Let me welcome you into the flourishing world of companion planting! As a lifelong gardener rooted in Wisconsin’s landscapes, I’ve witnessed firsthand the wondrous benefits of thoughtfully combining certain plants. Spinach thrives with the proper companions, whether they drive away pests, enhance flavor, or mutually exchange nutrients with those tender green leaves.
In this complete companion planting guide for spinach, you’ll uncover:
- A deep dive into companion planting’s rich history
- An up-close look at spinach itself and what exactly it needs to grow
- The science behind interplanting spinach for optimal health
- A cornucopia of spinach’s best friends to integrate into your garden
I can’t wait for you to implement these organic, sustainable growing strategies in your own backyard. Now, let’s delve into the remarkable world where plants and people grow side-by-side!
- 1 What is Companion Planting?
- 2 Getting to Know Spinach: Inside & Out
- 3 Companion Planting Fundamentals with Spinach
- 4 Spinach’s Best Companions
- 5 Garden Designs for Spinach & Friends
- 6 Let Your Companion Planting Journey Unfold
What is Companion Planting?
Companion planting is the age-old practice of strategically interplanting certain plants together so they might benefit each other’s growth. This symbiotic relationship echoes the diverse cooperatives found throughout Mother Nature. By mimicking these connections, gardeners curate vibrant ecosystems where spinach and friends can thrive.
While the modern term “companion planting” entered mainstream gardening culture in the 1970s, humans intuitively comprehended the magic dwelling between plants for millennia.
Insights from Ancient Agricultural Practices
Indigenous cultures understood food could not exist in isolation but rather emerge from complex habitats rich in plant diversity and wildlife. The Three Sisters crop system of interplanting corn, beans, and squash originated with Iroquois gardeners in what is now the Eastern United States. The corn provides a structure for the climbing beans to ascend while also offering shade for low-lying squash. Meanwhile, the beans and squash blanket the soil, locking in moisture and deterring weeds. These plants bolster each other while also collectively nourishing the people.
Beyond the Americas, Chinese peasants sowed soybeans and sorghum together, finding that taller sorghum stabilized bean plants against winds. In contrast, the soybeans’ tangled roots fixed nitrogen into the soil to feed both crops.
Whether planting guilds in premodern jungle civilizations or the wheat and lentil rows of ancient Mesopotamia, land stewards arrived at similar conclusions: some plants offer more abundance when adequately paired.
Companion Planting Principles for the Modern Gardener
Contemporary researchers illuminate precisely how certain plants either assist or inhibit their neighbors.
Below ground: Deep-diving crops like potatoes or carrots aerate and mine nutrients from lower soil levels. However, shallow-rooted plants like spinach or lettuce unequally feast on the readily available fertility above. Also, soil-enriching legumes can sow nitrogen for one year to nourish heavy-feeding plants for seasons afterward.
Above ground, tall sunflowers or corn can provide living shade trellises for lower-light-loving greens to nestle under. Alternatively, they may aggressively hog all the sunlight from smaller plants.
Pest control: Strongly scented herbs like basil or cilantro can disguise vulnerable crops from invading insects. Still, grouping plants from the same botanical families multiplies the chances of shared diseases.
Flavor enhancement: Many plants taste better with certain companions nearby, like pairing sweet alyssum flowers with cabbage.
Only through careful observation of successes and failures can gardeners learn which plant partnerships thrive in their unique backyard ecosystems. A sprinkle of scientific knowledge helps point gardeners in fruitful directions.
Getting to Know Spinach: Inside & Out
Before choosing spinach’s ideal neighbors, let’s explore spinach itself and what it needs to stretch its vibrant leaves.
Spinach Origins & Varieties
While modern diners praise spinach for its nutritional benefits, the plant grows as a simple weed throughout the Middle East. Persians started intentionally cultivating spinach at least 1,000 years ago when they realized its tasty leaves outcompeted actual weeds. Spinach belongs to the Amaranthaceae botanical family, together with beets, quinoa, and nearly 2,500 other species.
Gardeners can select from three main spinach varieties (with endless hybrid cultivars within these groups!):
- Savoy has dark green, crinkly leaves. It withstands cold better than other varieties.
- Flat or smooth leaves feature broad, spade-shaped leaves that stand upright. It generally offers the mildest taste.
- Semi-savoy intermingles the curly and flat-leaf traits for a visually delightful mélange!
Beyond officially named types, passionate seed savers pass down beloved heirloom spinach across generations. Seek out these living legends at garden swaps and shops that cater to rare seeds.
