Growing Spinach

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growing spinach in a whiskey barrel

A bowl planter filled with spinach plants makes a great small cool-season garden. Spinach is one of the most cold tolerant vegetable plants.

Spinach is a cool-weather vegetable related to beets and Swiss chard. A fast-growing plant, it 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. Although it prefers full sun, spinach will still produce a respectable harvest in partial shade.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Spinach grows most quickly in well-drained soil rich in organic matter such as compost or composted manure and with a pH of 6.5 to 7. In order to grow spinach twice a year, plant it about 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in the spring, and again 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost in the fall. Space plants 12 inches apart; this gives leaves room to reach full size. For the most tender leaves, encourage spinach to grow fast and without interruption by using nitrogen-rich soil amendments such as blood meal, cottonseed meal, or composted manure or timed-release fertilizer worked into the soil before planting. Or, use liquid fertilizer such as Bonnie Herb and Vegetable Plant Food regularly for quick growth.

Warmer weather causes spinach to bolt. The leaves do not taste as good when the plant is flowering.

When spinach begins to bolt in warm weather, it tastes bitter and is ready to be pulled. The plants look tall and spindly with thick stalks when they start flowering.

In the spring, plants will grow tall and bloom (called bolting) as soon as the days are longer than 14 hours. Heat also speeds up bolting, since spinach prefers temperatures between 35 and 75 degrees. Our variety is slow to bolt, which is a real bonus for gardeners who don’t have the luxury of long stretches of mild weather.

Because it bolts in the lengthening days of spring, spinach is an especially popular crop for fall, when days are short and cool. Plants are very cold-hardy, tolerating temperatures as cold as the teens to low 20s once they are well established. This quality makes them great for overwintering over in zones 8 and southward.

In cold climates, some gardeners plant spinach in a cold frame or cover plants with hay and leave them all winter; they’ll be first to produce a very early spring harvest.

Troubleshooting

Heat and long days will end your crop, so plant as mentioned above. Pests that enjoy spinach include flea beetles, spider mites, and aphids, which feed on the leaves. Diseases that attack plants are downy mildew (a mildew that may appear during cool, moist weather) and white rust (which causes white spots on the leaves).

Harvest and Storage

growing spinach close together allows them to be thinned

These spinach plants grow close together so that they can be thinned as they are harvested.

Spinach leaves are ready to harvest as soon as they are big enough to eat. Harvest by removing only the outer leaves and allowing the center leaves to grow larger; this will allow the plant to keep producing. Picking the outer leaves also gives the advantage of briefly delaying bolting. In spring, when plants are about to bolt, pull the entire plant at once to enjoy the leaves before they become bitter.

FAQs

When is the best time to plant spinach?

In late winter or early spring for a fast crop and again in late summer or early fall, after the hottest temperatures have passed. Spinach is a cool-weather vegetable.

How can I know when my spinach is ready for harvest? What is the method of harvesting?

When the outer leaves are about 6 inches long, they’re ready to be harvested. Or, if it is spring and plants are near the end of the season where they will soon bolt (bloom), you can pull up or cut the entire plant.

My spinach bolted, and I cut the plants just above the soil line. Will I get another crop from them?

No, they are finished. It is time to pull them up and replace them with a warm-weather crop. You can plant spinach again in late summer for a fall harvest.

42 thoughts on “Growing Spinach

  1. I live in zone 6 (CT by the shoreline) and I’m a first time gardner. I’m trying to grow spinach from seeds and they are not working well as some of my neighbors spinach. I planted them onOne person told me not to water every day but everything I’ve read says to water daily

    • Hello,
      When you start from seeds, you do need to water lightly everyday. Seeds need to stay moist to germinate. That does not mean watering deeply a couple of times weekly, but keep the soil moist to hasten germination. – danielle, Bonnie Plants

    • Hi Cookie,
      You can harvest spinach leaves whenever they large enough to put on your plate (or in your mouth). You can harvest by cutting the leaves or waiting and harvesting the entire plant. Click on the harvest and storage tab here for more details on harvesting your spinach.

  2. Hello. I live in Philadelphia. My spinach is growing great however I just noticed some of the leaves have very tiny and perfect holes in them. What pest could be causing this and how can I get rid of it? Thanks!

    • Hi Melissa,
      Flea beetles, spider mites, and aphids all feed on spinach leaves. Look around the plant both during the day and at night to see if you can catch the pest in action. This is also a good diagnostic tool from Cornell Univeristy with pictures and control recommendations for spinach pests. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

  3. I’ve never grown spinach before (or any type of lettuce) — how can I tell when it’s ready to be harvested and how much should I harvest? Do I just pick off the leaves?

