Spinach is one of the most nutritious plants you can grow in your garden. Full of fiber, folate, potassium, and even calcium, it's definitely a food worth adding to your diet. And the great news is that it's easy to grow, and you can harvest baby spinach plants in less than a month.
Types of Spinach Plants
Spinach is grown for its green leaves. There are three basic types:
- Savoy has dark green, crinkly leaves.
- Flat-leaf or smooth-leaf has broad smooth leaves. It is easy to clean and often grown for canning.
- Semi-savoy is a hybrid variety. It has slightly crinkled leaves but is still easy to clean.
How to Grow Spinach
Spinach is definitely a cool-weather crop. It bolts (produces a flower stalk and sets seed) very quickly when the temperatures are high and day length is long. The terms "long standing" and "slow to bolt" found in seed catalogs will tell you which varieties have more tolerance for heat. Spinach is usually grown as a spring or fall crop in regions with cold winters. It can be grown as a winter crop in warmer areas.
When and How to Plant Spinach
Spinach grows best at temperatures between 50° and 63° Fahrenheit, and usually matures in 37 to 45 days. The seedlings are frost-hardy, and you can sow seed directly in the garden as soon as soil can be worked, as early as six weeks before your last frost date.
While you can technically start spinach indoors for spring planting (or for fall planting, since it doesn't germinate well in the heat of summer), spinach is definitely one of those plants that does better with direct sowing. If you want to start spinach indoors under lights, it would be a good idea to plant the seeds in something like a peat pot, homemade newspaper pot, or soil block so that you disturb the roots as little as possible when transplanting.
- To plant spinach, sow the seed half an inch deep, spaced four to six inches apart.
- Cover the seeds lightly with soil, firm the soil over the seeds.
- Water well. Spinach germinates in five to nine days.
It's important to use fresh seed. Seeds that are over a year old have only an 80% germination rate and older seeds are even less likely to grow.
Soil, Water, and Fertilizer
Like most vegetables, spinach needs a lot of water--at least an inch each week. If there isn't enough rain, water plants in the morning so the foliage will be dry before dark.
To fertilize spinach, side-dress once during the growing season with a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen, such as composted manure.
Harvest as soon as the leaves are large enough to eat. That can be as quickly as 20 days for baby leaf spinach, or up to about six weeks for full-sized leaves. Be sure to harvest before it starts to develop flower stalks. Once it starts bolting, the flavor is very bitter.
Aside from the four-legged creatures that can quickly mow down your spinach (such as rabbits) you'll mostly want to be on the lookout for slugs, cutworms, aphids, and grasshoppers.
- Slugs can be lured away from your plants by placing a board nearby in your garden, checking under it, and disposing of any slugs you find hiding underneath during the day.
- Cutworms can be deterred by sinking a cardboard collar into the soil around the stem of your plants.
- The best way to keep grasshoppers away is to cover the bed with a lightweight floating row cover. A well-secured cover keeps bunnies away from your plants as well, which is a definite bonus.
- For aphids, check the undersides of the leaves regularly and, if you see aphids on the leaves or stems, spray them with insecticidal soap. Sometimes a blast of water from the hose is enough to dislodge them.
Spinach Varieties to Grow
There are three basic types of spinach plants you might want to grow in your garden. It pays to figure out ahead of time how you plan to eat your spinach. Do you prefer to eat spinach raw, in salads or wraps? Or do you plan to mostly cook your spinach? Do you want to preserve it via canning? Knowing this will help you pinpoint which type you should grow.
Savoy spinach varieties are deep green, with a curly, crunchy, firm texture. This is a spinach that's more suited to cooking than it is to raw eating.
- 'Bloomsdale Long-Standing' is an heirloom variety. This is a good option to prolong your spring harvest season, since it's slow to bolt.
- 'Vienna' is a hybrid variety that's best planted as a fall crop since it tends to bolt quickly. It has large leaves and an upright growth habit.
- 'Hammerhead' is good for spring, summer, or fall planting, and is a reliable producer even during hot weather.
Flat leaf spinaches have a smooth, flat texture and are more delicate than savoyed varieties, making them a good option for either eating raw in salads or wraps, or cooking. These varieties are popular "baby spinach" options.
- 'Olympia' is a tried-and-true hybrid variety that has thick, smooth, dark green leaves and is appropriate for sowing any time during the growing season since it's fairly bolt-resistant.
- 'Hector' is a very reliable, high-yielding variety that's slow to bolt. This type is commonly grown as baby spinach for cut-and-come again harvesting.
- 'Space' has spoon-shaped, dark green leaves. It's a good variety for both summer and fall harvesting, since it's heat-resistant. It even does well in greenhouses.
Semi-savoy spinaches provide the best of both worlds: the texture of savoyed spinach, with the heat-tolerance of many of the best flat-leaf types. They're not as curly as full-savoy varieties, but that also means they're more suitable for eating raw, especially when the leaves are small.
- 'Kookaburra' is a reliable variety that has good heat resistance and hearty, deep green leaves.
- 'Acadia' has deep green leaves and a smooth, strong texture that makes it a wonderful variety for cooking or canning. It's best grown in spring or fall.
- 'Tyee' is a dark green, heavily textured variety that's good for spring planting since it's slow to bolt.
Hearty, Delicious, and Easy to Grow
Spinach is a versatile vegetable, easy to use in salads, wraps, soups, stews, egg dishes, or pasta, and it's a must if you enjoy making your own healthy juices. Luckily, it's also easy to grow, especially if you choose the right type for your needs and for the conditions in your garden.