By Rachel Crow
Once you know how to grow spinach, you could be harvesting your own homegrown leaves of this tasty veg within six to eight weeks.
Bursting with nutrients – vitamins A, C, iron and calcium, for starters – and quick and easy to grow, there are many varieties of spinach. If you choose the right ones to sow successionally, you could enjoy the leaves year round.
Enjoyed either as cut-and-come-again baby leaves in salads, or larger leaves to wilt into the likes of pasta dishes, soups and stews, spinach is very versatile for use in a multitude of dishes.
See: Kitchen garden ideas – easy ways to get started
How to grow spinach
There are a number of options for growing spinach. You could grow it indoors or outdoors, in pots on a terrace or courtyard, among other crops in the vegetable patch, or in raised beds. Below, we take you through all the options.
Is spinach easy to grow?
If you've ever wondered if spinach is easy to grow, the simple answer is, yes.
'Select from one of three types of spinach. The curly leafed savoy, flat leafed, or the slightly curly semi-savoy. The flat leafed types generally have the mildest flavor and their smallest leaves are sold as baby spinach,' explains gardening expert Melinda Myers.
How long does spinach take to grow?
Spinach takes six weeks to grow from being sown to harvesting.
There are both winter cultivars and summer cultivars of spinach, which are sown and harvested at different times. Choose a variety of each to sow and you can enjoy the leaves all through the year.
'A fast-growing plant, spinach yields many leaves in a short time in the mild weather of spring and fall. When growing spinach, the trick lies in making it last as long as possible, especially in the spring, when lengthening days shorten its life,' explain experts at Bonnie Plants.
See: Small vegetable garden ideas – from layout designs to the best crops to grow
When to plant spinach?
The best time for growing spinach is during the cool weather of spring and fall as it is a cool weather crop.
Summer spinach cultivars: Plant summer varieties of spinach every few weeks from early until late spring.
Winter spinach cultivars: Sow hardy winter cultivars from mid summer to early autumn.
The experts at Bonnie Plants provide the following advice for growing spinach twice a year: plant it about four to six weeks before the last frost in the spring, and again six to eight weeks before the first frost in the fall.
By sowing seeds every three to four weeks you can enjoy a constant supply through the growing season.
See: Planning a kitchen garden - from designing a layout to picking plants
Growing spinach from seed
First decide on where you want to grow your spinach crops, as some of the smaller varieties are particularly well suited to containers, for instance.
For success in growing spinach, before sowing the seeds enrich the soil by digging in garden compost and a general fertilizer. This will both help the spinach to grow well, and also prevent the leaves tasting bitter.
'There is no such thing as putting too much compost in garden soil. Mix at least 2-4 inches of compost in the row before planting,' advises Simon Crawford, breeder at Burpee Europe.
'The key to success begins with getting the plants off to a good start. Plant the right varieties in a rich, organic soil. Supply lots of moisture, and don't be shy about fertilizing. Vigorous spinach is tasty spinach,' adds Simon.
See: How to grow lettuce – plant and care for iceberg lettuce and other varieties
- Grow spinach in moist but well-drained soil or compost.
- Winter spinach cultivars need a sunny position; summer spinach varieties are better in partial shade.
- Sow seeds thinly in a shallow drill – about 1inch deep.
- If sowing more than one row then space each row about 14 inches apart.
- Cover seeds lightly with soil.
- After the seeds germinate thin them to 3-5 inches apart. 'Thinning is very important and you must be ruthless,' says Simon Crawford.
- Fertilize plants regularly with a water-soluble plant food.
- Sow seeds every three to four weeks for a regular supply through the growing season.
- Keep spinach crops well watered – watering at the base of the plant.
‘Spinach can be cut again and again and last for months and months. I sow seeds deliberately quite thickly as a cut and come again salad crop. It’s important to keep them well watered and that way you will get delicious growth,' advises Monty Don in a video for Gardeners' World.