    • Hi Tina,
      When the leaves are big enough for to eat – you can harvest them :) You can harvest them one of two ways. Click the harvest and storage tab on this page for detailed information on harvesting! – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  4. ok. i live in alabama. can i grow this in the summer? if so should I grow it in a pot outside or in the garden outside or in a pot inside or what?

    • Hello Bayleigh,
      Spinach will grow well in a container and in the ground. However, it does not grow well in the midst of an Alabama summer. It is best grown as a very early Spring or Fall crop. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  5. so my spinach plant is growing fine…but there are white spots under the leaves as well as small white spiders…I want to harvest these leaves, but I am afraid they might be home to flies, which I have seen buzzing around the bush…or these new found spiders….what should I do?

    • Hi Nicole,
      Wash the leaves before you eat them – they are safe to eat! If you think you may have spider mites ( you would find them on the undersides of the leaves) follow these steps outlined in Organic Gardening magazine. If you only have a couple of plants, sometimes a stiff spray of water directed under the leaves (and sometimes insecticidal soap) is all that is needed to ‘drown’ out the population. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  6. I live in the Virginia area which is zone 7. This is the first time I am planting Spinach and need some pointers. Its now almost end of April and I am just planting now. Can I still plant Spinach now or when should I be planting the spinach?

    Thanks

    • Hi Cindy. You can plant your spinach now. Tips on keeping it happy throughout April and May are to give it light afternoon shade or plant it under other plants like tomatoes or peppers that will eventually grow to give it slight shade. Keep it watered and fertilized well, as it’s a leafy green that needs lots of nitrogen. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  7. Hi I’m in Philadelphia, PA and just purchased some of your spinach plants from Home Depot. I have planted a few in a rectangle container and the rest will go into my garden in South Jersey. I have read they should have been planted 4-6 weeks before last frost. Will these plants still produce without bolting?

    • Hi Karen,
      Fresh spinach from your garden is a good thing. You will love it! Spinach bolts when the day length (hours of sunlight) get long in late spring and summer. When the daylength hits 14+ hours and the temps are higher than 80 degrees, you can count on it going to seed. Two things: enjoy it now as long as you can, and filter it with light afternoon shade if it’s in full blazing sun (to keep it slightly cooler), and think about having an early fall crop, too. If you just have a few days of unusual warmth, you may harvest the spinach for a while yet! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  8. what is happening when the lettuce or spinach starts to grow and it gets about an inch high and then the next day its gone?

    • Hello Margaret,
      If it is completely gone something has probably eaten it. Have you noticed any deer or rabbits around the garden area?
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

    • You can keep spinach from 7 – 14 days when properly stored in the refrigerator according to this publication from Cornell Univeristy Cooperative Extension.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  9. Hello, I have a question concerning my spinach? You see, I live in south west Texas and I’ve recently planted your lovely spinach. It’s doing very well except for one small problem… There are tiny little holes in a couple of my spinach plants. I suspect it is some sort of insect, however I don’t know for certain what could be causing it. This is quite distressing because I had hoped to have a steady supply of fresh, healthy spinach to eat from this summer! I want to help my poor plant, but I’m unsure how to go about it? Please, if you have any organic pesticide suggestions, I would be more than happy to hear them!
    Thank you in advance!

  10. Can spinach come in different colors than green.Also how long does it take for spinach to germinate?

    • Hi Cookie,
      Yes, I have had red spinach as well as a green spinach with bright yellow stems. Spinach seeds will germinate anywhere from 5 – 15 days depending on temperatures.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  11. Hi Kelly & Mary Beth,

    I want to start growing spinach. I live in Baltimore, MD and in climate zone 32. I have planted successful crops of different assortments of lettuce, so I believe spinach would grow quite well here. Is there anything I should consider when growing spinach? When should I plant them? ~Claire W.

