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How to Grow New Zealand Spinach

New Zealand spinach grow in gardenNew Zealand spinach is a perennial grown as a warm-weather annual. Sow New Zealand spinach in the garden about the date of the average last frost in spring or later. It can be started indoors 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost in spring for later transplanting.

New Zealand spinach is not frost hardy like true spinach. The two plants are not related but can be used fresh or cooked in the same way. Plant New Zealand spinach in the warm part of the year when regular spinach will not grow.

Description. New Zealand spinach is a perennial vegetable grown as a tender annual. It is a low-growing, weak-stemmed leafy plant that can spread several feet wide and grow to one foot tall. It has succulent, triangular- to oval-shaped leaves that are pale to dark green and grow from 2 to 4 inches (5-10cm) long. The leaves of New Zealand spinach are smaller and fuzzier than those of regular spinach. New Zealand spinach has small yellow flowers and conical capsules.

Yield. Grow one or two New Zealand spinach plants per household member.

Young New Zealand spinach
Sow New Zealand spinach in the garden about the date of the average last frost in spring or later.

Planting New Zealand Spinach

Site. Plant New Zealand spinach in full sun. New Zealand spinach prefers moisture-retentive, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. New Zealand spinach is weak-stemmed and will appear to trail across the garden. Set plants in hills similar to squash. New Zealand spinach prefers a soil pH of 6.8 to 7.0. Prepare planting beds with well-aged compost. Where summer heat is intense, plant New Zealand spinach where it will get partial shade in the afternoon.

Planting time. New Zealand spinach grows best as a warm-weather annual in temperatures ranging from 60° to 75° F (16-24° C). Sow New Zealand spinach in the garden about the date of the average last frost in spring or later. Start New Zealand spinach indoors 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost in spring for later transplanting. New Zealand spinach is not frost hardy like true spinach. Plant New Zealand spinach in the warm part of the year when regular spinach will not grow. The plant is drought tolerant but the leaves will not be as tender. New Zealand spinach requires 55 to 65 days to reach harvest.

Planting and spacing. Sow New Zealand spinach ½ inch (12mm) deep and 2 to 4 inches (5-10cm) apart. New Zealand spinach grows from seed clusters that produce several seedlings, similar to beet seed. Soak seeds overnight in water to speed germination. When seedlings are 3 inches (7cm) tall, thin to the strongest seedlings, from 12 to 18 inches (30-45cm) apart. Set New Zealand spinach in hills similar to squash. This will allow the weak-stem to sprawl. Space hills or rows 24 to 36 inches (61-91cm) apart.

Companion plants. Strawberries. Avoid planting New Zealand spinach in the shade of tall plants such as corn or pole beans.

Container growing. New Zealand spinach will grow well in containers. Grow two plants in a 5-gallon (19 liter) pot.

New Zealand spinach plants
New Zealand spinach is drought tolerant but tastes best when the soil is kept evenly moist.

Caring for New Zealand Spinach

Water and feeding. Keep New Zealand spinach evenly moist; water regularly for rapid, full growth. Do not let the soil dry out. New Zealand spinach is drought tolerant once established but leaves will not be as tender or flavorful. Mulch to retain soil moisture. Prepare planting beds with aged compost. Side dress plants with aged compost at midseason.

Pests. New Zealand spinach has no serious pest problems.

Diseases. New Zealand spinach has no serious disease problems.

New Zealand spinach leavesHarvesting and Storing New Zealand Spinach

Harvest. New Zealand spinach will be ready for harvest 55 to 65 days after sowing. Cut young leaves and tender leaf tips for the best flavor. This cut-and-come-again harvest will encourage new growth and longer harvest.

Storing and preserving. New Zealand spinach will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week. New Zealand spinach can be frozen canned or dried.

Varieties. ‘Maori’ is the most commonly grown variety.

Common name. New Zealand spinach

Botanical name. Tetragonia tetragoniodes

Origin. New Zealand

Grow 80 vegetables: THE KITCHEN GARDEN GROWERS’ GUIDE

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45 Comments

  1. Yes, you can eat New Zealand spinach raw. Treat New Zealand spinach like regular spinach and use it in salads or on sandwiches. The flavor will be milder, a bit less acidic than regular spinach. You can also quick-boil New Zealand spinach for 1 minute–a quick 1 minute. Just drop the leaves into water that has reached a rapid boil. You can dress it with olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic and salt and pepper–all to taste.

