Growing Your Own Spinach Is Easy
Spinach is one of my favorite things to grow, and I love adding spinach leaves to salads and my daily smoothies.
While this leafy green is fairly easy to plant from seed and tend, if you try to grow it outside its ideal growing conditions, you're going to face some challenges. If your spinach plant doesn't receive enough sunlight, doesn't feel like it has enough space in the garden, or doesn't like the rising temperatures, it will first stop being productive and then do something called bolting.
Bolting is a plant's way of informing you, the gardener, that its time in your garden is almost over. As soon as it begins to feel stress—whether it’s because the weather’s changed, the plant has run out of space to reach its full maturity, or it’s used up the nutrients in the soil—it will send out seeds. Plants, just like humans, have a strong desire to continue their line for generations to come, and the formation of seeds is how it ensure that dozens, if not hundreds, of copies of itself will exist after it dies.
If you think about what the plant wants to do, it’s easy to see how any negative environmental triggers would push the plant into taking action to ensure its survival for the next growing season.
The leaves of bolting plants are edible, but the temperature will change. The peak of flavor for your plants occurs before they begin going to seed.
Here are four signs your spinach plant is bolting, or going to seed.
Sign #1: The spinach leaves change shape
A healthy spinach plant has leaves that are more oval-shaped, just like the nice, rounded leaves you’d expect to buy from the grocery store. When a spinach plants starts to go to seed, the leaves change and resemble an arrowhead.
This more angular shape is often the first sign that your plant is coming to the end of its life cycle.
Sign #2: The main stalk of the spinach plant transforms
The main stem of a spinach plant is usually fairly narrow in circumference, but when the plant decides to bolt, it develops a much thicker main stalk that runs up the center of the plant.
Sign #3: The spinach plant increases in height
A bolting spinach plant will grow taller. Healthy spinach is usually about a foot tall, 18 inches tall at most, while bolting spinach might reach two feet. The plant is now growing vertically rather than horizontally.
Sign #4: The spinach plant will form florets
The leaves at the top of a bolting spinach plant will become smaller and tighter, resembling more of a floret. Along the stalk, flowers will form, and these flowers will eventually dry out and produce hundreds of seeds for the next season’s plants.
How to Prevent Your Spinach from Bolting
Only attempt to grow spinach when you have a period of at least eight to 12 weeks of temperatures that will stay below 75 degrees. Should the temperatures exceed 80 degrees, try to give your leafy greens some afternoon shade.
Instead of giving spinach plants a deep watering once a week as you might other plants, consider watering spinach a little every single day or every other day to keep the soil moist but not soaking. Spinach plants really hate sitting in water, plus their roots are short and can't reach deep into the soil for water.
Spinach plants will eventually bolt with the changing of the seasons, but you can prolong your plant's remaining time in your garden by harvesting the outer leaves frequently.
And remember, the leaves are perfectly fine to eat until you find them too bitter or rubbery.
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What to Do When Your Spinach Plant Bolts
As the gardener, it’s up to you to determine what happens once your plants are going to seed. You could:
- Leave the spinach plant in the garden and let it go completely to seed. As long as it’s not a hybrid, its seeds will be true and will regrow the same kind of spinach. Once the seeds drop into the garden, either collect them for next year or leave them to germinate on their own.
- Pull your spinach from the garden and replace it with something that will grow more optimally in your current garden conditions. Cut the spinach right at the base, rather than yanking it out by the roots, to avoid disturbing your other plants. If you compost the plant, it will continue to provide nutrients for your garden as organic matter.
- Harvest a couple of leaves and do a taste test to see if they’re too bitter or rubbery to eat. I keep eating my leaves as long as I can.
Most importantly, don't stress. Our plants have a purpose far beyond what we are growing them for. To me, this makes gardening so much more interesting. Maybe you’ll see your own plants in a whole new light now!