How to harvest spinach

What plant will keep producing food as you keep harvesting it? The answer is spinach, the plant that keeps giving. Spinach can be harvested again & again–until it bolts, that is.

Spinach can be harvested throughout the season, even after leaves have been harvested. As long as the outer leaves are cut so that the center growing bud remains, the plant will produce new leaves. Once the plant has bolted, the seeds can be harvested for the next year’s crop.

When a spinach plant bolts, it goes to seed. When its leaves are cut, they grow back. Harvesting spinach is an ongoing and rewarding process. Here, we unpack just how to harvest this amenable crop.

How to harvest spinach

How to harvest spinach

Spinach should be harvested by cutting the leaves with a cutting tool or knife. The outer leaves should be cut first, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the stem. All the leaves can also be cut as a bunch, about 2 inches (5 cm) above the ground.

Spinach plants can be harvested leaf by leaf, or as a bunch of leaves.

To harvest individual leaves, they are cut one by one.

Make the cut with a sharp cutting tool or knife about one inch (2.5 cm) from the stem.

The leaves mustn’t be pulled as they are cut.

It is also possible to hold all the leaves of the plant as a bunch and cut them all at once.

When the individual leaves are cut, not more than 25% of the leaves should be taken.

A spinach plant can also be harvested by pulling out the whole plant, roots, and all.

See how to harvest lettuce.

How to harvest spinach without killing the plant

How to harvest spinach without killing the plant

Spinach plants are capable of growing back after some leaves have been harvested. Taking individual leaves means that the plant will continue growing. No more than 25% of the leaves should be taken at once.

Spinach plants are hardy and will keep growing throughout their season.

If part of the plant is removed, the plant will not only keep growing but will develop replacement leaves.

When you harvest leaves from a spinach plant, take the outer leaves.

This allows the younger leaves on the inside to keep on growing.

Hold each of the outer leaves firmly and cut them off about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the stem.

This leaves the leaf bud from which a new leaf will grow.

How to harvest spinach seeds

How to harvest spinach seeds

To harvest spinach seeds, they should be picked off the stems. It is also effective to rub along the stem from top to bottom and the seeds can fall into a packet or box. Spinach seeds are small & round, & occur in little clusters along long stems.

Spinach plants flower after they have bolted.

This usually occurs about 4 – 6 weeks after harvesting.

To harvest spinach seeds, you will need to find a female plant.

You will recognize them with the round green balls under the leaves.

These are larger than the yellow balls under the leaves of a male plant.

You can take the leaves from the stems on the plant, or cut the stems off and keep them in a bucket until you harvest the seeds.

Take your thumb, or a tool, and rub it along the stems from top to bottom.

The seeds will fall off into a bucket or packet.

When to harvest spinach

When to harvest spinach

Spinach matures about 37 – 45 days after sprouting. The leaves can be picked when there are five or six leaves forming a rosette in the middle of the plant. Harvesting must be complete before the plant can bolt. It is possible to harvest spinach throughout the growing season.

A spinach plant will reach full maturity about 37 to 45 days after sprouting.

This is when the final leaves should be harvested off the plant, as they will bolt fairly soon after this.

A sign to begin harvesting is when 5 or 6 leaves form a rosette in the middle of the plant.

Begin by harvesting some individual outer leaves.

This can be done a few times in the season, as the plant will continue growing.

When you harvest the leaves, try to do so early in the day, so they are still damp and fresh.

Fresher spinach leaves have a better taste in salads and other dishes.

Spinach bolting

Spinach bolting

When a spinach plant bolts, it produces flowers that then become seeds. This marks the end of the growing season & the end of harvesting, as the leaves are much more bitter. Bolting can be delayed if the plants are grown in cooler conditions.

When a spinach plant reaches maturity, it produces flowers and then goes to seed.

This is called bolting, which occurs at the end of the growing season.

This is also the end of the harvesting season, as the leaves become bitter when a plant has bolted.

A sign that a spinach plant will bolt is when the temperature rises above 75 °F (23.5 °C).

This is when the days get longer and warmer.

Bolting can be put off if the plants can be kept in cooler conditions.

You can also add a cooling frame to keep the temperature down.

When the temperatures rise, bolting cannot be stopped.

There are some varieties of spinach that are bolt-resistant and which you could plant to keep the growing and harvesting season longer.

The time until bolting can be increased if the young plants are kept at a low temperature (40 – 60 °F (4 – 16  °C).

How to grow spinach in pots

How to grow spinach in pots

When spinach is grown in pots, it needs to be well-drained and kept in a cool area & not direct sun. The pots need to be deep enough to accommodate the plant’s taproot, roughly 12-18”. The soil must be kept moist but not soggy.

Spinach can be grown successfully in pots, as long as the plants receive sufficient drainage.

Use a pot that is at least 6 inches (15 cm) deep, to accommodate the long taproot that will grow.

The soil that you use must be rich and well-drained.

The plants will need to be kept damp, but never over-watered.

You may need to fertilize the plants, but don’t’ let the pH become either too acidic or too alkaline.

The seeds should be planted about 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep and at least 4 inches (10 cm) apart if they are in the same pot.

The pot should be placed in the indirect sun and the plants should not be allowed to get too hot.

With spinach planted in pots, you can put off bolting by moving the pots to cooler areas.

See the best soil to use for indoor plants & herbs.

Growing spinach indoors

Growing spinach indoors

Spinach is a versatile plant & can be grown indoors in pots. The plants should be kept in a bright space, but not in direct sunlight. The temperature must be relatively cool, between 60-75F. Water & fertilize the plants regularly to keep them healthy.

If you are looking for a crop to grow indoors, spinach will fit the bill.

It is an adaptable, hardy plant that continues to grow throughout the season, even if you harvest leaves as you go along.

Spinach plants need sun but don’t like hot temperatures, so find a spot indoors that is light and sunny, but not too hot where the light intensity is high.

An advantage of growing spinach indoors is that you can extend the growing season by moving the plants into cooler areas when the weather warms up.

One option for growing spinach indoors is to create a mini-greenhouse.

How to harvest spinach

Conclusion

Spinach is an amenable crop that keeps giving. You can keep harvesting the outer leaves through the growing season and the plant will keep growing new leaves. What more could you ask of a tasty, healthy crop?

About the author

Greg Volente

Greg Volente holds a Naturalist Certificate from the Morton Arboretum, worked for The Nature Conservancy leading environmental education programs and doing natural areas restoration, and worked in the soil science research & testing lab at Michigan State University. Besides gardening, he's an avid wildflower enthusiast, and loves botanizing, hiking, and backpacking.