Spinach is one of my favorite plants to grow in the garden. It’s super low-maintenance and attractive, and I love the versatility of the leaves in the kitchen.
If you had to be bribed or coerced into eating your spinach leaves as a kid (or adult), try growing different varieties. You’ll get the best flavor and the highest nutritional content when you enjoy these glossy leaves fresh from the garden.
And if you’re the kind of adult who buys boxes and boxes of spinach leaves from the store, I’ve got great news: You can replace those boxes with your own homegrown spinach for half of the year if you’ve got about 9 square feet of growing space and fresh seeds.
Here’s how to grow your own organic spinach from seed.
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MY FAVORITE VARIETIES OF SPINACH TO GROW
There are many more types of spinach you can enjoy than that one smooth-leaf kind from the grocery store. Commercial growers typically avoid spinach types with curly or bumpy leaves simply because they’re harder to wash. So the best way to experience these delicious, tender leaves is to grow them yourself.
Here are a few of my spinach recommendations:
WHEN TO PLANT SPINACH SEEDS
You don’t have to limit yourself to one spring planting of spinach. Examine your average monthly temperatures for the year to find opportunities to grow this cool-season crop. You might be surprised to learn that many of us can grow spinach about 6 months out of the year, especially if we use garden covers like shade cloth and frost cloth to extend our spinach growing seasons.
Spinach prefers nice, cool days, but it can also handle cold weather. Its ideal temperature range is about 45°F to 75°F. You can plant spinach anytime you’re expecting mainly temps in this range for the next 6 to 8 weeks. For most of you, that will be in your spring or fall. For me, that’s mostly during my winter months here in Central Texas.
The best time to begin direct sowing spinach outdoors is as early as 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date in the spring, basically as soon as the soil in your raised beds is workable. You don’t have to worry if another cold snap hits. A little frost sweetens up the leaves.
As you move into spring and summer, don’t sow seeds if you’re expecting your temps to stay above 85°F for the next couple of weeks. If your plants germinate, they’ll just feel stressed out about the heat (Same, spinach, same) and they’ll bolt (or go to seed) quickly. During periods of warm temperatures, swap your spinach seeds for Malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach, arugula, and mizuna—leafy greens that are more heat-tolerant.
Begin sowing spinach seeds again for a fall harvest as soon as your temps fall below 85°F. Plant your spinach in a spot that receives afternoon shade, or cover the planting area with some shade cloth until cool weather arrives.
STARTING SEEDS INDOORS VS DIRECT SEEDING
Spinach seedlings are sensitive to disturbances, so I recommend waiting until your weather is ideal to direct seed spinach in the garden. You’ll end up with healthier plants that are slower to bolt in warm weather than transplants. Plus, these plants are so fast growing I just don’t think it’s worth going through the hassle of indoor seed starting.
WHERE TO GROW SPINACH
Spinach grows really well in raised beds filled with sandy loam soil or containers. Your container only needs to be about 6″ deep, but it should at least be really wide so that you can grow enough plants to get a good leaf harvest each week. Make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of the container so that the spinach roots don’t sit in water. You can grow spinach in straight compost, or you can mix some compost with organic potting soil to fill your container.
How Much Sun Does Spinach Need?
Spinach only needs about 4 hours of sunlight a day to produce. This is a great plant to grow on shaded balconies or patios or even on sunny windowsills. Just know your leaves won’t grow as fast with 4 hours as they would with 6 hours. Again, spinach prefers some afternoon shade as the weather warms.
3 SIMPLE STEPS TO SOW SPINACH SEEDS
Follow these simple steps to grow your own organic spinach from seed.
Step one for planting spinach seeds
Loosen up the top couple inches of soil in your raised bed or container with a little hand rake. Add some fresh, finished compost, worm castings, and/or an all purpose fertilizer such as Microlife to the surface of the planting area. This gives your young plants all the nutrients they’ll need to grow and produce lots of leaves for you. Press lightly on the soil to make it a nice, level surface.
Step two for planting spinach seeds
Use your finger or a dibber to make holes that are 1/2″ deep and spaced every 4″ to 6″. Keep in mind that 1/2″ is really not all that deep. If you bury these seeds too much, they’ll tire themselves out trying to reach sunlight and never grow.
If you’re planting in rows, space your rows 4″ apart and stagger them so that the next line of seeds is in the windows of the first. This tight spacing assumes that you’ll harvest individual leaves often.
Wait until all your seeds are placed before you pinch the planting holes closed with your fingers.
Step three for planting spinach seeds
Give your seeds a nice watering in. Keep the soil evenly moist while you’re waiting on the seeds to sprout. Spinach seed germination can be slow. Most seeds will sprout within 10 days, but some can take as long as 15 days.
Every couple of weeks, sow more spinach seeds so that you have a continual harvest of delicious leaves. If any plants pop up too close together, thin seedlings by cutting them at their base. Enjoy these thinned plants as spinach microgreens.
If you’re worried about pests on your spinach leaves, there’s an extra step you can take to protect your tender young leaves. But you have to do this the very day you plant your spinach for it to be effective. This step involves covering your entire spinach bed with garden mesh or a row cover so that insect pests never have access. Use garden hoops to hold the mesh over your raised garden beds.
This method of organic pest control is extremely effective against pests like flea beetles or leaf miners that like to lay their eggs on your leaves (since it’s really their offspring that do all the damage). It can also keep out larger pests like squirrels and rabbits.
HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR SPINACH PLANTS
Spinach is pretty easy to grow. Your main tasks will be watering, pruning leaves, and using protective covers when needed.
Spinach plants need lots of water to grow. Keep the soil moist for your baby spinach plants. Once your leafy greens are more established, water deeply when the soil feels dry 1″ down. Consider adding a drip irrigation system if you’re growing in a raised bed to make your life really easy. Otherwise, aim your water at the roots of the plant instead of the leaves to prevent fungal diseases when you’re using a hose or watering can.
Keep your spinach plants healthy by picking off any damaged or yellowing leaves. You’ll also want to harvest outer leaves often to maintain good air circulation.
Spinach can handle frost, but if you’re expecting temps below 26°F, it’s best to cover your plants with frost cloth. Make sure to cover younger spinach plants if any kind of freeze is expected, since they’re not established in the garden yet. If you live in a cold climate, you can typically keep spinach alive inside a cold frame or hoop house well into your colder months.
Cover with shade cloth to extend your growing season in the late spring or early fall.
The organic matter you added at the time of planting will likely provide enough nutrients, but if you think your plants need to be fertilized, you can feed your spinach plants regularly with liquid seaweed to encourage lots of healthy leaf growth.
HOW TO HARVEST SPINACH LEAVES
Baby spinach leaves are typically ready to harvest in just 28 to 30 days. Many people prefer the taste of younger spinach leaves in salads and smoothies. Larger leaves are ready to harvest by 60 days and are great for sautéing.
The best way to harvest spinach leaves while keeping your plants productive is to take just a couple leaves from the outside of each plant at a time. Use a clean pair of scissors or your fingers to cut or pinch each stem below the leaf. Leave the plants to produce more leaves for you from the center.
If your cool season is coming to an end, you can harvest the entire plant by cutting it at the base. Remove spinach plants at the first signs of bolting (change in leaf shape and flavor, lengthening stem, etc.).
Enjoy Perpetual Spinach for Half the Year!
That’s pretty much all there is to growing your own supply of fresh, organic spinach for half the year wherever you live.
What are your favorite spinach varieties? Let us know in the comments!
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