When to Plant Fall Spinach for the Best Harvest

I planted it in the fall the first time and got lots of big, tasty harvests in September, October, and November. I was pretty pleased.

It got cold over the winter (okay, that was too mild; I live in Wisconsin) and the spinach got snow on it. I forgot all about it.

Then, in the spring, when the ground thawed and the sun came out, I went to my garden to clean it up. You can imagine my surprise when I found that the fall spinach from the previous year was still alive and growing!

I had no idea that a vegetable in my garden could make it through Wisconsin’s harsh winter (something I barely do myself!)

This is a very different vegetable than the persnickety one known as spring spinach. That plant can barely produce more than one harvest during the spring months before going to seed. It’s barely worth planting.

But spinach planted in the fall, do not cry! One planting can give you spinach for up to eight months.

Here are some pictures from my garden that will show you why planting spinach in the fall is so great. Then we’ll get into the specifics of how, when and what varieties to plant.

For gardeners who love fresh, homegrown spinach, fall is the prime planting season. Spinach thrives when temperatures cool, making it one of the best vegetables to grow in autumn. But timing is everything when it comes to planting fall spinach. Follow some key guidelines on when to sow your spinach seeds, and you’ll be rewarded with a bountiful fall and winter harvest.

Why Grow Spinach in the Fall?

Before diving into the ideal planting timeline let’s look at why fall is the best time to grow spinach

  • Spinachbolts (goes to seed) quickly in spring due to warming temperatures and increasing daylight. Fall conditions prevent bolting, allowing leaves to grow larger.

  • Cooler fall temperatures enhance spinach flavor, creating sweeter, more tender leaves

  • Frost actually improves spinach flavor by converting starches to sugars.

  • You can harvest fresh spinach for months longer than spring plantings.

  • Overwintered spinach bounces back quickly in spring for an early harvest.

For the highest yielding, best tasting spinach around, fall is clearly the optimal season. Next, let’s discuss when exactly to get your seeds in the ground.

When to Plant Fall Spinach

Fall spinach grows best when temperatures range between 45-75°F. Therefore, timing your planting properly is key to good germination and healthy plant growth before cold weather arrives. Here are two methods for determining your ideal fall spinach planting timeline:

Method 1: Count Back from Your First Frost Date

Most gardening resources recommend planting fall spinach 4-8 weeks before your average first fall frost. Find your average first frost date by searching online for a frost date calculator specific to your zip code. Then, count back 6-8 weeks from your frost date and that gives you your ideal window for planting fall spinach.

For example, if your average first fall frost is October 15th, you’d want to plant your spinach around August 18th to September 1st.

I recommend planting on the early side of this window whenever possible. Spinach grows slower as daylight hours decrease in fall. An early start ensures you get full sized leaves before frost.

Method 2: Observe Soil and Air Temperatures

Another approach is to pay close attention to current soil and air temperatures at your location, and plant when they’ve cooled to spinach’s preferred range.

Aim to sow seeds when both daytime and nighttime temperatures are averaging between 45-75°F. This usually occurs 4-6 weeks before first frost, but allows you to factor in your specific garden conditions each year.

Track your soil temperature at planting depth (1-2 inches). Air temperature can be monitored locally online or with a thermometer.

Optimal Fall Spinach Growing Conditions

Following the timeframe tips above will give you the best shot at planting during optimal fall growing conditions for spinach. Here’s what spinach needs to thrive in the fall garden:

  • Cooler Temperatures – Ideal daytime temps of 60-70°F and nighttime temps between 45-55°F. Spinach can tolerate freezes.

  • Sunlight – At least 6 hours of direct sun per day. Morning sun is beneficial.

  • Soil – Rich, moist, well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0-7.0. Amend with compost.

  • Water – Consistent moisture, about 1-2″ per week. Don’t let soil dry out.

