Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)

20180103_094145If you live in a part of the world that doesn’t get snow (jealous?!), most of the growing advice for cool weather crops won’t work for you.  Trust me, I’ve tried following the seed packet instructions, only to get nothing.  Zip.  Zero.

Warm weather tolerant varieties will help extend your harvest season.

A handy growing summary chart is at the end of the article.

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Growing spinach is incredibly easy, as long as you time it right.  Spinach is really only fussy about one thing, and that is temperature.  For people in zones 8+, like us, trying to grow spinach even in the spring can be tricky.  Sudden warm streaks can retard germination of the seeds, or cause your plants to bolt.  Bolting is when a plant starts to form flowers to go to seed, and stops putting energy into making leaves.  Not good for a plant whose sole reason for existing in your garden is to produce those leaves!

Seeds are small, but easy to handle.

The best time to start spinach in warmer weather zones that still have a cool winter is in early fall.  Forget late summer, it will likely still be too warm.  Spinach will not germinate well in soils that are over 85 F.  Lately for us, that means holding off until the end of September.

These holes are 1/2 deep and about 5 inches apart in each direction.

Spinach grown in warmer climates will be able to continue to produce through the winter as long as there are not any prolonged freezes.  In fact, you could plant in early fall and harvest throughout the winter and spring by doing the cut-and-come-again method.  This is where you snip off the leaves you want at the base of the stem, and leave the rest of the plant in the ground.  The plant will continue to grow, and you get to continue to harvest until the heat  finally puts an end to your spinach season.

Two seeds per hole, in case one doesn’t germinate.

You can also start your spinach in late winter or early spring, but don’t wait too long.  If the weather warms up suddenly, seeds will not germinate and your opportunities for harvest will be reduced.  For zones 8+ that means your last chance for successful harvest is really by planting in late January through February.  You can extend your season by offering some shade either in the morning or the afternoon, but spinach needs a decent amount of light to grow well.

At this stage, you can pinch off one of the seedlings.  Or, you can very, very, very gently dig them out of the soil and tease the roots apart.  Replant one, and move the other to an empty spot.  Very carefully!

Spinach is tasty, and not just to people.  Protect young seedlings from birds, snails and slugs, and anything else that likes to nibble on leafy greens.  (Click here for a great way to protect seedlings and reduce trash at the same time!)  Make sure to keep the soil moist as spinach is not drought tolerant.  If any soil amendments are needed, focus on providing more nitrogen and iron than other nutrients.  Blood meal is good for this.  The nitrogen and iron will help in the production of the green pigments and leaves.

Almost ready!  The title picture shows leaves that are ready for harvest.

Plant Summary:

  • Annual
  • Height: up to 1 foot
  • Width: up to 1 foot
  • Sun: full sun, or part shade in warm weather
  • Water: keep soil moist, but not soggy
  • Soil pH: 6.5 – 7.5
  • Soil type: loose, amend with organic material if soil is either very sandy or heavy clay
  • Key nutrients: nitrogen and iron
  • Planting time: zones 8+ in early fall or early spring

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