Spinach Shade Tolerance – Will Spinach Grow In The Shade

Spinach Shade Tolerance – Will Spinach Grow In The Shade

By: Laura Miller

In a perfect world all gardeners would be blessed with garden space that receives full sun. After all, many common garden veggies, like tomatoes and peppers, grow best in sunny areas. What if shadows from trees or buildings block those chlorophyll-absorbing rays though? Are there vegetable plants which have a tolerance for shade? Yes! Growing spinach in the shade is one possibility.

Is Spinach a Shade Plant?

If you flip a spinach seed packet over and examine the growth requirements, you’ll find spinach does best when planted in full to partial sun. Full sun refers to six or more hours of direct sunlight per day, while partial sun generally means four to six hours.

As a cool weather crop, spinach doesn’t fit neatly into either one of these categories. In early spring and late fall when the sun resides lower in the sky and its rays are less intense, spinach shade tolerance is low. It needs full, direct sunlight to grow quickly, which is the key to producing sweet tasting spinach.

As spring transitions into summer and summer into fall, spinach does better in partial shade. Temperatures above 75 degrees F. (24 C.) and more intense sunlight prompts spinach to switch from foliage to flower production. As spinach bolts, the leaves become tough and bitter tasting. Using spinach for shade gardens is a way to fool this plant into delaying the onset of bolting.

Planting Spinach in the Shade

Whether you’re dealing with a shady garden site or you’re trying to extend the growing season for your spinach crop, try implementing these ideas for shade spinach growing:

  • Plant spring spinach under a deciduous tree. Before the deciduous leaves emerge in the spring, the spinach will receive full sun and grow quickly. As warmer temperatures descend upon the area, the thickening canopy will provide shade from the afternoon sun. This creates a cooler microclimate and delays bolting.
  • Plant fall spinach under a deciduous tree. This has the same effect, but in reverse. Sowing spinach seed in cooler soil improves germination rates. As autumn approaches and the leaves drop, a fall crop of spinach will benefit from the increased sunlight.
  • Successively plant spinach near taller crops. Sowing spinach seeds every two weeks extends the harvest period of mature plants. Sow the first row in full sun. Then every two weeks, sow more seeds in rows reserved for consecutively taller plants. As the season progresses, maturing spinach plants will receive more and more shade.
  • Plant spinach on the east side of buildings. The eastern exposure provides a few hours of direct sunlight during the coolest part of the day, while creating shade for the remainder. Grow container spinach. Planters can be given full sun on cooler days and moved to cooler locations when the temperature rises.

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How to Grow Spinach in Your Home Vegetable Garden

Spinach is a leafy green vegetable that grows best in cool weather. Packed with iron, spinach is also high in vitamins A and C, thiamin, potassium, and folic acid (one of the B-complex vitamins). Like most dark green leafy vegetables, spinach also contains the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Perhaps best of all, spinach tastes great eaten fresh or cooked.

While there are many different spinach varieties with an assortment of leaf shapes and textures, spinach is usually divided into two major categories: smooth leaf and savoy. But this plant has been crossbred so much that it's often hard to categorize. Small-leafed spinach, or baby spinach, has gained in popularity recently and is not necessarily immature spinach leaves but varieties that simply don't get large.

Spinach is very fast-growing and can be ready to harvest in as little as one month after it's planted as seed. In most climates, it grows best when planted in spring and fall, since it needs relatively cool temperatures to thrive.

Botanical Name Spinacia oleracea
Common Name Spinach
Plant Type Annual
Mature Size 6 to 12 inches tall and wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Neutral (6 to 7)
Bloom Time Non-flowering
Flower Color N/A
Hardiness Zones 2 to 11
Native Area North America, Central America, South America, Asia
Toxicity Non-toxic
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Savoyed Leaf Spinach is gaining popularity throughout the U.S. The leaf shape is curled making it more difficult to clean. SavoyedLleaf Spinach is one of the fastest growing crops under good growing conditions.


Spinach is temperamental when it comes to heat and long days. Keep it evenly moist without soaking leaves.

More than any other common crop, spinach doesn't like warm weather. It actually germinates best at only 50 degrees F. It germinates more rapidly at higher temperatures, but at 70 degrees F only about half the seeds will germinate.

Spinach bolts when exposed to long summer days, so it is usually grown as a spring or autumn crop. It's much less prone to bolting in the shorter, cooler days and the leaves grow larger and more succulent.

Each plant doesn't produce very much, so it is usually grown in wide intensive beds. Raised beds are good because they warm up quickly in spring and tend to be well drained.

Spinach germinates well at low temperatures.

Spinach needs full sun for good growth, particularly for a fall or over-wintering crop.

Spinach doesn’t like heat and in warmer areas it should be planted in a shady site.

Keep the soil evenly moist (not wet) otherwise it may bolt. Fortunately this isn't usually a problem in the cool weather preferred by spinach.

Try to avoid splashing mud on the leaves as it can make them gritty.

Spinach needs a moderate amount of nitrogen and potassium and a fairly small amount of phosphorous.

