Despite the vegetable’s negative reputation among kids, spinach is a great crop to have in your garden. Not only is it highly nutritious and delicious, but it’s versatile enough to be used in everything from savory dinners to sweet desserts!
When I first got into gardening, my goal was to get bountiful harvests as soon as possible. I tried a handful of different vegetables. While I did see success with those crops, I wasn’t getting those large harvests that I had hoped for.
I knew that if I wanted to get serious about growing my own food, I needed to start with a plant that was beginner-friendly. So, I learned how to grow spinach.
To my surprise, growing spinach is quite easy. It’s the perfect low-maintenance plant that can give you months of fresh produce when planted right.
What is Spinach?
Known by its scientific name, Spinacia oleracea, spinach is an annual leafy green that has been used for food thousands of years. It’s believed that the plant originated two Millennia ago in ancient Persia.
Now, it’s grown in all corners of the globe. The plant has gone through numerous changes since then. However, much of its nutritional value remains the same.
The Benefits of Spinach
From a health standpoint, spinach is one of the best vegetables you can eat. It’s chock-full of Vitamin C and even has some protein to help your muscles.
Spinach also has a bevy of minerals that your body needs to stay in shape. There’s iron to help your body manage energy usage and oxygen, calcium to keep your bones strong, and magnesium to improve muscle and nerve function.
This healthy combination of vitamins and minerals has some great perks. Studies in 2013 found that chlorophyll found in green vegetables, such as spinach, can help prevent cancer.
Other studies theorize that dark leafy greens act as antioxidants to fight off cancer-causing free radicals, too.
Which Varieties Should You Plant?
There are several different spinach species out there. Throughout history, farmers have created a wide range of plants that fall into the spinach family. To keep things simple, most seed suppliers will separate spinach into three distinct varieties.
Also known as “crinkled spinach,” this type of spinach is easy to identify thanks to its curly leaves and crispy texture. They’re considered to be one of the hardiest varieties around. Thus, they’re the most common type of spinach you’ll see fresh in your local grocery store.
Because of its signature appearance and striking green color, savoy spinach is the go-to for recipes where spinach is the main event. The leaves hold up well to cooking. When eaten fresh, they have a nice crunch and a bold flavor.
Popular savoy spinach species you can find from seed suppliers include Bloomsdale, America, and Palco.
As you can guess from the name, this spinach has smooth leaves. The flat texture makes this variety ideal for processing. Whereas savoy spinach needs a bit of elbow grease to clean thoroughly, flat-leaf spinach doesn’t take much to prepare.
As such, this variety is commonly used for processing. It’s often utilized in frozen packs in the freezer aisle and canned vegetables. Plus, this variety tends to have a slightly shorter growth period, which helps with the processed foods industry.
Some common flat-leaf spinach species include the Red Kitten, the Giant Nobel, and Renegade.
Finally, there are hybrid spinach species. These varieties combine the best of both worlds. Often referred to as “semi-savoy spinach,” they feature relatively flat leaves with subtle crinkling.
The great thing about hybrid spinach is that they take on that same crisp texture as savoy spinach. Yet, they’re much easier to clean. These are very popular among home gardeners thanks to the versatility they provide. Some hybrid species include Seaside, Kolibri, and Okame.
Any of the previous three types of spinach will do well in your backyard garden. However, if you’re looking for some more variety, you can go with lesser-used alternatives. Unique hybrid species with distinct colors are available.
For example, red spinach is growing in popularity. It has a striking red color that can add a nice pop of color to salads and dishes. In terms of flavor, it has a subtle sweetness. Thus, it’s great for people who typically don’t like spinach.
When to Plant Spinach
The beauty of spinach is that it’s quite tolerant of cold weather. Depending on where you live, you may even be able to have two growing seasons a year.
You can start planting spinach as early as 6 weeks before your last frost. Seeds need to be in soil that’s more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate. However, it should not be more than 70 degrees Fahrenheit. As long as temperatures fall within this broad range, you’re good to go.
To maximize your harvest, begin the process as soon as you can start working the soil in your garden. For most, this will be in early spring. Seeds germinate quicker in warmer weather, so plan your garden based on your climate. On the lower end of the spectrum, seeds can start germinating in 5 to 9 days. However, in temperatures around 50 degrees, it may take upwards of 21 days.