Meeting these requirements will ensure your fall spinach gets off to a vigorous start. Pay close attention to sunlight and soil prep when selecting the bed or containers for planting.

Tips for Planting Fall Spinach

Once you know your ideal timing, here are a few tips to ensure spinach success:

  • Start seeds indoors – You can get a head start by sowing seeds indoors 4 weeks before your outdoor planting date. Harden off before transplanting.

  • Prepare soil – Work aged compost into your spinach beds to enrich the soil with nutrients. Smooth and rake to create a fine texture.

  • Plant seeds 1⁄2 to 1 inch deep – Sow seeds in rows 6-12 inches apart. Space seeds 1 inch apart within rows.

  • Water frequently – Water seed beds daily until sprouts emerge, then weekly if rain is lacking. Proper moisture is key.

  • Use row covers – Cover seed beds with fabric row covers to retain warmth and moisture in the fall. Remove at sprouting.

  • Consider container growing – Spinach also grows well in containers. Use at least 12-inch pots with drainage holes.

The Best Fall Spinach Varieties

You can’t go wrong with classic spinach varieties like ‘Bloomsdale’ and ‘Tyee’. But there are some newer varieties bred just for fall that I recommend:

  • Space – Smooth, spoon-shaped leaves perfect for baby leaf harvests. Bolting resistant.

  • Corvair – Worth the splurge for its cold hardiness and rounded, thick leaves.

  • Olympia – Vigorous, bolt resistant variety great for overwintering.

  • Giant Winter – Large, hardy leaves that overwinter reliably and resist bolting in spring.

There are also several disease resistant varieties like ‘Avon’ and ‘SE49’ that are ideal for problematic gardens. Read seed descriptions to find one suited for your needs.

Enjoy Months of Harvests

One of the best aspects of fall planted spinach is the long harvest window it provides. Timed right, you can pick fresh spinach for up to 8 months!

  • Fall – Begin harvesting leaves about 40 days after planting. Pick outer leaves, leaving the center to continue growing.

  • Winter – Light frosts enhance flavor. Cover plants if hard freezes persist. Leaves will be smaller.

  • Spring – Your overwintered spinach will start growing quickly again as daylight lengthens and soil warms.

Fall Spinach: Why It’s the Most Amazing Vegetable to Grow

To show you why you need to plant spinach in your garden this year, here is a picture of spinach in the fall.

August 22: I usually plant around August 15 depending on the weather. We’ll talk more about timing later in the article. One of the beds of fall spinach I planted about a week before is germinating nicely!.

September 14: I’ve already begun harvesting fresh salads for dinner from this planting.

October 31: I’m still harvesting from my fall plantings. When I have extra, I put it in freezer bags raw so I can use it in my winter smoothies in the morning.

November 21: I’m putting this huge harvest of fall vegetables into a cooler to take to my in-laws for Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, we have to serve a spinach salad!.

Here are the easiest vegetables to plant in autumn.

December 8: It’s getting colder in Wisconsin, so my spinach freezes at night. But if it warms up to 32 degrees F, I can pick the leaves and use them that same night in a salad.

Spinach can survive the winter in zone 5 with no protection. But some years I choose to grow my spinach with a low tunnel made of greenhouse plastic. This keeps it warmer during the day and increases the chances it will defrost when it’s sunny out.

Also, I’ve noticed that when I cover my spinach over the winter, it comes back stronger and starts growing much faster in the spring.

.fall spinach winter planting

From mid-December to March, plants in Wisconsin stop growing. This means that the spinach is no longer growing. I often try to save my last harvest for Christmas dinner. After that I let the bed rest for January and February.

February 19: The above photo is what the spinach bed looks like on this date. It’s starting to wake up as the days get longer. In one very mild year I was able to harvest in February. Usually it’s not until March when I get my first spinach harvest.

Remember, this is the same spinach that was planted the previous August!

