How to Grow Spinach - Backyard Boss
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How to Grow Spinach

More than 100  years ago, spinach (Spinacia oleracea) got a big boost from the unforgettable cartoon character Popeye. Today, this salad staple is also a leafy green of choice for smoothies, quiches, pasta, and pizza. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, it prefers cooler climes to grow in. However, home gardeners can still enjoy it for most of the year, with the right approach.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED

  • Spinach seeds
  • Compost or organic planting mix
  • Hose or watering can
  • Grass clippings, hay, or straw
  • Nitrogen fertilizer
  • Row cover
  • Companion plants like garlic, onion, and radish
  • Ladybugs
  • Soil thermometer
  • Shade cloth
  • Aluminum-coated mulch
  • Soil pH meter or test strips
  • Baking soda
  • Garden lime
  • Gardening scissors or knife
  • Bowl or basket

STEP ONE: CHOOSE THE RIGHT TIME

Smooth Leaf Spinach in soil
Image credit: ha11ok via Pixabay

Spinach is a really cool character, surviving temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. You can plant it in very early spring, autumn, or even winter if this season typically doesn’t get too cold where you live.

Ideally, this plant should have about six weeks of growth in cool weather. The best soil temperature to sew spinach seeds is 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you start your seeds in winter, protect them with a cold frame. A cold frame acts as a small greenhouse to help your plants thrive during the winter months.

Throughout each season, you can also reseed to prolong the harvest and enjoy more of this produce for a longer period of time.

STEP TWO: CHOOSE THE RIGHT SEEDS

Spinach Seedlings
Image credit: JennyJohansson via Pixabay

For the best results, choose seeds that best suit the season. The three main types of spinach include smooth-leaf, savoy (very crinkled), and semi-savoy (slightly crinkled). Out of the three, the semi-savoy can be the most challenging to seed. So, if you are just starting, try one of the other two varieties.

Also, you don’t have to forego your taste for homegrown spinach for the entire summer. Spinach-like alternatives that endure heat well are Malabar (Basella alba) and New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides).

A semi-savoy variety called “Indian Summer” grows in spring, summer, and fall. A Dutch variety called “Summer Perfection” or “Long-Standing Spinach” keeps growing when early summer days roll in.

STEP THREE: SELECT THE RIGHT SOIL & SPOT

Japanese mustard spinach
Image Credit: Jun Wat via Shutterstock

Spinach plants flourish in loamy, well-drained soil loaded with organic matter and about 6.5 to 7.5 pH. If the area you are considering needs to be  enriched to keep the spinach happy, add compost or organic planting mix about a week before sowing the seeds. Use a garden fork to mix in the additives deeply and thoroughly.

Seek out a sunny spot, or a partially shady area that gets at least three to four hours of sun daily. If you live in a very warm area, ideally, the area should be shielded from the sun’s scorching rays in peak hours between noon and two o’clock  in the afternoon. These leafy greens are hardy, even in cool weather but windy conditions can leave them lopsided.

STEP FOUR: SOW THE SPINACH SEEDS

Sowing Seeds boy
Image credit: redakter via Pixabay

Loosen up the soil, if needed, and remove any weeds. It’s not necessary to presoak the seeds, but if you want to speed up germination you can.

Dig holes about 0.5 inches deep and about two inches apart. Space the rows of seeds between 12 and 18 inches apart. In general, you can plant two to three seeds per hole to boost the odds of germination. Cover the seeds with about 0.5 inches of soil.

When seedlings reach about two inches tall, thin them out so they stay four to six inches apart. By the way, there’s no waste here, you can eat those seedlings.

STEP FIVE: WATER AND MULCH WISELY

Watering tomatoes
Image credits: David Ballew via Unsplash

Spinach likes frequent watering, especially when days get a little warmer. Lightly water the plants four or five days a week rather than soaking them once or twice.

Be sure to add mulch to help the soil retain moisture and keep plants healthy. Besides, keeping the soil moist, grass clippings, straw, and hay protect the plants from weeds. Add your mulch right up to the base of the spinach plants.

Also, every fortnight or so, feed it with a nitrogen fertilizer. Make sure to incorporate this fertilizer into your soil by slightly mixing it in.

STEP SIX: PROTECT YOUR SPINACH PLANTS

aphid closeup on a green leaf

Like any other plant, spinach is vulnerable to pests and diseases, such as aphids — the biggest threat — leaf miners, flea beetles, and cutworms. Also watch for slugs, downing mildew, and spinach blight.

Clues that your plants are under attack include the leaves turning yellow, brown, or white, wilting in the lower leaves, and holes in the leaves. Other symptoms include stunted growth and mushy roots.

Row covers provide a formidable shield against winged and crawling attackers. Companion plants such as garlic and onion can deter aphids, slugs, and beetles. Introduce ladybugs into your garden and let them go to work. Just one of these beauties will consume up to 5,000 aphids in its lifetime.

Also, planting radish seeds every other row will deter leaf miners.

STEP SEVEN: MONITOR SOIL TEMPERATURE

Farmer planting seeds in soil
Image credits: AlexRaths via Canva

A series of very warm days can jeopardize the health of your spinach crops. Install a soil thermometer to keep track of the temperature. If it is consistently above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, lay a shade cloth with a 50 to 60-percent shade factor over them.

If you haven’t mulched already spread some aluminum-coated mulch, this does a good job of deflecting the sun’s rays. Lightly misting or spraying the plants and soil will also give much-needed relief.

STEP EIGHT: CHECK SOIL PH

Soil pH Meter person using
Image credit: CIFOR via Openverse

Some factors such as rainfall and leaching, decaying organic matter, some fertilizers, and wet conditions can make soil more acidic. Fusarium wilt, also known as stem rot, is a soil-borne fungal disease that can ruin your entire crop. It is very aggressive in hot, acidic soil. So, keeping the soil cool is essential.

Also, make sure that your spinach continues to be rooted in neutral or slightly alkaline soil. Use a soil pH meter or test strips to check the pH. If it is acidic (less than seven), add baking soda, organic compost, manure, or garden lime to increase the alkalinity. Garden lime is rich in calcium, which research shows can strengthen the spinach plant’s ability to resist fusarium wilt and make an infection less severe.

STEP NINE: HARVEST YOUR SPINACH

It’s best to harvest the leaves when the weather is cool, for instance in early spring, late summer, or early fall. While it is ripe for picking at about four to six weeks, you can also pick baby leaves before then. Picking off the baby leaves encourages more leaves to grow.

Use your fingers, gardening scissors, or knife for harvesting. Pick mature leaves once they reach a size that you like. To harvest a whole bunch, cut the plant about an inch or two above the surface of the soil. By doing so, you will encourage the plant to sprout more leaves. Place the leaves in a bowl or basket.

If the plant is bolting, meaning it’s getting ready to seed, harvest right away. Some signs of bolting include sudden vertical growth, flowers blooming, and a more bitter taste to the leaves.

Enjoy Now or Later

Through fall, winter, spring, and even summer, you can enjoy this popular leafy green. Once picked, spinach will last for up to a week. Keep leaves in an airtight container or a reusable vegetable bag and wash the leaves right before eating. To freeze spinach for later, wash it, give it a whirl in a salad spinner and let it dry completely. Put it in an extra-thick freezer bag or airtight glass container.

Feel free to share these handy tips for growing spinach. Also, why not add your own below? We would love to hear them.

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