With National Spinach Day on March 26th, I can’t help reminiscing about this leafy green. As a child, my mother would urge me to eat my spinach by saying it would put color in my cheeks. Staring down at the greyish green, overcooked slime on my plate, I remember adamantly stating how I really didn’t want green cheeks.
Since then I’ve found many more appetizing ways to serve this versatile vegetable. My kids grew up thinking fresh garden spinach is something to be added to eggs, piled on pizza, and of course, tossed in with salad greens. Overcooked spinach dishes from our parent’s era are clearly not how spinach is consumed today. For this reason, many modern-day gardeners are again sowing this healthy vegetable.
Yet spinach can be a bit tricky to grow. If you’re like me, there may be things you’re doing wrong with spinach cultivation that is affecting the outcome of your crop. So, let me share some of my mistakes growing spinach and I’ll try not to let my cheeks turn red (or green) from embarrassment.
Spinach Growing Problems
- Planting at the wrong time: When I first started gardening, I was of the mindset that everything in my zone 6 garden went in the ground on or around Memorial Day. My spinach germinated poorly and what did grow, bolted immediately. As a novice gardener, I didn’t realize cool-season crops, like spinach, need to be planted much earlier in the spring or in late summer for a fall crop. As I gained gardening experience, I also picked up a few tricks. Mulching and planting leafy greens in the shade of other plants keeps the soil cooler and helps delay bolting. Row covers are also wonderful for stabilizing soil temperatures.
- Failing to thin spinach seedlings: I admit, I foolishly struggled with this concept. After all, more plants mean more food, right? Nope! Overcrowding causes seedlings to grow poorly and reduced air circulation fuels rotting and dampening off issues. Spinach plants do best when they are four to six inches apart. Now that I also use those discarded seedlings as microgreens, I feel a whole lot better about thinning my spinach.
- Maintain proper soil moisture levels: Spinach likes to be kept evenly moist, but not soggy. For me, this meant adding plenty of organic compost to my heavy clay garden soil. Over the years, this process has significantly improved the drainage in my garden and increased the overall height of my garden. Growing spinach in raised beds, hilled rows, or containers also promotes proper drainage.
- Fertilize Regularly: Spinach needs plenty of nutrients, especially nitrogen, to produce an abundance of green leaves. I like to work in plenty of well-rotted compost before planting, then apply a solution of weak manure tea or chemical fertilizer to give spinach the nutrient boost it needs. Here’s another secret; make good use of the nitrogen-fixing properties of legumes by following up a spring pea crop with a late summer planting of spinach.
- Control pests: Once I began planting spinach at the correct time for my hardiness zone, I quickly discovered I had fewer problems with pests. Planting six to eight weeks before the final spring frost gives spinach plenty of time to grow before the bugs emerge for the season. Likewise, fall spinach crops survive the first frosts, and the pests which plague them do not.