Spinach is an excellent leafy green to grow during cooler parts of the season, like early spring and fall. However, these plants are vulnerable to bolting, a phenomenon where the flora starts focusing on producing seeds instead of those delicious edible leaves. Can you prolong this process so that you can have an extended harvest?
If the spinach plants have already started producing flowers on the seedstalk, they cannot be saved. This is because bolting makes the leaves bitter, leaving an unpleasant taste when consumed. Remove the spinach plants immediately if you notice they have seedstalks.
This article covers topics like reducing the chances of bolting, even if you’re growing spinach in unfavorable conditions. Also, it explains what to do when you notice a seedstalk that hasn’t started producing flowers yet.
Bolting in Spinach: An Overview
The downside to growing spinach is that you only have a limited time before the plant starts to bolt. This will happen no matter what, but especially if you plant the leafy greens during the cooler half of spring.
Even if you live in an area where it is relatively cooler in June, your spinach plants will still bolt.
As highlighted earlier, the problem with bolting is that your spinach leaves will start tasting bitter. The longer you allow the seedstalk to remain, (i.e., until it produces flowers which then turn to seeds), the stronger the bitter aftertaste. It also reduces the quality of the leaves.
Managing Bolting in Spinach
Here are two things you can do depending on how far your spinach has progressed during the bolting process:
1. Before Flowering
You may still have some time if you notice the seedstalk isn’t flowering. You can remove the seedstalk, either with your hand or cut it off using a pair of clippers. This might prolong the onset of bolting by a week, but your results may vary.
The best solution is to always remove the entire spinach plant.
2. After Flowering
At this point, it is too late to save your leafy greens. Try harvesting them and tasting the leaves to check their bitterness level. If you don’t find the leaves palatable, discard them.
If you want to save the seeds from your spinach so you can plant them next season (i.e., fall), allow the plant to continue bolting until it produces seeds. Then, collect the seeds from the seedstalk and remove the plant.
Strategies to Delay Bolting
Bolting is inevitable in spinach plants unless you plant them during early fall. However, you may want to know whether there is anything you can do to ensure your spinach plant produces edible foliage as long as possible.
Here are five handy gardener hacks to get the most from the leafy greens in your garden:
1. Adequate Spacing
While planting spinach in your garden, there should be sufficient space for the plants to grow and thrive. These leafy greens are a low-competition plant, so they won’t do well if they compete for resources.
Ideally, 12-18 inches (30.48-45.72 cm) of space is adequate for spinach. However, if you don’t have a lot of growing room, you can get away with nine plants in every square foot (0.09 sqm) of soil.
It is also possible to grow spinach in containers. For best results, you should make sure you only use nutrient-rich soil.
2. Soil Moisture Management
Dry soil is a common reason spinach tends to bolt prematurely. Leafy greens like this one require the soil to be moist.
How much irrigation the plants require depends on the soil type and the area in which you’re growing them.
Use the following tips to make the right call while watering your spinach:
Monitor Local Rainfall
If you live in a location that receives an inch (2.54 cm) of rainfall weekly, don’t worry too much about watering your spinach. If you don’t receive up to 1 inch (2.54 cm) of rain every week, you’ll need to pour the same volume into the soil.
Water Based on Soil Type
For sandy soil, you should increase irrigation frequency. This is because sandy soil doesn’t do well in retaining water. On the other hand, it allows water to penetrate deep inside. For instance, an inch (2.54 cm) of water will go as deep as 10 inches (25.4 cm).
If the soil has higher clay content, you can reduce irrigation frequency. One inch (2.54 cm) of water on clay soil will penetrate up to 6 inches (15.24 cm).
Don’t Let the Soil Dry Out
To ensure the soil isn’t dry, you should dig it up. If the soil is wet only 1-2 inches (2.54-5.08 cm) beneath the surface, continue watering the plant.
When the soil soaks up the water, it encourages the roots to grow deeper. This benefits your plants by allowing the spinach to survive a sudden dry spell.
Water the Soil Directly
Ensure you only water the soil. Avoid pouring water on the leaves, as this increases the chances of diseases affecting your leafy greens.
The aim here is to ensure your leafy greens don’t wilt.
3. Succession Planting
Succession planting is a fantastic technique you should follow as it ensures you get a bountiful spinach harvest for a longer duration rather than getting everything in one go. If you harvest all your spinach in one shot, storing your leafy greens becomes challenging.
This also gives you time to save your spinach, as not every leafy green in your garden will start bolting around the same time. You can plant spinach in your garden every 10-14 days until the start of spring or the average last frost date.
Plants like beans and tomatoes go well with your leafy greens. This is because they provide light shade to the spinach allowing it to grow and thrive in your garden.
4. Providing Shade
As highlighted earlier, warm-season crops can provide light shade for your leafy greens. However, this won’t suffice when the weather gets scorching and the days become longer in your area.
A better way to combat heat is to use shade cloth. Bringing down the heat reduces the chances of your spinach bolting.
Shade cloth also protects your plants against insects and prevents infestations. Just make sure you remove this cover when it rains to allow water to enter the soil.
During fall, you can use a floating row cover on your spinach, especially if you want to harvest late into the season. Use these protective layers to retain heat, as spinach will stop growing when the temperatures drop significantly.
Like shade cloth, floating row covers are also effective against insects.
Another way to retain the moisture content in your garden soil is by adding mulch. You can use any organic material like grass clippings and straw.
Cover your soil with mulch up to 3-4 inches (7.62-10.16 cm) in height for best results.
This is also an effective technique for preventing harmful insects from getting a hold of your plants. However, ensure they are free of chemicals, as you don’t want to harm beneficial organisms in your garden.
Can You Grow Spinach in Summer?
What if you weren’t free in late winter and early spring and only had time to start tending to your garden during the summer? Is it okay to grow spinach, then?
No, even if you plant slow-bolting varieties, spinach is extremely sensitive to increasing temperature and daylight. As a result, the flora will bolt prematurely, and you may not have any harvest.
Malabar and New Zealand spinach are excellent varieties you can grow during summer. Unlike regular spinach, they take longer to germinate but can withstand higher temperatures.
When spinach starts to bolt, you should remove the plants as soon as possible to prevent the leafy greens from acquiring a bitter taste. It may be possible to prolong the period the plant takes to bolt by removing premature flowers.
Techniques like ensuring sufficient growing space, covering the soil with mulch, and providing shade can also work wonders. Additionally, succession planting and growing warm-season plants along with your spinach will increase the duration of the harvest and help the leafy greens withstand increasing temperatures.