch down will help to conserve moisture.
Photo courtesy of Sbocaj at Flickr.com.
Care for Spinach Plants
Spinach should receive about an inch of water per week. If there has been little rainfall you can supplement by hand watering. As your spinach grows you will probably need to thin the seedlings, unless you are harvesting the plants at the same time (as well as the entire plant) Be careful not to disturb the other plants roots as you pull.
Weed as necessary but, again, be careful not to disrupt the fragile and shallow root system of the spinach. Adding a side dressing of nitrogen every 2-3 weeks will help ensure a healthy crop with deep green leaves.
Spinach takes about 40-50 days to mature. Your individual preference will also determine when you harvest the leaves. Some people prefer to eat smaller leaves, others larger. If you do not harvest the entire plant, pick the outer leaves first. The inner leaves will continue to grow and can be harvested later.
Spinach will not keep for long after harvesting. The best time to eat them, both for flavor and nutrient value, is right after picking. Be certain to wash the leaves well before eating. Spinach can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days (wash and dry them first) if you do not eat them right away.
Spinach Diseases and Pests
- Downy mildew and other fungal diseases
- Blight disease, also called cucumber mosaic disease. Planting disease resistant types will prevent this.
- Leafminers: Adult females will poke holes in the leaves to feed on sap. Their eggs are left on leaves. The larvae that hatches days later and feeds on the plant leaves, eventually making them inedible. There are both organic and chemical treatments for leafminer control.
- Caterpillars, including cabbage loopers, armyworms, and cornear worms. Caterpillars eat and destroy the spinach leaves. Inspect your plants closely for infestations. If the numbers are small, you can physically remove the worms and dispose of without further treatment. If the numbers become larger, there are both organic and chemical pesticides available to use.
Varieties of Spinach
The University of Illinois horticulture department’s website, Watch Your Garden Grow, recommends trying the following varieties:
Bloomsdale Long Standing (48 days to harvest; thick, very crinkly, glossy dark green leaves)
Winter Bloomsdale (45 days, tolerant to cucumber mosaic virus, slow to bolt, cold tolerant, good for over-wintering)
Indian Summer (39 days; semi-savoy; resistant to downy mildew races 1 and 2, tolerant to spinach blight)
Melody (42 days; lightly crinkled; resistant to downy mildew, mosaic; good spring or fall)
Tyee (39 days; dark green; heavily savoyed; tolerant to downy mildew; spring, fall or winter)
Vienna (40 days; very savoyed; medium to long-standing; tolerant to downy mildew races 1 and 2 as well as spinach blight)
Giant Nobel (43 days; large, smooth leaves; long-standing).
Olympia (46 days; slow to bolt; spring, summer harvest).
Common Questions and Answers About How to Grow Spinach
Can I plant spinach with tomatoes?
Planting spinach in between your rows of tomatoes is a great way to make the most of your garden space. With some careful and canny scheduling, the timing works out extremely well for growing spinach in between your rows of tomatoes. Because tomatoes are a warm-weather crop while spinach loves the cooler weather, by the time your spinach has matured and been harvested, the tomato plants will just be beginning to stretch out. That means your spinach will be out of the garden long before the tomato plants grow large enough to encroach on the greens.
Can lettuce and spinach be planted together?
Lettuce and spinach make a natural pairing because the two types of plants need so many of the same conditions, have similar care preferences, and thrive in the mild, cool seasons. The only thing to consider when growing so much tender, delicious greenery in one place is that slugs, caterpillars, rabbits, and other creatures that like to eat salad greens as much as we do will be attracted. If these kinds of pests are a concern in your area, you might consider adding a some marigold plants to help dissuade insects or employing some of the methods covered in our article How to Keep Pests From Your Garden.
Can you grow spinach from a leaf?
You can’t grow spinach from a leaf unless you purchased a bunch that still has the roots attached to the stems of the plant. If you have the roots still intact, you can simply plant the roots with the bottom portions of the stem directly into the soil and water them and spinach should regrow from the stem bases.
Can you harvest spinach multiple times?
Yes, if harvested properly, spinach can grow back multiple times throughout the growing season up until the weather gets too warm for spinach to produce, at which point, the plants will begin to bolt. To harvest spinach properly, use a pair of scissors or garden shears to cut the spinach leaves back to within 2 inches of the ground. Do not cut into the growing point, or you may damage the plant so that it will not regrow. The leaves should regrow for a second harvest within four weeks after the first cutting.
