How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Spinach in Your Garden

Are you thinking of adding some spinach to your home garden? Spinach can be one of the best plants to start with in a garden, especially for beginning gardeners, or even kids. But how do you get the most out of your spinach harvest? In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey examines how you can get the most out of your harvest with this comprehensive guide on planting, growing, and caring for spinach in your home garden.

How to Grow Spinach

Whether you enjoy it in green smoothies, pasta, veggie bowls, or delicious autumn salads, spinach is a cool-weather garden staple. It’s is easy to grow fresh green and provides an ongoing harvest. Often it is the first green in the spring and last in the fall. You can even grow it all winter long in some areas (USDA growing zone 6 or warmer). 

Spinach is a low-maintenance crop with very few pests or disease issues. Its quick-growing, easy-going culture is perfect for advanced and novice gardeners alike. It’s also packed with nutrients, making it an easy choice for health-conscious gardeners that plan to incorporate it as a food source in their diet.

After seven years of growing organic spinach on a commercial scale, I’ve discovered a few tricks to making this delicious green thrive in almost any garden.  Let’s jump in and take a look at how to plant, grow, and care for spinach!

Spinach Overview

Leafy Greens in a Garden

Plant Type

Annual

Plant Family

Amaranthaceae, Chenopodiaceae

Plant Species

Spinacia oleracea

Plant Genus

Spinacia

Hardiness Zone

USDA 3-9

Season

Spring and Fall

Sun Exposure

Full Sun to Partial Shade

Watering Requirements

Moderate

Maturity Date

24-30 Days

Companion Plants

Brassicas, Cool Weather Greens

Don’t Plant With

Fennel, Potatoes

Soil Type

Alkaline, Loamy

Plant Spacing

1-2” for Baby Leaf, 4-6” for Full Size

Fertility Needs

Light to Moderate

Plant Height

4-6 Inches

Maintenance

Low

Diseases

Downy Mildew

Pests

Few to None

All About Spinach 

Spinach is a leafy iron-rich green popular in many cuisines. It is an annual low-growing crop and member of the Amaranthaceae/Chenopodiaceae family, along with beets, chard, amaranth, quinoa, and lambs quarter. Some varieties are perennial veggies, which means they will regrow each year.

It prefers more alkaline soils (sandy soils with pH 7 or greater). It is best grown in the cool weather of spring and autumn. Long days and summer heat over 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit will cause it to bolt (go to seed) very quickly. Seeds will not germinate well in temperatures over 75 degrees.  

Propagation and Planting 

Young Plants Sprouting From the Earth
Planting seeds directly into the ground is the easiest way to grow it in your garden.

You can grow spinach from direct seeding or transplant it into the garden after sowing indoors. It grows very quickly and prolifically so long as you provide the right growing conditions.  

Succession Planting 

Succession Planting Greens
Growing a few rounds at a time means you get a fresh harvest for months.

Succession planting means growing several rounds of spinach throughout the season. At a given point in my fall garden, I may have spinach that is just germinating, baby spinach that is almost ready to harvest, and full-size spinach that I am picking off of. This ensures you have a continuous supply of nutritious greens.  

When you decide on your planting dates in the garden, consider staggering them so you get a few successions throughout the season. It takes 24-30 days to mature and can be harvested for a few weeks off each planting. Depending how much your family eats, you may want anywhere from 1-4 successions each season.  

When to Plant

When you plant spinach, mapping out the correct time of year is important. Too late in the year, and you won’t get growth, too early, and it can take longer than you want for the seeds to take root. Let’s take a look at the best timeframes to plant.

Spring

Greens on a Sunny Spring Day
Though spinach prefers the cold, you can plant and harvest it in early spring.

The earliest crop will always come from overwintered plantings in the late fall. If you start seedlings indoors about 4 weeks before the last frost, it can be planted as soon as the snow has melted and nighttime temperatures are above 25 degrees.  

Spring spinach is best directly sown when soil temperatures reach 40 to 45 degrees. Use a soil thermometer to check your soil temperatures before planting. Seeds germinate best between 45 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.   

Fall

Leafy Greens in the Fall
Be sure to plant fall spinach in the late summer or as close to the start of fall as possible.

Fall spinach should be planted in late summer around the Fall Equinox (when daylight and nighttime are about 12 hours). It can be planted before the equinox if daytime temperatures cool to around 70 degrees or less.  

Fall planting successions should ideally be sown every 7-14 days. As the weather cools, it will grow slower and need more time to recover after harvests.  

Winter

Green Leaves Harvested in Winter
It is best to grow it during the winter in most hardiness zones.