  2. I have had NZ spinach for years and my family loves it. But how do you gather the seeds for planting the next year. I have been letting it die back after the hard frost and transplant the volunteers in the spring, always worrying “what if there are no baby plants in the spring?”. Last year I had the fewest transplants since i have been growing this plant. Any advice?

    • The seeds are the little buds that grow every few cms on the stalk. They start green, but will turn brown and will then be ready to harvest. They quickly fall off, so you will often find them on the ground under the leaves as well.
      You should let them dry completely and then you can store them in an envelope, ready for next season!

  3. You have been allowing your New Zealand spinach plants to re-seed themselves. To ensure you have the number of plants you want next season, collect seed from your plants and start them indoors or in the garden next season. To collect seed allow several plants to flower and set seed at the end of the season. That means stopping your harvest a bit early to that your plants have the time and energy to set seed. New Zealand spinach sets green horn-shaped seed along its stem. Allow the seed to turn dark brown at the end of the hot season before collecting the seed. Once the seed turns from dark brown to black it will drop on its own into the soil–and so you will find volunteer plants nearby next season. Instead of allowing the seed to fall, collect it by hand. Black seed can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to seven years (but you will likely sow it next season). Brown seed should be allowed to dry in the shade for a week before storing.

  4. Hi, I live in Texas. We get plenty of cold, freezing winter weather and have long, hot summers. A very long growing season. Our ground does not freeze and perennials, even tropicals, will die back on top but return in the spring from the roots. If New Zealand spinach is a perennial, it should do the same. Has anyone grown it in an area with freezing temps and it returns in the spring?

    • It’s a tender perennial and, like jewels of Opar, does not tolerate even the slightest frost. Succulent stems just turn into mush. It has no hard parts like trunk or fibrous roots to preserve after the frost. It grows fast from seed, or you could build a cold frame around it.

  5. This is the first year I planted NZ spinach and one seedling was a tricotyledon. It almost died but now it’s the biggest among my NZ spinach plants. It’s leaves continue to come out by three. I’d like to ask if anyone know if there’s any data about the ratio of tricotyledon seedlings/dicotyledon seedlings of Tetragonia tetragoniodes.
    I’ve learned that this phenomena is not unprecidented however rare among dicotyledon plants. I’d also like to ask what type of pollination does NZ spinach require? I plan not to let the other NZ spinach plants to flower so that cross-polination doesn’t occure because I’d like to see if I can produce tricotyledon seeds to plant them next season. Do you think this is going to work?

    • New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides) is an annual that usually lives about four months; however, in frost free regions it may grow on to a second season as a short lived perennial. New Zealand spinach is predominately self-pollinating, but cross pollination can occur. Germination from seed can take from two weeks to three months. It is best to soak seed in water to soften the seed coat before sowing. New Zealand spinach can also be propagated from stem cuttings. The plant will self-sow from dropped seed. A single seed results in on plantlet, but most commonly more than one seedling will emerge from a single seed. Isolate blossoms with a paper sack to prevent cross pollination. See the Prota Plant database for more information: http://database.prota.org/PROTAhtml/Tetragonia%20tetragonioides_En.htm

      • Hello Steve, I live in Honduras along the Caribbean coast but inland in the rainforest. I have ordered New Zealand seeds from 3 different companies..I can not get them to germinate.. I have tried everything, including germinating them in an old refridge at about 65 degree F I have soaked the seeds in small amounts overnight, for 24 hours, on and on..I can not get one seed to germinate… I have large organic gardens and have malibar Aztec, Egyptian Spinaches, Amaranth growing like weeds all over the hillsides…this is tropical rainforest area and everything grows like mad…I have not been able to get these seeds to germinate inside or outside, any ideas? I find it hard to believe that i could buy bad seed from 3 different companies please link me to some good hints or lat me know how I can grow this.. Thank you!!

        • To germinate your New Zealand spinach try this: wet a half paper towel and spread your some of your seed across the paper towel and loosely fold it; place the moist folded paper towel in a clear plastic food storage bag–a large plastic sandwich bag. Set the bag on top of the refrigerator–a warm spot, not directly in a window. Give the seeds 10 to 14 days then check to see if you are starting to get germination. As seeds begin to germinate you can lift them and transplant them to a peat moss and vermiculite mix for rooting and then transplant again to a potting soil. The moist paper towel inside the plastic baggie should not be allowed to dry out–you may want to spritz it if it starts to dry. The baggie will create a mini-greenhouse for the seeds. New Zealand spinach is slow to germinate and has only a 40 percent germination success rate at best. You might want to try several baggie greenhouses set in different warm and light locations and see which has the best success rate.