March 24: The spinach has began to grow again, and I’ve probably picked it a few times by now. This particular year we got a late snowstorm that covered the spinach, but it was fine. The snow defrosted quickly and I resumed my harvesting schedule.

April 20: That same snow-covered bed from the previous photos is growing quickly now that it’s warming up. I’m starting to have more spinach than I can eat. It’s time to put some bags together for the neighbors!.

May 12: I’m still harvesting from last August’s planting. That’s over eight months of spinach harvests from the same garden bed. Every year I’m giddy with amazement that this really works!.

To review – I plant in August and harvest from that planting from September-December. Once in awhile I’m able to harvest in February. And every year I harvest in March-May. That’s between 7-8 months of harvests from one fall spinach planting!.

Sometime in May, the spinach starts to bolt due to the increasing daylight and warm spring temperatures. I also seed some new spinach in April, but honestly, it just doesn’t compare. It also bolts by June, and at that point, I’ve only harvested from it two or three times.

That’s why it’s way more worth it to plant fall spinach. It lasts SO much longer than spring planted spinach.

Planting Spinach in Fall

I hope that the pictures of my garden above made you want to try planting spinach in the fall. Here’s how to go about it.

Step 1: Know your first frost date.

Figure out your average first frost date. If you’re not sure when it is, you can go to this website and type in your zip code. It will give you a range for your average first frost. You can pick a date somewhere in the middle of that range.

Step 2: Plan your planting schedule.

Spinach can be planted 6-8 weeks before your average first frost. Count back from your average first frost date to six, seven and eight weeks before. This is your planting window.

I’ve had better luck planting spinach around eight weeks before my frost date. That’s about mid-August in my zone 5 garden. This also gives me a buffer for replanting if something goes awry.

That being said, climate change is altering things in my garden. Some years our Augusts have been hot and dry and I’ve had trouble getting my spinach to germinate. If you want to plant spinach when it’s very hot, put the plants in a garden bed that gets some shade, cover the bed with shade cloth to keep the soil cooler, or wait a week or two to see if the weather cools down.

Plant a few rows of spinach eight weeks before the first frost and another few rows six weeks before. This is if this is your first time planting fall spinach. This would allow you to compare to see which timing is better for your garden.

Make sure you keep track of when you plant (a garden map is a good idea) so that over time you can find the best times to plant.

Also, remember that plants grow less quickly in the fall, so the earlier you plant (within reason), the bigger the leaves will get.

Step 3: Plant

When planting in the fall, I think it’s best to slightly over-seed because you don’t have much time to do it over. You can always thin the plants out later. In my 4′ wide raised beds I usually plant five rows down the length of the bed.

I share recommended varieties at the end of the article.

Step 5: Water!

The most important thing is to keep the soil in the garden moist! When you plant fall vegetables in many gardens, it’s very dry in the summer. Make sure you’re watering your newly seeded garden bed 1-2 times a day (morning and evening) until germination.

Step 6: Spinach care after germination

Water: Once the seeds start to grow, give them an inch of water every week (more if you live in a hot area or have sandy soil). Most vegetables like this amount of water per week. If it rains an inch you don’t have to water. If it’s dry you should take your hose out and soak the bed.

Get my best tips for watering your vegetable garden.

Thin: If you forgot to over-seed your bed like I said above and have a lot of plants growing close together, they won’t get very big.

When the plants are a couple of inches tall you can go back and thin the rows. The recommended spacing for spinach about one inch between plants. To do this, you’ll need to pull out or cut off every plant that isn’t 1 inch from the one next to it at the soil level.

I have a small measuring tape I use for just this purpose.

If you do thin your spinach, you’ll get a much better harvest. I know it hurts for some gardeners.

Thinning is especially critical in the fall when plant growth is slowing down. You want the spinach plants to have plenty of space so they grow as quickly as possible.

Mulch: Once you’ve thinned your spinach, put a layer of mulch between each row to keep weeds out of the garden bed and keep the soil moist. I highly recommend keeping your entire garden mulched at all times, unless you’re waiting for seeds to germinate.

