New Zealand Spinach Plants: Learn How To Grow New Zealand Spinach
The spinach we are familiar with is in the Amaranthaceae family. New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides), on the other hand, is in the Aizoaceae family. While New Zealand spinach may be used in the same way, it has very different growing conditions from its look-a-like, cool-season cousin. Keep reading for tips on how to grow New Zealand spinach, a plant you can enjoy all summer long.
What is New Zealand Spinach?
Spinach has a host of uses, whether fresh or cooked. Its high concentration of Vitamins A and C and low calories make it a perfect stand alone or complement to recipes. In many regions, growing New Zealand spinach is a warm-season alternative. What is New Zealand spinach? This plant is also packed with nutrients and a perfect stand-in for regular spinach.
Like regular spinach, New Zealand is a leafy green; however, its leaves are much thicker and succulent, lending it the alternate name of ice plant. Other names are Tetragonia, everbearing spinach and perpetual spinach.
Regular spinach will bolt and slow leaf production once warm temperatures arrive, but New Zealand spinach plants will keep producing throughout the hot summer months. The variety is frost tender and dies back when cold weather appears.
Plants grow 1 to 2 feet (.35-.61 m.) tall with a similar spread. There are several cultivars, some with smooth leaves and others with a savoy type leaf.
How to Grow New Zealand Spinach
A bright sunny location is best for growing New Zealand spinach. The plants do benefit from light shading during the hottest part of the day in southern regions.
Start seeds outdoors after all danger of frost has passed in prepared, well-draining soil. Slightly sandy soil provides an excellent medium, with organic matter incorporated and a pH level of 6.0-7.0. This spinach is also tolerant of saline soils.
You can even grow New Zealand spinach plants in containers. Keep soil moderately moist, but established plants can tolerate brief periods of drought.
New Zealand Spinach Care
New Zealand spinach has few pest or disease problems. Leaf miners can do cosmetic damage to the leaves. Other potential pests are cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, and aphids.
Drowning from poorly aerated soils and powdery mildew may occur. Make sure the soil is well draining, water from under the leaves and use row covers to protect leaves from pests. Mulch around the plants to prevent weeds, conserve moisture and keep soil cool.
Harvest when leaves are young, as older foliage may have a bitter flavor. You can remove just a few leaves or cut the plant back to the soil and let it come again. This is a really interesting, easy-to-grow green that can provide all the benefits of spinach well into the warm season.
This Perennial Spinach is a Winner
The first time I saw NZ Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides) was at the home of a local permaculturist, Keith (from the South East Suburbs Permaculture Group). There was a sunny spot at the back of the yard, and some unusual looking plant had almost covered over an entire garden bed. It didn’t have any snail or slug damage (couldn’t say the same for the potato leaves growing right next to it), and the leaves had a deep green glow to them that screamed of health.
So I asked Keith what it was, this plant that was snail proof and growing like a weed. He told me the plant was called Warrigal Greens and that it was a native kind of spinach, and he had a whole jar full of seeds for me! They are an unusually shaped seed, like an arrow head, and very hard. Keith told me to soak them in warm water overnight, which I did, and planted them into a standard seedling mix, covered over leafmold and left for a couple of weeks to sort themselves out.
Watching them didn’t seem to make them germinate any quicker, but it did not stop me from doing it. No they did it all by themselves, that little magic trick when the seed embryo begins its journey out into a big big world.
The seedling quickly developed, going from not there one week then out of the old coffee cup and into the ground the next. From there it very quickly establishes itself without fear of other plants, bugs, sun, drought, flood, or any of the 4 horsemen of the Apocalypse.
It could be one of the most lovely of all the perennial plants in my garden, or at least closer in overall benefit to the Jerusalem artichoke than anything else.
My really top favorite thing about NZ Spinach is that it tastes as good as common spinach (Spinacia oleracea), so it is immediately useful and productive for a meal that Popeye would be happy with: high yield.
The second favorite thing is how it has become my most useful ground cover, quickly replacing Pepino in that role while being far more productive, and self seeding. It is also a heap easier to compost – plus the chickens and quail have taken to it, and turn it into a totally different type of fertilizer.
Here we have enough spinach for 3 people, with plenty growing for another day. The plant will develop a large number of seeds as it grows, to the point where it will self seed as successfully as the nasturtiums do. This becomes a time saver leading into Spring, when there is already so much to do with limited time.
If anything, it might be a question of where I don’t want them to grow. And having those artichokes has taught me the importance of controlling the spread of potential weed species – it only takes a minute to pull up some stray seedlings but many hours to restock a garden overrun.
This is a good example of how large the leaves become when the plant has ready access to water and nutrients. Warrigal Greens in an aquaponics setup works extremely well, and perhaps the best growing plant in the grow bed.
Oxalic acid is in Warrigal Greens just like in regular spinach, and that should be blanched out if eaten in any large quantity. I’ll normally do this in a frypan then as the water boils off, will throw in a chunk of butter and sauté till soft – add some salt to taste and there it is. Further to this was added some bacon and eggs – yogurt (from memory), cucumber and tomato. Yum.
Now we have some happy snaps of how NZ spinach grows in a natural habitat – at the beach! You can see how small those leaves are, reflective of the availability of water, now contrast that with the photos above. As I was taking these photos I also took the time to dig under the plants and see what the roots were growing in – dry sand.
OK folks, so now you know. Still plenty of time to get this growing in your own yard – well worth a try if you can find some seed.
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