        • Harlan,
          I had the very same problem as you last summer, got seeds from different places, tried different methods – had very few germinate and the resulting little seedlings died shortly thereafter.
          In August I got a new batch of seeds from Migardener, online. I swear, almost all of them had germinated and are now happily growing, cute little plants, quite robust. Give them a try.

        • I was able to get nearly 100% germination by rubbing the rough end (not the end with the single point) on some sandpaper to break it up, and soaking for 24 hours followed by planting 1/4″ deep in potting soil that I kept moist, but not wet. Prior to this, I got almost no germination and most of my plants failed, as the seeds rotted in wet paper towels and wouldn’t start at all with shorter soak times.

        • I had similar difficulty getting my NZ Spinach to germinate. So, after two weeks in a wet paper towel and no signs of life, I figured I had nothing to lose and cut one in half with my pruners, To my surprise, I saw a few white specks that looked like a tiny little piece of white root. I then cut the rest of them the same way and planted them in a seed tray. To my surprise and delight my first sprout appeared! I hope there will be more, but I now have at least ONE to get started..

  6. Did you know that cabbages can be perennial? That’s why the term “cabbage patch.” I have Early Jersey Wakefield that every year produces, AFTER putting up a nice seed head. I get a large head, several small ones, and sometimes a little more in fall. Then it looks dead all winter.

  7. Hello, would you know where I could buy the Tetragonia tetragonioides aka Botany Bay spinach aka Cook’s cabbage aka kōkihi (in Māori) aka New Zealand spinach aka sea spinach aka tetragon (hahaha so many names!) from please (not the seeds.) I am based in London, UK. Thanking you all in advance.

  8. I managed to grow kokihi here in NZ, in Christchurch which is far south, from popping the seed pods in potting mix, so I’m wondering if, for those of you having trouble germinating and haven’t tried that yet, putting the whole seed head capsule in soil may work. Perhaps the long day lengths help too. Though kokihi grows much more abundantly, readily self seeding, up North of the country, where it is much warmer, it is still relatively distant from the equator and enjoys quite a large variability in day length over the year. I think it tastes pretty crap raw, a bit funny on the tounge. Nice lightly steamed though.

  9. This has been my first attempt to grow nz spinach. Tossed the seed in some potting mix and placed in the greenhouse over a large aquaculture tank. Seeds sprouted over several weeks and I transplanted some of the seedlings into a wicking bed. Picked pounds of spinach today and the temps in the greenhouse have been running over a hundred degrees most afternoons for a month now. The heat doesn’t seem to bother the spinach but I do water daily. Looks like an easy to grow plant that produces lots of leaves.

  10. Three summers ago, when I was looking for some spinach to plant, a local nursery here in Montreal had some New Zealand Spinach. So I tried it and it flourished over our brief but hot & humid summer. The next year, it came back in full force. That was in MONTREAL, where we have long, sub-zero winters and I’m sure at least a foot of snow was on top of it for a good 3-4 months. This year, we turned the soil over to plant something else, but here it is late June, and I see the plant appearing here and there (We’ve had a late start to our season due to a cold spring). So we’ll see if it comes back like it did. I enjoyed it’s mild, almost succulent-like leaves. It’s a nice addition to have especially once the lettuce is gone.

    • Thanks for sharing this. Your New Zealand spinach must have flowered and dropped seed. So now you are enjoying the volunteers. It will be interesting to see how many seasons volunteers grow on.

  11. first time I have tried to grow new Zealand spinach, very successful. It has spread out more than expected! I want to leave it in over the winter to see if it is a perennial as our winters are usually quite mild living near the sea.

    • New Zealand spinach is an annual, meaning its life will span just one growing season. If the weather is mild–neither hot not cold–the season may last several months, perhaps close to a year. New Zealand spinach forms small inconspicuous flowers in each leaf apex; there are actually two flowers side by side. The flowers are self-pollinating. The flowers turn to seed and the seed capsules change from green to brown and then fall off the plant; the plant thus will self-sow. So while the plant is an annual, not a perennial, it will self propagate giving you new plants for next season.