Read more about vegetable garden mulch and why mulch is the ultimate garden tool.

Step 7: Harvest

Depending on the type of spinach you plant and the weather in your garden, it’s usually ready to harvest about 40 days after you plant it.

But plants grow more slowly in the fall because the days are shorter, so most people say to add about a week to this time frame.

The great thing about spinach is that you simply remove the biggest leaves from each plant with garden scissors or pruners and leave the rest to grow bigger.

In my garden I can usually harvest spinach until at least Thanksgiving and sometimes until Christmas. It just depends how much you have out in the garden and how heavily you’ve been harvesting it.

Depending on where you live it will stop growing when the day length drops below nine hours. (The first week in November where I live. ) This means eventually you’ll run out of spinach to harvest since it’s not growing anymore. In late winter, I like to leave a few leaves on each plant to help it grow faster.

Step 8: Let it hang out in the garden

You already know that spinach can survive the winter in places like Wisconsin, where it often gets below zero degrees F for several days at different times during the winter.

So, you don’t have to worry about the increasingly colder temperatures as fall heads into winter.

One thing to keep in mind is that spinach will stay frozen until the temperature rises above 32 degrees F.

This is only a problem if you want to eat your spinach in a fresh salad. You’ll need to wait until a sunny, warm day for it to defrost.

You can pick frozen spinach leaves if you don’t mind because you’ll be using them in a smoothie or soup.

Step 9: Cover spinach beds

You do not have to cover your spinach beds for them to survive the winter. There have been many years when I’ve just left them out to fend for themselves. Putting something over the spinach, though, keeps it from drying out in some of the worst winter winds.

I have also noticed that spinach that is covered in one of the following grows back faster and earlier in the spring.

Here are some options:

For me, that’s usually around December. When you’re done picking spinach for the season, you can cover the whole bed with a thick layer of mulch to keep the plants safe. However, make sure you take it off in late February so the spinach knows it’s time to grow again. You can leave the mulch between the rows, just take it off from on top of the plants.

Row Cover: To keep the beds warmer, you could also cover them with a row cover or frost cloth. You can leave it on all winter for a layer of protection.

Put a cold frame on top of your spinach in the middle to late fall. This will help it warm up faster during the day when it’s below 32 degrees F. This makes it easier to harvest for a longer period. And will warm up faster in the spring helping the spinach reactivate and grow.

Low Tunnel: These are similar to cold frames but are created using greenhouse plastic. I built one that functions like a lid so it’s easy to open and close.

This is the class I teach: Harvesting Fresh Veggies in the Snow: Planting a Cold Weather Garden. I show you how to use frost cloth, low tunnels, and cold frames.

How To Plant Spinach Fall 2020

When should you plant spinach?

Alternatively, prepare the soil in late summer or early fall, when spinach can also be sown where winters are mild. Spinach requires 6 weeks of cool weather from seeding to harvest; this generally spring or fall, though many gardeners have better luck in the fall.

Can you plant spinach in the fall?

Spinach requires 6 weeks of cool weather from seeding to harvest; this generally spring or fall, though many gardeners have better luck in the fall. Although seeds can be started indoors, it is not recommended, as seedlings are difficult to transplant. In the fall, sow seeds when the soil is 70°F or cooler. See our fall planting calendar.

When should I plant spinach & lettuce?

In general, plant seeds about 2 months before your expected fall hard frost date. See the Almanac’s planting calendar for your zip code . The great thing about both spinach and lettuce is that they can be harvested in the fall any time the leaves are large enough to use.

What temperature should spinach be planted?

Spring spinach is best directly sown when soil temperatures reach 40 to 45 degrees. Use a soil thermometer to check your soil temperatures before planting. Seeds germinate best between 45 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to plant fall spinach in the late summer or as close to the start of fall as possible.

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