In growing zones 5-9, spinach can be grown nearly year-round. Winter spinach should be planted in the fall 2-3 weeks before the first frost so it can get established before cold temperatures come. 

Even in growing zones as cold as zone 3, it will die back to the ground and re-sprout in the spring. Mulching or using row cover may help it spring back as soon as the snow melts.     

Prepare Soil for Planting  

Person Preparing Soil for Young Plant
Fluff the soil with a garden fork and add some compost to it and it is ready for planting!

Like most vegetables, spinach prefers a loose aerated soil that has been amended with compost. To prepare the garden, broadfork garden beds and add 1-2” of compost on the top of the bed. Optionally, you can add all-purpose granular organic fertilizer to the soil before planting.

Overall, it is a light feeder that doesn’t require a ton of fertility, however, worm castings or trace minerals like kelp can drastically improve performance in your garden. 

Direct Seeding 

Person Holding Seeds
Spinach seeds are large enough to direct seed by hand.

You can direct seed by hand or with a push-behind seeder. Spinach seeds are fairly large like beets and easy to see, making it simple for beginners to achieve optimal spacing. 

To begin, use your finger or the back of a shovel handle to make a shallow furrow in the soil, about ½-¾” deep. Pour some seeds into your hand and place them in the furrow.  

Recommended Spacing 

Spaced Out Seeds in the Ground
The space between seeds depends on whether you are planting baby leaf or full-size spinach.

Baby Spinach: 3-5 seeds per inch, rows 2-4” apart 

Full Size: 8-10 seeds per foot, rows 12-18” apart 

Remember, spacing spinach too closely could result in crowding and poor yields. But spacing it too far apart means more weed pressure and less utilized garden space. Find a happy medium that works for your space availability and the type you are growing.  

How to Transplant Spinach 

Person Transplanting Spinach Plant
If you choose to start planting indoors, you can still transplant them to your garden.

Spinach seeds can be started indoors to get a head start on the season in the spring. As early as a month or more before the last frost, prepare a 6-pack of 128-cell seedling trays with an airy organic potting mix that includes compost and perlite.  

Sow 1-2 seeds per cell at about ½” deep, or twice the dimension of the seed. Gently cover with potting mix and keep moist below lights or near a sunny south-facing window. Do not overwater seedlings, but do not let them dry out. Do not use heating mats, as this plant has a hard time germinating in temperatures over 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  

When seedlings reach 2-4” in height and their roots have thoroughly filled out their cells, it is time to transplant in the garden! Use your hands, a trowel, or a Hori planting knife to make a hole and place each cell in the ground, about 4-6” between plants and 6-10” between rows.  

Unlike tomatoes and some other crops, seedlings need to be planted at ground level. They should not be planted too deep because you don’t want to bury the growing point. Make sure the roots are thoroughly covered and greens are fully exposed above the soil surface.  

Backfill and water in with a watering can and optional diluted fish emulsion fertilizer like Neptune’s Harvest (dilute very well, spinach is not a heavy feeder). Transplanted plants are usually best grown for full-size leaves. 

Companion Planting 

Cabbage and Spinach Companion Planted in a Garden
Cabbage is an excellent vegetable to companion plant in your garden.

Spinach is a great crop to interplant or companion plant with others in your garden. Companion plants boost each other’s growth and work together to maximize space and soil conditions. Remember, diversity is resilience! Cultivating a diverse garden means more ecological resilience against pests and diseases, as well as more beauty and nutritional value! 

Spinach plants well with: 

  • Cilantro 
  • Kale 
  • Lettuce 
  • Swiss Chard Varieties
  • Cauliflower 
  • Broccoli 
  • Bok Choy 
  • Salad Greens 
  • Watercress 
  • Scallions 

Avoid planting with: 

  • Fennel 
  • Potatoes  

Varieties 

There are many varieties of spinach: savoy, semi-savoy, and smooth leaf. Some varieties are bred specifically for fall harvests or for winter growing, others are bred specifically for optimal flavor and texture. 

Savoy vs. Regular Spinach 

Dark Savoy Spinach
If there is texture to the leaves, it’s called savoy spinach.

Savoy simply means curled or crinkly textured leaves. Savoy spinach is usually used for cooking, whereas regular smooth-leaf spinach is best for eating raw. Curly savoy leaves are a rich deep green, crisp in texture, and slightly bitter (though they sweeten up significantly after frosts).  

Savoy is a more substantial green, denser, and thicker for soups, stews, and winter sautees. Smooth spinach is more neutral and light in flavor, with a thinner leaf texture that is better for eating raw or slightly wilted. Smooth spinach is typically grown in the spring or as tender baby greens.  