Several factors will determine how long your spinach plants take to reach maturity. This includes the species and your preferred harvest time. However, plan for about 6 weeks of growth time from seed to harvest.
If getting a bountiful and continuous harvest is your top priority, you can plant throughout the growing season. Sowing more seeds every 10 to 14 days can ensure that you have plenty of spinach for cooking and freezing.
Thanks to the hardiness of spinach, you may be able to plant some more spinach in the fall season. The main issue that people face when growing spinach is too much heat. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these plants are tough enough to withstand scorching summer temperatures.
Once the thermostat climbs to 75 degrees or so, spinach will start to bolt. This means that the plant will flower to produce seeds. The leaves become thinner and take on a bitter taste. You won’t have any leaves to harvest and eat, so it’s best to avoid trying to grow the plants during the summer season.
How to Choose a Planting Site for Spinach
Choosing the right spot for your spinach is crucial. At the very least, these plants need about 6 hours of sunlight every day. That’s not much compared to some other vegetables. They do well in partial shade, giving you greater flexibility in how you plan your garden.
Be wary of giving spinach too much sun. Remember, excess heat will cause the plants to bolt. Oftentimes, this occurs later on in the spring season because the days get a bit longer. If you plant in partial shade you can prolong growth.
As for soil quality, spinach is pretty easy to please. The leafy greens prefer alkaline soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5. You can get away with a pH of 6.0, but the spinach will do better with slightly higher readings. The soil should also be rich in nitrogen and easy to drain to kick-start the growth process.
Spinach does best when directly sowed into the ground. It is possible to start the seeds indoors, but the transplanting process would increase your plant’s mortality rate. Spinach plants have a shallow root system with one central stalk. Most of those delicate roots can be found in the first few inches of soil, making transplants risky.
The good news is that you can plant spinach in raised garden beds or pots. If you choose to use a raised garden bed, just be careful of temperature. Raised beds warm up faster in the sun, leading to a significant temperature difference when compared to the ground.
How to Plant Spinach in the Garden
Once the temperatures are right and you have found the perfect spot, it’s time to get planting. Starting your spinach seeds is fairly easy. Though, it does require a bit of preparation.
Preparing the Soil
Start by working the soil about 12 inches deep. Spinach roots are relatively shallow, but you want to avoid soil compaction. Heavily compacted soil will make it difficult for the roots to move. Plus, it’ll prevent proper drainage.
About a week before planting, introduce some natural fertilizer into the soil. Slow-Release organic nitrogen fertilizer is best. You can also combine some compost to make the soil as nutrient-dense as possible.
Placing Your Seeds
Spinach does well in large rows. If you’re planting directly in your garden, create rows that are 14 to 18 inches apart. Within each row, place a seed every inch or so. This will help to increase your chances of germination. We’ll go over thinning in a bit.
Now, cover each seed with about half an inch of soil. Pay special attention to the depth of the seed. If the seed is too deep, the little stalks will not be able to break to the surface. So, be vigilant about that half-inch depth.
How to Take Care of the Spinach Plant
Provide your seeds with plenty of water and continue to do so once they have germinated. Ideally, your plants should be getting about an inch of water every week. If you are in a warmer climate, you may need about 50 percent more.
Keeping your spinach plants well-hydrated is paramount. Dehydration can lead to bolting, which will cut your growing season short.
When you’re watering the plants, avoid splashing mud or water onto the leaves. Stick to a slow drizzle or consider using a soaker hose.
It’s best to do short waterings throughout the week rather than one long one. Consistent watering will ensure that the plant is getting all the hydration it needs. If your soil has adequate drainage, you should be able to water the plants every day or two.
Thinning the Pack
Earlier, we recommended that you sow seeds an inch apart. Once your seeds start sprouting, thinning is crucial. Overcrowding can affect your plant’s access to water and nutrients. While you may be tempted to avoid thinning to increase your yield, this would do more harm than good.
Examine each spinach row carefully and remove any weak sprouts. While you’re at it, take care of weeds that might be fighting for nutrients.