Spinach can work well in containers, though they need to be sufficiently large (ideally a two gallon pot for each plant). In larger containers allow 12" between the plants for best growth.

In warmer areas you should use light colored pots to reduce heat absorption.


Avoid paying for overpriced gourmet lettuce at the supermarket and grow your own. Lettuce thrives in cool weather and does better in the shade, especially when temperatures start to rise. Full sun can increase the chances of premature bolting, so choosing a semi-shaded spot is ideal for summer lettuce.

Related Post: Growing Lettuce

Lettuce is shallow-rooted, so it doesn’t require a deep pot or planting area, but it does like loamy soil. Soil should be consistently moist. Drought may cause lettuce to bolt early. Lettuce grows best in zones 4 to 9.

Average Weather Spinach for Zones 4-9

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Growing spinach in average, cool-weather conditions typically takes place in the spring and fall. These varieties do best in mild temperatures between 35 and 75 degrees F: neither too hot or too cold. Mature plants can withstand temperatures that drop into the teens, which makes it great for zones with colder fall nights.

You can also plant the following average weather varieties for overwintering if you live in the warmer zones (8 or above).

When growing in zones 6-9, the trick is to make your spinach plant last longer. When the days begin to lengthen, the plant may attempt to bolt. As a result, look for a slow-to-bolt variety if planting in the spring.

Regiment Spinach

USDA hardiness zone: 6-9

A substantial and robust option, Regiment spinach offers thick, broad semi-savoyed leaves. It’s more tolerant of colder soil, which makes it germinate well (this tends to require colder temperatures) and early spring harvests. You can also sow the seeds later in summer for a fall harvest, however, it’s most productive in cool spring conditions. This spinach plant is full of nutrients, grows quickly, and offers decent bolting resistance


USDA hardiness zone: 6-9

Another hybrid variety, Teton spinach is productive during the spring and yield a large amount of dark green, smooth leaves. It’s a great source of vitamins C, A, and B-complex with a mild flavor, and is both slow to bolt and mildew resistant. Grow Teton in a sunny location with partial shade, planting as soon as the danger of frost is over.

The best part about this variety is that it freezes very well. This makes this variety perfect for harvesting, storing, and adding to your meals throughout the winter. You can harvest the entire plant at once (as long as the outer leaves are at least six inches tall) or cut away the leaves throughout the summer as needed. Then sow seeds again during late summer for a fall harvest.

Indian Summer

USDA hardiness zone: 6-9

Indian Summer is a well-known and beloved spinach variety for a variety of reasons. It’s easy to grow, extremely slow to bolt in the heat, disease tolerant, and is partially hardy. Plus, this type offers a high yield throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Indian Summer has flat, semi-savoy leaves.

You can directly sow the seeds outside when the frost has passed or plant them indoors and transplant them outside when temperatures rise. However, expect to perform a moderate amount of maintenance to keep this plant growing happily.

USDA hardiness zone: 6-9

The semi-savory type of spinach called Tyee is hardy. It’s resistant to mildew, bolt resistant, and grows vigorously in either hot or cold climates. This type of spinach offers a great flavor for salads and cooked in a range of dishes. Although it can survive partial shade, full-sun areas are preferred.

For the best results, plant Tyee in your outdoor garden during later winter or before early spring when daytime temperatures consistently reach 40 degrees. You can also grow this type all year round if you live in an area with mild winters.


USDA hardiness zone: 6-9

Another fast-growing hybrid plant with exceptional bolting and disease resistance, Corvair offers attractive, dark green oval leaves with a smooth texture. Expect the plants to grow completely upright, which keeps them resistant from mildew and pest issues. Plant this variety in the spring or fall for the best results.


USDA hardiness zone: 3-9

Renegade spinach grows a bit slower than other varieties, but excels when it comes to leaf handling. They’ll never crack or feel brittle, and the plant is resistant to diseases, bolting, and viruses. This variety is great for growing in all seasons, depending on your location. Sow the seeds from spring or late summer to early fall, or sow every 7 days for a year-round harvest.


USDA hardiness zone: 4-8

If bolting is an issue in your region, orach spinach (Atriplex hortensis) is a great option to try. It’s typically grown in Europe and the United States’ northern plains, and even the seeds are edible. They’re a great source of vitamin A, perfect for adding into homemade bread, and are sometimes used to make blue dye. Keep the plant well irrigated for the best flavor and try planting orach in containers too.

A final word about maturation times

You’ll discover through your own gardening experiences what vegetables grow best on your property – how long newly planted seeds take to germinate, how profusely they flower and how many weeks until first harvest.

It is important to note for first-time growers that vegetables grown in the shade often take just a little bit longer to reach maturity than if they were grown in full sun.

If you are planting in shade, it is not a less than ideal growing condition, it is just a different growing condition.

Adjust your expectations accordingly, and enjoy all the beautiful produce from your shade-loving veggies!

Watch the video: Grow Fruit and Vegetables..in the Shade!