Savoy and Semi-Savoy Varieties 

Close up of Hammerhead or Semi-Savoy
Hammerhead spinach curls under and is considered a semi-savoy variety.

The curly hardy leaves of savoy varieties are crisp and full, perfect for cooking. Semi-savoy varieties offer the best of both worlds: tenderness for fresh eating, yet enough substance and crinkly texture for cooking.  

  • Emperor: dark-colored semi-savoy with long stems, great for spring or fall plantings, very resistant to downy mildew 
  • Hammerhead: medium-green savoy with long, cupped leaves that curl under, quick to bolt so best for early spring and fall sowings, resistant to downy mildew and white rust 
  • Kookaburra: a fast-growing semi-savoy variety perfect for early spring and fall, great for baby and full-size leaves, resistant to downy mildew 

Smooth Leaf Varieties 

Person Holding Up Smooth Leaf Variety to the Sun
The smooth leaves of these varieties are preferred in salads or as a sandwich topping.

Smooth leaf spinach is best for fall baby greens or spring harvests. Some of our favorite varieties include: 

  • Auroch: a fast-growing upright variety with long stems for fall and winter, very resistant to downy mildew   
  • Gazelle: verdant, semi-smooth, uniform oval or rounded leaves with nice sweet flavor, best for fall and winter harvests, resistant to downy mildew  
  • Lizard: a slow-bolting plant with smooth oval leaves, great for spring an summer plantings, high yields and quick regrowth after harvest 

Frost-Tolerant Varieties 

Leafy Vegetable With Frost
There are a few varieties that can handle cold temperatures and even frost.

You may want to plant spinach throughout the fall in hopes of yummy winter sandwiches and nurturing veggie stews! It needs to get established before the first frost, but it stays cold-hardy down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, it gets sweeter after a few light frosts.  

However, if the plant is too young or is stressed from lack of water or sunlight, it may not be able to survive those frigid temperatures. Plant at least 2-3 weeks before the estimated first frost for your area. Choose an extra cold-hardy variety like ‘Gazelle’ or ‘Hammerhead’ and use a frost protection row cover or a low tunnel to keep your plants protected.  

Caring for Spinach 

Luckily, this is a relatively low-maintenance and easy to care for plant if you give it the right conditions to thrive. 

Water 

Hose Watering Plants
It is important to make sure your spinach gets enough water, especially when it is young.

In terms of irrigation, it’s is not quite as finicky as carrots or tomatoes. Direct seeded planting will need plenty of water to germinate and grow, but once established plants can usually be irrigated 2-3 times per week depending on the weather.  

Spinach likes a continuous source of moderate moisture and is more susceptible to bolting and slow-growing if the soil is too dry. In many regions, growing it without irrigation is quite easy because of rainy spring and autumn weather. 

Spinach can be watered by hand, with drip irrigation, or with soaker hoses. It can also be overhead irrigated, but downy mildew is an issue in greenhouses or indoor growing if there is a lack of airflow.  

Soil and Fertility 

Young Plants in the Soil
Having the right soil is the foundation for a succesful harvest.

Spinach does not need a ton of fertility, but it does love high-quality compost and a slightly alkaline environment (pH over 7.0). It’s sensitive to acidity, which means I usually avoid planting it in areas that have had a lot of woody material like leaves or wood chips (which make soil more acidic). 

The most common nutrient deficiency with this plant is boron. It will manifest as small, pale green leaves. They may be deformed or unsightly, and the roots turn dry and dark-colored. This deficiency is common in plant cousins like beets and chard as well. The easiest organic fix is an application of Borax, which is OMRI approved. Use about 1 tablespoon per 100 square feet, dust into the soil, or mixed with 1 gallon of water and watered in. 

Be sure your soil is well-drained by using a broadfork to loosen the garden before planting. Microbially-rich compost adds aeration and structure to the soil that helps it thrive. Because it is a shallow-rooted plant, it is very important that there is no surface compaction. Compacted soil may result in stressed yellowing leaves.  

Temperature 

Healthy Plants Growing in a Garden
The right temperature is vital for proper spinach growth, as too much warmth can cause it to bolt or flower.

Spinach prefers temperatures between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but it will tolerate cold as low as 15 to 20 degrees. It gets more delicious as the nights cool and really shines when the rest of the garden starts to fizzle out. Keep in mind that lower temperatures will naturally slow down its growth and you may need to plant more for a continuous fall harvest. 

It will tolerate heat as high as 70 to 75 degrees, but quickly bolts when the day length gets longer than 14 hours or temperatures consistently reach above 75. Shade cloth can provide a cooler environment to hold a little longer into the summer. 

If you insist on growing in the summer, Malabar spinach is an unrelated alternative that is very heat tolerant and tastes somewhat similar.  