Aim for a distance of 3 to 4 inches between each plant. Depending on the growth of your spinach, you may want to increase that distance as your plants get bigger.
Fertilizer isn’t always necessary. If you have cared for your plants well thus far, they should be thriving. The initial fertilizer and soil preparation you did prior to sowing should be enough.
However, if you’d like to give your spinach plants an extra boost, you can apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Just make sure that you’re not applying too much. Also, it’s a good idea to apply the fertilizer in the soil surrounding the plant to avoid making contact with the stalks.
Fertilizer burn is very common with spinach. It can stunt the growth of the plant and limit your harvest, so exercise caution. As always, stick with natural organic fertilizers.
You can also feed the plants with compost tea. It’s a natural alternative that can help the spinach reach its full potential.
How to Harvest and Store Spinach
Before you know it, the spinach will be ready to harvest! There are a couple of different harvesting options. You can pick off the leaves when they’re small for a milder flavor or wait until they are fully grown.
Harvesting Baby Spinach
Baby spinach can be harvested within 15 to 37 days. The leaves are only a couple inches long and have a tender texture.
Before you start picking leaves off, wait until there are small rosettes of about 5 leaves. You can cut the leaves off at the stem or chop off the entire plant.
If you choose the latter option, your plant is done. It will not grow into maturity. As a result, it’s recommended that you leave some portion of the plant behind.
Once the leaves have reached about 6 inches in length, they’re ready for a standard adult harvest. Don’t wait too long to remove the leaves. They can become bitter and wilted the longer you wait.
Like with baby spinach, you can snip each leaf off individually at the stem. Alternatively, you can chop off the entire plant to harvest all of the leaves at once.
If you do this, leave about 3 inches of the plant above the soil. Depending on your growing conditions, you may be able to get a second harvest.
How to Store Spinach in the Refrigerator
To take advantage of your spinach’s health benefits, eat it immediately. The nutritional content diminishes the longer it’s left to age.
Spinach is notoriously finicky in the refrigerator. While it can last upwards of a week when properly stored, it’s best to consume the spinach within two days.
If you plan on storing your harvest for a bit, don’t wash it! Excess moisture can speed up the decay process in the refrigerator. Plus, the washing process can bruise the leaves.
Not only does this affect appearance, but it also diminishes the flavor and leads to spoilage. Wait to wash the plant until you’re ready to eat it.
All you have to do to store the spinach is wrap the ends with a paper town. This will absorb excess moisture. Then, pop it into an airtight bag and place it in the refrigerator.
Freezing the vegetable is great for long-term storage. Keep in mind that frozen spinach can’t be used in fresh salads. It’s best for cooked dishes or shakes.
Start by cleaning the spinach. Let the leaves dry on a well-ventilated rack or use a spinner to remove any excess moisture. Then, place them in a freezer bag.
With this method, the spinach is good for about 6 months. For anything longer than that, it’s best to blanch the spinach first.
To blanch fresh spinach, soak it in hot water for a few seconds and immediately dunk it in an ice bath.
Don’t use boiling water, as this could ruin the vegetable’s nutritional value. Other blacking methods include steaming the spinach and using a microwave.
What Pests and Diseases Affect Spinach?
As with any garden plant, spinach is not immune to growth problems. Many pests and diseases could affect the health of your plants as they grow.
Spinosad spray is toxic to many pests you’ll find in the garden. However, it’s made out of natural soil bacterium, making it safe for your edible plants.
Leaf miners, which are insect larvae, can also affect the quality of your spinach leaves. The same goes for slugs. You can use the spinosad spray for the larvae. Coffee grounds are a common deterrent for slugs. Just be wary of the pH balance change they will occur.
As for diseases, the main problem you will face with spinach is fungi. Mildew and spinach blight are fairly common. Luckily, they can be treated with natural oils and herbal fungicides.
Spinach is one of the easiest plants you can grow in your garden. It’s hardy, low-maintenance, and has a long growing season.
All you have to do to get started is to find a temperate spot in your garden with good drainage. After a bit of soil preparation and deciding what type of spinach you want, it’s smooth sailing.
Before long, you’ll have plenty of leafy greens for salads, cooked cuisine, and storage. Spinach is a great way to train your green thumb while enjoying the fruits of your labor.