What Do Spinach Plants Need?
This is not a sun-worshipping summer squash! Instead, spinach prefers chillier temperatures between 60-70°F during the day and about 40°F at night. Spinach bolts fast once the mercury rises into summer, trading tender leaves for woody seed stalks.
This cool-weather crop demands consistently damp soil but also depends on sharp drainage. When planting, ideal garden beds mix in several inches of compost or aged manure. Side dressing midseason with balanced organic fertilizer coaxes the highest yields.
Finally, spinach flourishes in slightly acidic conditions around 6.5 pH. In alkaline western soils, sprinkle elemental sulfur to lower pH levels. Fertilizers branded for azaleas or rhododendrons naturally acidify the soil.
Companion Planting Fundamentals with Spinach
We’ve built the necessary context on spinach itself and companion planting foundations. Now, let’s cultivate the craft of strategically interplanting to keep your spinach crop flourishing through summer!
Cultivating Robust Spinach Growth
Certain companion plants planted near spinach can enhance its expansion by deterring inbound pests, retaining soil moisture longer, and even directly feeding their leafy neighbors via intricate underground communication channels that plants use to distribute nutrients between themselves and their fungal partners.
Moisture-loving friends: Lettuce, arugula, chard, and other greens crave excellent, damp conditions similar to spinach. Group these together for lush beds needing less watering attention. Their canopy shades spinach’s shallow roots while extensive surface area absorbs summer thunderstorms for dry spells.
Pest patrol: Scented herbs like cilantro, chives, basil, and oregano disguise spinach from offensive insects. Aggressive guardians such as radishes or nasturtiums lure troublemakers away as alternate snacks.
Green manures: Cover crops precede spinach in crop rotations by gathering minerals and nutrients to amend the soil. Legumes like hairy vetch or field peas perform marvelously, but even quick-growing buckwheat suffices to stockpile subterranean provisions for spinach later on.
Dynamic accumulators: Miner’s lettuce, comfrey, and scented geraniums plunge deep taproots, extracting calcium, potassium, iron, and more from swollen soil layers. They then cascade these gifts onto shallow surface levels, where spinach gathers quickly.
Intercropping: Use upright crops like sorghum, corn, or pole beans to trellis spinach. As a living mulch, spinach thrives between crop rows smothering weeds.
Keeping Pests at Bay
Even the most robust spinach suffers assault from various insects and diseases. Luckily, certain trusty companions bounce back bugs almost before they take a sip or bite from our dear spinach!
Pest-patrolling plants: Hot peppers, onions, garlic, and radishes emit offensive odors that drive away many insects. Chives and mint, with milder scents, also deter hungry pests.
Sacrificial lambs: Some plants actually lure insects away from choice edibles. Radishes do double duty by repelling pests above ground while also aerating soil below. Nasturtium and calendula blossoms provide eye candy, distracting nearly all common garden troublemakers.
Pest predators: Plant insectary habitats filled with the pollen and nectar they crave to welcome ladybugs, green lacewings, syphid flies, and tiny parasitic wasps. Anise hyssop, goldenrod, yarrow, and coneflowers feed beneficially, so they establish round-the-clock patrols.
Physical barriers: Prickly rose clippings or crushed eggshells create protective perimeter rings. Floating row covers, applied at planting, deflect incoming pests early on.
Organic sprays: Botanical oils derived from canola or jojoba suffocate soft-bodied insects on contact. Spinosad bacteria attack caterpillars quickly but spare helpful pollinators. Insecticidal soap dissolves the exoskeletons of aphids, mites, and more. Apply as preventative measures or when scouts first report intruders.
Dynamic Nutrient Exchange & Soil Health
Through photosynthesis, plants transform sunlight’s energy into lifesaving food. But most crops cannot complete this journey alone. They rely on fungal partners called mycorrhizae that expand their root systems exponentially in exchange for nibbles of sugary carbohydrates plants produce.
Certain plants, like legumes, also host unique bacteria housing tiny nitrogen factories inside their roots. These powerhouses, such as rhizobia, convert inert atmospheric nitrogen into bioavailable formulations that plants metabolize into essential proteins.
Fungal and bacterial friends circulate nutrients, vitamins, sugars, and other goodies between soil, plants, microbes, and ourselves! Companion planting maximizes these cooperative exchanges through the following:
Nitrogen-fixing: Beans, peas, vetch, clover, and lupines manufacture fertilizer for all.