Sunlight 

Plant Getting Some Sunlight
Spinach requires full sunlight to thrive in your garden.

Like most greens, spinach prefers full sunlight but can tolerate some shade. It does well interplanting alongside scallions or under young tomato plants. It also works great in container or windowsill gardens as long as it has at least 6” of space and preferably a south-facing window. 

Troubleshooting  

Spinach is not prone to many pests, making it an excellent vegetable for beginner gardeners. It is however, succeptible to rabbits, so be aware of your planting space. The greatest threats to a healthy crop are downy mildew, weeds and hot weather.  

Downy Mildew 

Downy Mildew on Grape Leaves
Yellow spots or powdery fungus are signs of downy mildew.

The only disease that really causes problems in spinach is downy mildew. It is caused by the oomycete Peronospora farinosa f.sp. Spinaciae. This powdery fungus-like pathogen thrives in the humid damp conditions of the northeast and greenhouse tunnels.  

It first appears as yellow irregular patches on the leaves and eventually purplish-grey spores on the underside of leaves. It may appear powdery and later dry out and turn the leaves brown. The disease spreads by wind and drafts, especially thriving in humid areas without enough airflow between plants. 

Fortunately, most seed varieties are bred for downy mildew resistance. The easiest way to prevent downy mildew is to properly space your plants and harvest regularly. If you start to see downy mildew take hold, remove the infected leaves, and throw them away.  

You can use a diluted neem solution as both prevention and treatment to keep the infection at bay. If you have a problem with downy mildew, avoid overhead irrigation as this makes the leaves stay wet for long periods of time. Row cover and drip irrigation or soaker hoses are great options for keeping it free of downy mildew in fall plantings.  

Weeds 

Person Pulling Weeds From a Garden
Keep an eye on your garden and eradicate any weeds you see, as they can compete with this low-growing vegetable.

If you don’t keep your spinach weeded at the early stages, it will have a hard time competing for sunlight because it is a low-growing plant. Higher density plantings of baby spinach are the best at beating weed pressure. Gardeners should hand weed between plants and use a hoe or wire weeding between rows once a week, or as needed.  

Heat and Bolting 

Buds Forming From Bolted Spinach
Warm weather means your spinach will likely bolt or flower, causing it to become bitter.

Although most of us love to eat this nutritious vegetable in the summer, it does not like warm weather over 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. If a sudden heatwave comes through, your harvest may bolt and get bitter very quickly. If you are seeding in warm soils above 80 degrees, the germination may be spotty or sporadic.  

There are a few bolt-resistant varieties such as ‘Lizard’ and ‘Kolibri’. Keep in mind these varieties are “slow-bolting” but still not completely resistant to hot weather. This is why it’s best to plant spinach only in cooler weather. 

How to Harvest Spinach 

The crisp crunch of spinach is best experienced within a few days of harvest. Simply grab a handful and cut across the bottom of the stems, leaving the center growing point intact. You can continue to “cut and come again” for at least 3-5 cuts before it starts to slow down.  

Baby Leaf

Person Harvesting Baby Leaf Spinach
You should be able to harvest baby leag spinach every 1-2 weeks.

As mentioned above, I like to plant a new succession every week or two to allow for a continuous new harvest of baby greens. Smooth or semi-savoy varieties are typically best for baby-leaf plantings.  

When cutting baby leaf spinach, you can use a serrated Victorinox garden knife to cut at the base of the stems. Hold the leaves back with your hand and cut them in a straight line across. I call this the “mowing” method because it mows the plant almost to the ground. From there, it can grow fresh new leaves in 1-2 weeks.   

Full-Size

Person Harvesting Full-Size Greens With a Knife
A knife is best for the “mowing” method of harvesting spinach.

For full-size spinach leaves, simply let your plants grow for an extra week or two before harvesting. Large leaves can be plucked by hand just like you would harvest kale or chard, being sure to leave a few smaller center leaves in place to keep the plant producing.  

Cold Hardiness

Greens With Snow on the Leaves
This vegetable does well in colder climates and can even tolerate frost or some snow.

Spinach is hardy down to 10 or 15 degrees Fahrenheit. It gets more flavorful as the weather gets colder, but its growth also slows down. For late fall and winter harvests, it’s best to use row cover (a thin protective crop blanket) to keep it a little warmer and protected from harsh winds that may bruise or harden the leaves. The Ag-30 Agribon usually does the trick and can be used as a low tunnel (under hoops) or laying directly over the plant.   

Final Thoughts 

If you’re craving some tender greens this autumn, get your spinach in the ground as soon as possible! Spinach is a great crop for beginner gardeners and anyone starting a late garden in the fall.  

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