How can I grow spinach without seeds?
Spinach can be grown without seeds by using transplants of either seedlings or stem bottoms that still have the roots attached. Simply plant the roots into soil and water to grow and establish new spinach plants.
How do you know when spinach is ready to harvest?
Most spinach varieties mature within 37 to 45 days and can be harvested as soon as it has formed a rosette with five or six leaves. When the outer leaves are about six inches long, they’re ready to be harvested. You may also choose to harvest the leaves well before they reach six inches, as baby spinach leaves are sweeter and have a more tender texture, but your yield will be significantly smaller. If it is late spring, and the plants are nearing the end of the season when they are likely to bolt, you can cut and harvest the entire plant at this point. Spinach leaves should be removed within a week of full leaf formation before they get yellow.
How long does it take to grow spinach?
Growing spinach takes about 45 days, from the time seeds are sown in the ground until the time the plants are ready to harvest.
How long should I soak spinach seeds before planting?
Start your soaking about 10 days before you’ll sow your spinach seeds, and allow the seeds to soak in lukewarm water for 24 hours. Dry them on paper towels for a day or two, then move them to a sealed airtight container and stash them in a cool, dry place for the week before planting.
How much spinach does one plant yield?
The yield of spinach is calculated either per 10-foot row of plants or as how many plants should be grown per member of the family who will be eating spinach. A 10-foot row of spinach plants will produce four to seven pounds of spinach, and gardeners should plant 15 spinach plants per person in their family who will be eating spinach.
Should spinach seeds be soaked before planting?
Yes, soaking your spinach seeds before planting is a good idea to help speed up the process of germination. About one week before planting, soak your spinach seeds in warm water for 24 hours. Then, place your wet spinach seeds onto a paper towel and allow them to dry in the open air at room temperature for one or two days. After they have dried, move your seeds to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to plant, but no longer than one week. This process is called priming, and its purpose is to help encourage speedier germination once you plant the seeds in the ground. Unprimed spinach seeds typically take about 10 days to germinate, whereas primed seeds generally take only five days.
What is the best temperature for growing spinach?
Spinach thrives in cool weather, and it does best when temperatures stay under 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. In most parts of the world, that means prime time for growing spinach is in the spring and in the fall. Immature plants will start going to seed if they’re exposed to temperatures under 40 degrees, but once spinach has matured, it can withstand chilly weather down to 20 degrees.
What is the best way to grow spinach?
Getting off to a good start is the most important factor when it comes to growing great spinach. Plant the right varieties for your climate and take time to work the soil in preparation before planting, amending it with everything it needs to allow your spinach plants to thrive throughout the growing season. Fertilize early and often with a nitrogen heavy fertilizer. Keep the soil moist at all times and provide a bit of shade if temperatures rise up to 80 degrees or higher. Spinach plants do very well in containers as well as raised beds.
What temperature is too cold for spinach?
Before spinach plants are completely mature, temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower can cause the plants to bolt and go to seed. However, once the plants have matured, spinach can handle temperatures all the way down to 20 degrees without a problem.
Can spinach be grown from cuttings?
If the cuttings of spinach you have include the root, it is easy to grow spinach from cuttings. However, most of the time people sow spinach seeds instead of using cuttings because the needed yield of spinach makes cuttings inconvenient. Spinach seeds are tiny and can be sown in a quick scatter, making planting spinach very easy. The speed at which spinach matures (taking just 37-45 days to go from being a seed to being harvest ready) also makes time saved by using cuttings a negligible concern.
What can you not plant with spinach?
Even the most pleasant of plants don’t get along with every potential neighbor, and spinach is no different. There’s a whole list of plants you can partner up with spinach to take advantage of the benefits of companion planting (see our answer to the question “What grows best with spinach?” below for those), but there are also some plants that spinach just doesn’t work well planted alongside. Here are the plants you should avoid placing near spinach when you’re laying out your garden.
- Fennel: Fennel doesn’t play well with most of the plants in the garden, It produces compounds that are designed to get rid of competing plants. One of the few crops you can grow near fennel is dill.
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