When I was a kid, most of us grew up loving Popeye and hating spinach. It usually came from a can and was slimy and bland. For sure, fresh spinach from your own garden tastes much different. It can be lightly cooked or, even better, eaten fresh. It’s tasty, and nutritious, and I personally prefer it to lettuce. It’s a cool-season crop, so make sure to grow it in the fall, mild winters, and early spring.
Spinach is a cool-weather plant that dies when the weather is hot. Like most greens, the texture gets tougher with hot weather. Spinach can tolerate frosts but not hard freezes, so it should be planted now. Spinach can either be direct seeded or planted as transplants, which are often available from garden centers and feed stores. Once the seedlings are established and have their first true leaves, thin them to (or plant the transplants) 4 to 6 inches apart.
Spinach requires at least eight hours of direct sun each day but can tolerate a bit of filtered light, or as little as five to six hours of direct sun. Plant spinach in rich, well-drained soil, either in the ground or in containers at least 24 inches in diameter. Ideally, till several inches of organic matter into the soil and apply 1 pound of a complete lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, 18-6-12, and so forth) per 100 square feet of bed or every 35 feet of row. In small plots use 1 teaspoon per square foot or foot of row. The ideal pH for growing spinach is 6.0 to 7.0.
Spinach can be grown either in beds or rows 2 to 3 feet apart. To improve seedling germination (sprouting), soak spinach seed in water for one to two days in the refrigerator. Open a shallow trench in your raised row ½ inch deep with the corner of a hoe or a stick. Drop the seed at a rate of 8 to 10 per foot of row to ensure a good stand. Water gently and keep the soil moist until germination occurs. When the seedlings are up, reduce the frequency of watering so that the plants gradually toughen up. Transplants should be planted in well-cultivated soil in holes dug the same size as the existing pots. Water them thoroughly with a water-soluble plant food such as Miracle-Gro at half the labeled recommendation.
The keys to growing spinach are mild temperatures and regular moisture. Two weeks after thinning or transplanting, fertilize spinach with ½ cup of high-nitrogen fertilizer (21-0-0, etc.) for every 35 feet of row. Sprinkle half of the fertilizer down each side of the row. Lightly work it into the soil and then water. After side-dressing with fertilizer, apply a layer of organic mulch(hay, straw, grass clippings, coarse compost, etc.) to conserve water and prevent weeds. Other critters like spinach too, so be on the lookout for aphids, caterpillars, and deer.
Depending on the variety and the weather, spinach is generally ready to harvest within seven to ten weeks from seeding or much less from transplants. Harvest the older, pest-free leaves one leaf at a time, or cut the entire plant at the base and use all the leaves. Pick and cut often to stimulate new, tender leaves. Wash and prepare, or refrigerate immediately.
Recommended spinach varieties for Texas include ‘America’, ‘Bloomsdale Longstanding’, ‘Coho’, ‘Dixie Market’, ‘Fall Green’, ‘Green Valley II’, ‘Hybrid 7’, ‘Iron Duke’, ‘Melody’, ‘Ozarka II’, ‘Regal’, and ‘Samish’. Spinach originated in Iran.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com), and follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.