QUESTION: Pests eat my spinach when I try to grow it in the garden. Can spinach be grown in pots? -Kelly D.
ANSWER: If you don’t have lots of garden space to work with but you want to grow lots of spinach, container gardening is the way to go. Growing spinach in containers is fast and easy, and with just a little bit of maintenance and plant care, you will have a stockpile of nutrient-rich, dark, leafy greens to use in a wide variety of dishes, either fresh or cooked. Growing your spinach in a container is actually beneficial for several reasons.
Using containers will cut down on pest issues, allowing you to harvest all of your greens before insects get to them. Container gardening will also thwart nematodes and help you avoid common soil borne diseases. Container grown greens are also easily accessible. You can put your container on a windowsill in the kitchen, or place it right outside the kitchen door on your balcony, as long as it is in a location where it gets plenty of sun, you can put it wherever you want. With fresh spinach growing so close to where you prepare your food, you will be able to harvest and prepare fresh spinach as soon as it’s mature.
Spinach only takes around 40 to 45 days to reach maturity. Depending on the climate in your area, this makes for easy successive planting for a continuous harvest. Spinach is a cool season crop that is well suited to USDA zones five through ten. Spinach has a tendency to bolt in warmer temperatures, so provide your plants with afternoon shade whenever temperatures exceed 80 degrees F, which should be no trouble at all if you are growing your spinach in containers, as you can easily move them from place to place with very little effort. If you live in a warm climate region, look for spinach varieties that are more suited to warmer weather.
You can grow your spinach from seed or purchase seedlings from your local nursery. Certain smaller varieties of spinach are better suited for container gardening than others, such as Baby’s Leaf Hybrid, and Melody spinach. Use containers that are six to 12 inches across, filled with a high-quality potting soil with a pH around 6.0 or 7.0 and amended with compost to improve water retention. Place containers in full sun. Plant seeds one inch apart inside your house and give them about three weeks before moving them outdoors. When seedlings grow to two inches high, thin them out to 2-3 inches apart. For transplants, set plants six to eight inches apart and water well to ease transition.
Spinach can fill their containers on their own, or you can pair your spinach with other plants with similar requirements. Annual flowers, such as petunias or marigolds make nice bedfellows for spinach containers, but be careful to leave plenty of space for growth between each plant. Marigolds will help deter pests if you are moving your container outdoors, and petunias and marigolds alike, will help to brighten up what will otherwise be a solid dark-green leaf bed. As the weather warms and your spinach harvest starts to peter out, the annuals will continue to fill out the container.
Parsley also enjoys cool weather conditions and makes a good companion for spinach. Another method of companion planting with spinach is to plant pole beans in the center of a large pot and plant spinach all around it. As the spinach season comes to an end, the warm weather will send the pole beans rising.
Any type of plant that is grown in containers will dry out more quickly than plants in the garden. Spinach plants require consistent moisture, so make sure to water frequently and keep an eye on moisture levels, never overwater to the point that the soil becomes soggy, but also never let the soil dry out completely.
Spinach is a heavy feeder as well, so be sure to supply nutrients by fertilizing with a commercial food that has plenty of nitrogen. Alternatively, use an organic fish emulsion or cottonseed meal to fertilize organically. Amend potting soil with fertilizer prior to planting, then feed again after it has been thinned by side-dressing. Spread fertilizer around the base of your plants and gently mix it into the soil, taking care not to damage the shallow roots of your spinach plants in the process.