Growing spinach in raised beds
Choosing raised beds for growing spinach can get round the problem of your garden having poor soil or the wrong type of soil for crops to grow successfully – as spinach prefers a neutral to alkaline soil.
Raised beds offer good drainage and are also easily manageable. You can fill them with rich, organic soil, working in 2-4 inches of compost prior to planting spinach seeds.
See: Raised bed garden ideas - build raised beds now for productive, low-maintenance gardening
As above, sow spinach seeds in a shallow drill about 1 inch deep, each row about 14 inches apart. When seedlings are large enough to handle, thin them out to about 3 inches apart. Water and fertilize the plants regularly.
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How to grow spinach in pots
To grow spinach in pots, choose a wide pot or trough so that you can space out the spinach plants, and one that is about 6-8 inches deep.
- Use quality potting mix rich in organic matter.
- Well-draining soil is important for spinach to grow well in pots.
- Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep in containers.
- Seedlings should germinate in five to 14 days depending on the variety and growing conditions.
- Space each spinach plant at least 3 inches apart - or slightly further apart if you want to harvest larger leaves.
- Keep the pot in a sunny spot when growing spinach in the fall.
- When growing spinach in spring and summer keep the containers in semi shade.
- Do not let the spinach plants sit in wet soil – keep the soil moist but not wet – so make sure the pot has good drainage.
- Fertilize the soil regularly.
'One of the great advantages of container growing is that it is easy to extend the growing season. Many plants will benefit from the additional warmth found close to the house,' says Aaron Bertelsen, gardener and cook at Great Dixter and author of Grow Fruit & Vegetables in Pots: Planting advice and recipes from Great Dixter.
How to grow spinach indoors
It is easy to grow spinach indoors on a windowsill.
If planting in fall, place the pots on a sunnier windowsill as there are fewer hours of sunlight. Do not allow the plants to get too cold or too hot – so do not place directly above a radiator, for instance.
If planting in spring, then position the pot where it will get some shade.
Sow spinach seeds in a pot at least 6 inches deep, and plant seeds at a depth of 1/2 inch, with each plant spaced about 3 inches apart. Keep the spinach plants well watered, although do not allow the soil to get waterlogged.
Caring for spinach crops
- Protect spinach seedlings sown in the fall from the cold by covering with fleece or a cloche.
- Shade spinach crops in hot weather to stop the soil drying out and the spinach plants bolting. You can do this by planting them next to pole - or runner - beans which as they grow will provide shade to protect the tender spinach plants from the heat of the sun.
- Protect young spinach seedlings from slugs, snails and birds.
- Water and fertilize spinach plants regularly, but try to avoid getting the leaves wet.
- See: Companion planting - you ultimate guide
If you follow the advice on how to grow spinach, it should be ready to harvest between 6 to 10 weeks after sowing. If you sow successionally in spring and autumn, you can have spinach to harvest throughout the year.
Summer spinach cultivars – you can generally pick summer varieties of spinach from May to October.
Winter spinach cultivars – these can be harvested between October and April.
'Harvest a few leaves at a time from each plant. This will allow the plants to continue producing all season,' advises Simon Crawford.
Others gardening experts advise to harvest every alternate plant for use in the kitchen, giving the rest more room to grow.
Keep an eye on spinach crops as the plants usually grow quicker in warmer weather.
See: How to grow basil, from seed, indoors and out
There are options for how to pick the leaves for a later harvest. 'You can cut individual outer leaves when the plants are 3 inches tall and allow the inner leaves to continue to grow for later harvests. Or cut the whole head when the plant is 6 inches tall and wait several weeks for regrowth and a second harvest,' advises Melinda Myers.
Baby leaves are great for use in salads, whereas mature leaves can be wilted into soups, stews, pasta or risotto dishes, to name but a few.
Leaves are ideally used directly after harvesting for the best flavor, and any extras can be stored in the fridge for up to 14 days.
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