The diversity of spinach varieties is often underestimated. As well as having different optimal seasons for cultivation, they also vary in growth, leaf shape and taste.
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is easy to grow in your garden. There are even varieties that are resistant to mildew and other plant diseases to make growing spinach a breeze. Read on to find out the best spinach varieties for spring, summer, autumn and winter.
The best spinach varieties for the garden
The genus Spinacia consists of only two spinach species: Spinacia turcestanica and Spinacia oleracea. However, only the Spinacia oleracea species is grown as a leafy green vegetable. There are numerous Spinacia oleracea varieties with new spinach cultivars added each year. Taste, sowing season, flowering period, appearance and harvesting time are the main differences between the varieties. The difference between baby leaf spinach, young spinach and spinach with large leaves is dependent on when you harvest your spinach, not the variety. Below is our list of the best spinach types, including new cultivars and long-established ones.
Spinach varieties for growing in spring and autumn
Spinach naturally prefers cool temperatures. The warm temperatures and long days in summertime cause spinach to bolt. At this point the leaves are usually no longer edible. Spring and autumn spinach cultivars make great in between crops. They are great for filling the bed when it is too early to plant out other vegetables, such as tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) or beans (Phaseolus vulgaris).
- ‘Butterflay’: grows very quickly and flowers late; robust, mildew tolerant variety; also suitable to be grown in winter
- ‘Clarinet’: a British variety; fast growing; fantastic disease resistance; bolt-resistant
- ‘Lazio (F1)’: high-yielding and fast-growing variety; good resistance to downy mildew; grown as baby leaf spinach
- ‘Matador’: late flowering; fast-growing; high-yielding; frost-hardy and suitable for overwintering
- ‘Monnopa’: fast-growing, high-yielding variety with a late flowering time; resistant to powdery mildew and tolerant of cucumber mosaic virus; monoecious
- ‘Palco (F1)’: fast-growing variety with a high yield; good resistance to powdery mildew
Tip: if you want to collect spinach seeds, make sure not to use hybrid cultivars. Examples of heirloom spinach types are ‘Matador’, ‘Monnopa’ and ‘Verdil’. The variety ‘Monnopa’ has the added benefit of being monoecious, which means it is much less likely to be cross-pollinated.
Spinach types for the summer harvest
Although spinach is not typically associated with summer, spinach varieties for harvesting in summer have been bred. These usually grow at a slower pace and are bolt resistant. In contrast to spring, autumn and winter spinach, summer spinach must be grown in partial shade.
- ‘Bloomsdale’: fast-growing heirloom variety with high yields and large, round leaves; can be grown in summer; leaves continue to taste good even if the plant bolts
- ‘Celesta (F1)’: new spinach variety; very bolt-resistant; can be grown all year; high-yielding; resistant to mildew
- ‘Medania’: slow growing; slow to blot; good yields of round, slightly curly leaves
Tip: there are not many summer spinach varieties, and they will still suffer in heat and drought. Alternatively, you can grow New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides). New Zealand spinach needs warm temperatures and sunlight for healthy growth. Although it comes from a different plant family, New Zealand spinach tastes similar and can be used just like true spinach in the kitchen.
Spinach varieties for winter
Normally, spinach is an annual plant. This means that it germinates in spring and completes its development with the formation of seeds in autumn. However, many spinach varieties can tolerate frost, so you can sow their seeds in autumn. After surviving winter, these young spinach plants have a head start on growth the next year and can be harvested exceptionally early.
- ‘Giant Winter’: really hardy spinach variety; large, curly leaves with a strong rich flavour
- ‘Early Prickly Seeded Spinach’: fast growing; sow in early or autumn; smooth dark green leaves; prickly seeds
- ‘Verdil’: large, strong leaves and good flavour; frost-hardy and grows quickly; ready to harvest in spring
Tip: many spinach varieties can tolerate some frost but must be protected from very cold temperatures and black frosts. So, when growing spinach, make sure to also protect winter varieties, for example, with a fleece.
Baby spinach is not a variety of spinach, but simply spinach that is harvested at an early stage. The young “baby” leaves are more tender and taste less bitter. Some varieties are more suitable for growing as baby spinach, for example ‘Lazio (F1)’. The leaves of summer and spring spinach are also usually more tender than those of autumn and winter spinach.
When we talk about red spinach, we usually mean other leafy vegetables such as mustard spinach (Brassica rapa var. perviridis) or Okinawa spinach (Gynura crepioides), which is actually a perennial plant in the composite family (Asteraceae). Currently, the only red varieties of true spinach (Spinacia oleracea) available in the UK are those with red stems and veins. Examples of spinach with red stems are ‘Bordeaux (F1)’, ‘Reddy (F1)’ and ‘Red Cardinal’.
Spinach makes a great companion plant for many plants and is often grown in polyculture. Once you have decided on a spinach variety, you can begin to plan its integration into your garden. You can also create a polyculture in a pot on your balcony with spinach and radishes or spinach and strawberries, for example.