  12. Kia Ora! Enjoyed reading about NZ spinach. I live in Whangarei, north of NZ. I brought NZ spinach from the Whangarei growers market, cooked tender stems and leaves with lentil (yummy) as we mostly cook Spinach in Sri Lanka and the hard parts of the stems planted in my garden last year. It survived in the winter and spring time this year my NZ spinach plants thrived giving me beautiful and healthy leaves. It’s summertime now and the leaves looking bit harder but still doing good!

    • Once the plant is well-established you can harvest small, younger leave cut-and-come-again. Young leaves will the most tender. Take the leaves you need for a serving and let the others grow on. Harvested leaves will be replaced by new leaves in a few weeks. Kia Ora!

  13. You forgot to say that the soil needs to be sandy. I tried to grow it in Santa Barbara soil which has a lot of clay and it doesn’t grow well here, but it grows in Santa Maria California like a trooper and that has very sandy soil.

    • New Zealand spinach-like most vegetables favors loamy, compost-rich soil that is well-drained. Thanks for your insight; good to know New Zealand spinach grows in light sandy soil. When vegetables do not grow well in clay soil, the alternative is to raise the planting bed up (a mounded bed or raised bed) and amend the soil with aged compost or commercial organic planting mix.

  14. Thank you for this helpful post! I’ve noticed that you mentioned at the start of the article that New Zealand Spinach is a tender perennial, but in comments you say that it is an annual (I’m assuming this means that it’s an annual in most locations). Under what conditions will it grow as a a perennial?

    • You are exactly right. For most of the readers of this website–in temperate regions of the world–New Zealand spinach is an annual it will be knocked back and killed by frost. However, New Zealand spinach is native to subtropical regions of Asia, Australia, and New Zeland where it can live for a few years–making it a perennial.

  15. I planted my soaked NZ spinach seeds in between rows of regular spinach. By the time the regular spinach harvested, I had nearly 100% germination of the NZ spinach. Plants are now from 5-7 inches tall with the largest about 5-7 inches across. Will they really teach 2feet tall and 2feet across? Have not eaten any yet but look I got forward to that. I have enjoyed reading about how it will self seed and think I might try that too.

  16. Hi Steve I am growing many plants two did well others just sitting slowly getting bigger most only 1 1/4 -2″? Across planted in clay with horse manure. I am in SANTA Ynez California, in 2 gal pots. Biggest plant almost 2’across and 8″ high 90 F + days . Also water every other day. Do I need to fertilize with what , how much and often thanks.

    • Vegetables like most plants will slow their growth and go nearly dormant when temperatures are greater than 87F; this likely explains the slow growth. When temperatures moderate, growth will resume. Feed the plants with a dilute solution of fish emulsion or kelp meal every 10 days.

  17. It’s spring in New Zealand and I have taken allt eh sprawling legs of NZ spinach out of the green house and put them in a bucket of shallow water. I am not ready to transplant them as the beds are not ready. What to do? I have a hill I can plant them on . Should I cut the ends about the length of my hand an just get rid of the vines? Or just tuck the stalks in to the ground? If I keep the ends in water will they create a root?

    • If it will be a few days before you can transplant, you can trim off the long vine, but let several leaves remain, then set the roots in moist soil; protect them from midday sun or frost.

  18. My grandparents had a big patch of New Zealand spinach growing wild in their backyard in Claremont California this is an inland valley that does freeze during the winter but the spinach always did great. I do see it growing wild along the coastal beach now in central California with no water under the shade of an eucalyptus tree and in full sun along the beach.

    You can eat it raw with lemon juice or vinegar until wilted witch releases the oxalic acid. Mash first under running, let wilt with lemon or add calcium carbonate to smoothie Us old folks remember the hot bacon dressing at salad bars which release the oxalic acid.
    Growing with high nitrogen and ammonia reduces oxylates.

  19. I grew New Zealand Spinach last year in boxes as I am short on ground space. All of the plants came up beautifully. I had the Spinach all summer with morning sun afternoon shade. I ate it raw in my morning smoothies. I soaked the seeds over night and them planted them the next day. I had no problems with any part of the whole process. I planted more this year and everything looks good. Thank you Steve and all commenters as I learned a lot more about growing this Spinach. Thank you to Cynthia Shipman for the tip on what to do before adding it to a smoothie. Will do next time.

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