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Leafy greens, such as spinach, are the most shade tolerant of your typical vegetables. We also wondered about growing spinach in the shade and so I tested it out and have some interesting results.
Spinach grows well in partial shade during summer and fall. In spring, spinach needs a full sun position for substantial growth. We also found that spinach doesn’t grow to a substantial amount when in full shade at any time of year.
Partial shade is considered 4-6 hours of direct sun per day and full sun is considered 6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day. Full shade is considered to have no direct sun during the day with either dappled or moderate ambient light, or deep shade with very little light.
Since spinach is a crop you want for plentiful leaves, it’s best to grow it with a minimum of 3 hours of direct summer sun and a minimum of 6 hours of direct spring sun every day.
Sowing spinach in succession is an opportunity to give the best light all season long. Later in this post, I’ll talk more about succession planting your spinach.
Does spinach grow better in sun or shade?
During our experiments, we planted Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach in the same soil but changed the duration of sunlight each group got.
We were able to see if spinach grew better in the sun or shade.
In general, spinach grows best with 6-8 hours of full sun as long as it has enough moisture and temperature stability. To prevent premature bolting, coat the surface with shredded leaves to stabilize the temperature and moisture content of the roots.
The whole idea of planting spinach in partial shade during the hot summer months is to prevent early bolting. Spinach bolts (goes to seed) one way or another as the plant reaches maturity.
Early bolting occurs when conditions such as temperature or moisture fluctuate too much in too little time. Fluctuating conditions signal to the plant that it’s time to set seed before conditions become too unfavorable.
Planting spinach in partial shade works well for this purpose, however, lightly mulching the surface with shredded leaves upon sowing and keeping the soil adequately moist also works well.
Growing spinach in partial shade, however, may be easier for most gardeners as less monitoring is needed.
Keep in mind that while our spinach did the best with more sun (and somewhat mulched soil) your climate is different and may yield other results.
Regardless of climate, I recommend protecting any spinach from excessive heat in whatever way you can for the best results whether that’s covered soil, shade cloth, or planting in partial shade.
We use shade cloths for growing all brassicas, and although we haven’t done it yet, we strongly suspect that spinach would do exceptionally well under it. We use these row-cover shade cloths to protect from bugs and heat.
Where is the best place to plant spinach?
Planting spinach in the right spot with companions can help make the transition to summer seamless! We wondered about the best place to plant spinach for heat protection and tried a few things and found what worked best.
In spring, plant your first and second spinach successions in an open full sun area. All other spinach successions should be planted either in partial shade or with a companion plant that will grow to provide partial shade during intense heat.
I prefer the companion method because when you plant successions, it usually isn’t actually summer yet! So full sun is preferable for spinach until your heat-loving plants grow big enough to provide shade at the right time.
If you’ve got no partial shade in sight but wish to alleviate your spinach of exposure to heat, you can grow or make your own partial shade quite easily. Either cover with shade cloth (the easiest method) or plant next to a plant that grows tall in summer.
We’ve tried growing spinach with onions, peas, tomatoes, and carrots for shade purposes.
We found that peas did a wonderful job but provided too much shade too soon since they thrive in cool weather as well.
Onions need to be sown thickly for use as fresh greens to be effective for shading spinach.
Planting spinach with tomatoes and carrots worked best for shading spinach at the right time. We usually do tomatoes, basil, carrots, and lettuce—your typical companion planting combination—but figured if it works for lettuce, it’ll work for spinach! And indeed it does.
The carrots offer feathery foliage that gives good dappled light and minimizes the heat that reaches the soil. Situated correctly, the tomatoes provide height to shade spinach during the time of day when it particularly gets hot. But well-pruned tomatoes also offer plenty of gaps so your spinach still receives adequate amounts of sun.
How to succession sow spinach for optimal sunlight
Succession sowing your spinach and planting each in the optimal spot extends your fresh harvest window.
Your first spring spinach succession should be a cool-loving variety that you plant in an open full sun spot. A cool-loving variety of spinach, such as giant winter, will happily germinate and grow in brisk early temperatures.
Your second spring spinach succession should be a long-standing variety and planted in full sun. A long-standing variety, such as Bloomsdale, will tolerate the tail end of spring into early summer as temperatures suddenly get warm.
Your third spring spinach succession could be a long-standing variety in partial shade or next to a shade-giving companion. If temperatures are quite warm during this time, sowing in partial shade may result in better germination rates as spinach germinates best in cooler soil.
Your third succession could also include a warm-loving perennial spinach such as New Zealand or Malabar spinach. These spinach varieties are only perennial in subtropical and tropical climates, cold climate gardeners, however, can grow them as annuals during hot summers. And fun fact, I am in zone 5, and our New Zealand spinach grew back without replanting!
Once the heat subsides from the peak of summer, cool-loving spinach can be sown in succession again, but for autumn harvests.
Your first late summer succession of spinach should be a heat-tolerant variety such as FanTail and sown in a spot with cool soil. So either under shade cloth or in partial shade.
Your second and third late summer to early fall successions of spinach should be winter varieties and planted in either full or partial sun.
Planting your final spinach succession in full sun may maximize plant growth before all growth stops due to insufficient daylight hours (the end of your Persephone days).
Spinach tolerates partial shade and prefers full sun.
Spinach tolerates heat and prefers cool weather.
Planting spinach is a balancing act between optimal sunlight in relation to expected seasonal heat waves.
Row covers are the easiest way to grow spinach in full sun during hot summers as the temperature under these nets stays significantly cooler.
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