Spinach Plant Care Guide ~ Cool Season Vegetables
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is an edible flowering plant in the family of Amaranthaceae. It is native to central and southwestern Asia. It is an annual plant (rarely biennial), which grows to a height of up to 30 cm. Spinach may survive over winter in temperate regions. The leaves are alternate, simple, ovate to triangular-based, very variable in size from about 2–30 cm long and 1–15 cm broad, with larger leaves at the base of the plant and small leaves higher on the flowering stem. The flowers are inconspicuous, yellow-green, 3–4 mm diameter, maturing into a small, hard, dry, lumpy fruit cluster 5–10 mm across containing several seeds.
Common spinach, Spinacia oleracea, was long considered to be in the Chenopodiaceae family, but in 2003, the Chenopodiaceae family was combined with the Amaranthaceae family under the family name ‘Amaranthaceae’ in the order Caryophyllales. Within the Amaranthaceae family, Amaranthoideae and Chenopodioideae are now subfamilies, for the amaranths and the chenopods, respectively.
Plant type: Vegetable
USDA Hardiness Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Sun exposure: Full Sun
Soil type: Loamy
Soil pH: Neutral
This super-cold-hardy vegetable is a tender crop that can be planted in very early spring as well as fall and winter. Spinach has similar growing conditions and requirements as lettuce, but it is more versatile in both its nutrition and its ability to be eaten raw or cooked. It is higher in iron, calcium, and vitamins than most cultivated greens, and one of the best sources of vitamins A, B, and C.
- Prepare the soil with aged manure about a week before planting, or, you may wish to prepare your spot in the fall so that you can sow the seeds outdoors in early spring as soon as the ground thaws.
- If you live in a place with mild winters, you can also plant in the fall.
- Although seedlings can be propagated indoors, it is not recommended as seedlings are difficult to transplant.
- Spring plantings can be made as soon as the soil can be properly worked. It’s important to seed as soon as you can to give spinach the required 6 weeks of cool weather from seeding to harvest.
- Select a site with full sun to light shade and well-drained soil.
- Sow seeds 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep, covering lightly with soil. Sow about 12 seeds per foot of row, or sprinkle over a wide row or bed.
- Soil should not be warmer than 70º F in order for germination.
- Successive plantings should be made every couple weeks during early spring. Common spinach cannot grow in midsummer.
- For summer types, try New Zealand Spinach and Malabar Spinach.
- Plant in mid-August for a fall crop, ensuring that soil temps are cool enough.
- Gardeners in northern climates can harvest early-spring spinach if it’s planted just before the cold weather arrives in fall. Protect the young plants with a cold frame or thick mulch through the winter, then remove the protection when soil temperature in your area reaches 40º.
- Water the new plants well in the spring.
- Fertilize only if necessary due to slow growth, or use as a supplement if your soil’s pH is inadequate. Use when plant reaches 1/3 growth.
- When seedlings sprout to about two inches, thin them to 3-4 inches apart.
- Beyond thinning, no cultivation is necessary. Roots are shallow and easily damaged.
- Keep soil moist with mulching.
- Water regularly.
- Spinach can tolerate the cold; it can survive a frost and temps down to 15ºF.
- Leaf Miners
- Mosaic Virus/Blight
- Downy Mildew
- Keep an eye on your plants. Harvest when leaves reach desired size.
- Don’t wait too long to harvest, or wait for larger leaves; bitterness will set in quickly after maturity.
- The whole plant can be harvested at once, and cut at the base, or leaves may be picked off plants one layer at a time, giving inner layers more time to develop.
- ‘Giant Nobel’ is a plain leaf variety.
- ‘Winter Bloomsdale’ is a crinkled Leaf, fall variety, tolerant to mosaic viruses.
- ‘Tyee’ Can be planted in spring or fall, and is resistant to downy mildew.
- Gnocchi Verde (Spinach Dumplings)
- Spinach Crêpes
- Cream of Spinach Soup
- Warm Chicken spinach Salad with Oranges, Dates, and Goat Cheese
- Betty Rand Bassetta’s Spinach Bars
A pinch of baking soda in the cooking water keeps spinach greener.
Spinach boosts your brainpower; it can hinder iron absorption. For better absorption of iron, eat spinach with orange slices.
Wit & Wisdom
On March 26, 1937, a Popeye statue unveiled during spinach festival in Crystal City, Texas.
Where lilacs grow, old-time farmers say to plant spinach when lilacs are in first leaf.
Scatter spinach or lettuce seeds around emerging bulb foliage to make wise use of your garden space, and have a leafy green crop at the ready to cover the bare spots left by deadheaded spring flowers.