    • Hi Claire,
      Spinach is a cool season crop that will do well interplanted with lettuces. You’ve asked a lot of exciting questions about getting started with your garden, so you will find this localized planting chart from Maryland Cooperative Extension very helpful. This article (above) is packed with our best step-by-step advice for growing spinach. Make sure you click on the tabs pointing to Harvesting and Use information, also. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  12. GIANT GERMAN SPINACH;
    We have been growing GIANT GERMAN SPINACH for many years. Got seed frm Aunt Florence, my wifes Sister.
    It it a Hybryd of Spinach and a weed, I think it is PIGWEED.
    It grows to 8 feet high in fertile garden soil. Has huge Heart shaped Leaves and is very delicious and tender all summer, grows well in hot weather.
    It was developed in Germany. I found a page on the web 2 years ago with the Scientific name of the WEED and all about it. Can not find that page again.
    It goes to seed in late summer with many winged seeds. We never had to plant the seeds as they were tilled in in the Fall and came up little seedlings all over the garden. We trans-planted the little seedling in a row.

    • Hi David,
      While I’m not personally familiar with eating this plant, I have heard of it (mostly in reference to noxious weed status, as it seeds prolifically). Could it be commonly known as Lamb’s Quarters? A quick search pulls up this link that describes cooking it like spinach. Some people also eat the seeds and compare it to quinoa. Give this a read and let us know if this is the botanical name you’re seeking. Have a great day! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  13. I live in Knoxville TN, and replanted spinach seeds about the first week in October. Before planting, I worked in most, if not all, of a 50# bag of composted manure. I can count on both hands, the number of seedlings that are up – maybe about 6 have the 2nd set of leaves. This entire week, I have tried to take advantage of warmer weather (low to mid 70s) by day, and put down a general fertilizer of 6-10-10 (I could not come up with the $$ for a 40# bag of balanced 10, which spinach thrives on), and watered every other day. What, oh what, have I done wrong? I have a customer waiting for this green gold. Many thanks.

    • Hi Pat,
      You’ve just experienced one of the main reasons gardeners love to plant our spinach seedlings for a healthy headstart! Spinach is tricky to germinate, as it loves specific soil and outdoor temps. Also, I wouldn’t fertilize the soil or seeds until they are up and have gained in size. It’s easy to burn them or overdo it at that stage. This Cooperative Extension site gives you a much-needed trick on germinating spinach in the fall — refrigerate the seeds. Or, if you can find some of our Bonnie seedlings in Tenn now, those will give you more instant gratification and you’ll have time to eat a few salads before mulching the plants over winter for a resurgence next spring. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

    • Hi Cali,
      If you are growing your spinach in the ground or a raised bed, every three days or so on a drip irrigation system is plentiful. If you are growing in containers, it may need it more frequently, as pots tend to dry out faster. You might enjoy this article on Watering Vegetables for more information. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  14. Hi! This is my first attempt at a Fall garden. I’m trying a few things including 2 lettuce varieties, spinach,beets, and broccoli. My spinach is not doing well , the plants don’t seem to be growing and are slightly yellow. They are in a conatainer with organic miracle gro soil. They have full sun. The temps got over 80 (two days) about 4 days after I planted.
    Any suggestions on saving these little guys?
    Thanks! (I am in North Texas)

    • Hi Chris,
      That sounds like a wonderful fall garden! Regarding your spinach, yellowing is commonly from a nitrogen deficiency that can be the result of overwatering. In a container most vegetables need to be watered whenever the top inch and a half or so of potting soil becomes dry to the touch. Most vegetables need an inch to an inch and a half of water a week from either rainfall or irrigation. Water in the morning at the base of the plant, keeping the foliage dry, to prevent some disease problems. Start using a liquid fertilizer specifically for vegetables, too. If you are in an intensely warm/sunny area, you may consider moving them temporarily to a spot with light afternoon shade until the high temps drop down a bit. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  15. I have a question… This is my first year planting a vegetable garden, so I call it my experiment. I have a small crop of spunach that is bolting. Is it too late to harvest? Is therer a way to get any harvest out of this?

    • Hi Constance,
      We are so glad to hear that you’ve started gardening! You’ll want to be sure to check out the Gardening Basics section of our library to familiarize yourself with soil, fertilizing, spacing of plants and more. Not knowing where you live, I can guess that the weather is warming up considerably and your spinach is done for the season and wants to set seed. You can pluck off leaves at the base to try in sautes or salads, it may taste fine depending on the recipes you use. Typically, when leafy greens bolt, the foliage seems bitter and “off” in flavor. No harm in trying! Let us know. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  16. Will Bonnie spinach plants be available in the Harrisburg, Pa area in the fall? (2012)
    Thank you

    • Hi Lynda,

      I don’t believe that we will be selling plants in your area in the fall. We sell fall plants only in a limited number of areas. Are you growing the Bonnie Spinach now? I hope you like it!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

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