Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
December, 2000
Regional Report

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Spinach that gets etched with winter frost can be counted on to produce sweet, crunchy leaves first thing in the spring.

Succulent Spinach

To taste the very best spinach, you have to grow it yourself, and you have to do it while the weather is cold. No matter what variety you plant, cold weather makes spinach leaves thicker, crispier, and - most important - sweeter.

Sleeping Beauties

During these short and cloudy days of winter, any spinach you planted in the fall is probably showing very little new growth. That's okay. Let your plants rest for now, preferably under a protective clear plastic tunnel. I use a grow tunnel that's made of an arch of concrete reinforcing wire covered with clear plastic. It's not very pretty, but it holds up great to ice, snow, and strong winter winds.

Starting Spinach Now

If you're willing to set up a tunnel, you still have time to plant a crop of spinach that will be sweetened by winter. I find that spinach (as well as hardy butterhead and romaine lettuces) germinates best if I start the seed indoors this time of year. I move the plants out when they're a few weeks old even though they're tiny.

Spring Dividends

In our climate, spinach planted in fall and winter starts growing again in February and naturally reaches its peak in March. The harvest season lasts about a month. You will need to help it along by pulling out winter weeds and feeding your plants extra nitrogen. Spinach always needs lots of nitrogen, but when soil temperatures are low, the availability of nitrogen from most organic sources (such as composted manure) is limited. I drench my spinach with fish emulsion every 2 weeks starting in early February, and I rarely see the small, yellowish leaves typical of nitrogen deficiency.

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