Dynamic nutrient accumulators: Comfrey, artichokes, and the herbaceous dandelion burrow deep with mineral-mining taproots and then release the mother lode upon pruning.
Soil structuring: Long carrots and daikon radishes shatter compressed layers, while fast-decaying greens compost quickly once tilled under.
Ground covers & mulches: Living mulches like clovers hold moisture, deter weeds from germinating, and pump nutrients. Meanwhile, grass clippings, leaves, straw, and wood chips excel as organic matter protecting soil’s life from above.
As you can see, plants nurture each other beyond our visible perceptions. By thoughtfully tending the hidden connections below our feet, we can create healthy, resilient landscapes bursting with life!
Spinach’s Best Companions
Congrats on sticking with me on this winding journey into companion planting concepts! Now, for the featured event, let’s unveil spinach’s top companion plant matches!
Lettuce covers the ground quickly, shading soil before summer’s blazing sun parches humus to dust. Lovely ruffles and crinkly varieties contrast beautifully with flat spinach leaves. Scatter lettuce seedlings amidst baby spinach for visual intrigue and functional pest protection. Or border entire beds with crisp romaine guarding spinach within.
It’s pretty enough for flower arrangements and its tangy arugula accents, salad bowls, and garden beds! Its spicy zing conceals vulnerable crops like spinach from keen insect antennae. Its reseeding habit furnishes years of volunteer reinforcements.
Brilliantly hued stems power this spinach ally from seed to harvest. Chard survives where spinach bolts once warmer weather arrives, ensuring continued productivity. Plus, its towering heights shelter spinach underneath while extensive root networks accumulate nutrients to share.
Spicy mustard’s puckery bite beautifully jazzes up the phlegmatic smoothness of spinach. Mizuna mustard’s frilly foliage makes exuberant filler between spinach plants. Festive red mibuna mustard colorfully contrasts. All function as living mulch if sown thickly between slow-growing spinach.
Herbs & Flowers
No proper garden should lack the enlivening essence of fresh herbs! Many mint relatives infuse spinach beds with pest protection and pops of blossoms. Dill’s ferny leaves look smashing beside rounded spinach while luring beneficial insects. For easy identification, plant parsley at the end of rows. Edible flowers like nasturtium, calendula, and pansies please the palate and pair well with mild spinach.
Fast-growing cilantro shields tender spinach in its shade while also repelling nasty insects. A sprinkle of freshly chopped coriander leaves quickly elevates boring spinach salads into vibrant flavor town! As desired, let some golden umbels bloom and collect coriander seeds for future harvests.
With flowers that beckon beneficial insects, vibrant bee balm electrifies any garden bed. A member of the mint family, the lemony plant emits natural compounds that suppress soilborne diseases that can trouble spinach. Pinch off blooms to direct energies toward pest protection, or harvest edible flowers for magical sprite garnish!
Root Crops & Vine Croppers
Never underestimate the hidden might dwelling just below the soil surface! Carrots and other tap-rooted plants fracture dense layers while mining minerals from stratum where spinach cannot reach. Supporting climbers like pole beans skyrocket vertical growing space.
These sweet, edible taproots serve double duty, breaking up heavy soils as they grow while repelling a horde of insects that enjoy munching spinach leaves. Lean, narrow carrots and compact spinach interplant nicely. You can also border spinach beds with serpentine bands of colorful carrot tops sporting lacy, fern-like foliage.
Simply pull the best-tasting soil probes and let the remaining radish roots deteriorate, feeding spinach’s shallow questing feelers. Spicy razors can garrison the perimeter, repelling burrowing pests like nematodes and grubs. Or grow daikon giants, blasting down into subsoil and sloughing off nutrients through decayed leaves.
Peas & Beans
Whether beefsteak tomatoes, towering sunflowers, or simple bamboo teepees, utilize vertical supports over spinach beds by training climbers upwards. Twining tendrils secure the structures, while vibrant blossoms attract pollinators. Choose compact bush bean cultivars, spacing closely to form living mulch choking out weeds.
Crops for Crop Rotating & Soil Building
Continual planting strips vital nutrients and allows pests and diseases to accumulate undisrupted. But innovative sequencing of specific vegetables before and after spinach keeps your soil engaged in an eternal fertility dance!
Fast-growing cover crop mixes accumulate organic matter quickly if planted after the spinach harvest concludes. Cereal grains and legumes establish rapidly from late summer through early winter. Come spring, slash down mature covers and leave the clippings on beds as a nutrient-rich natural mulch for new spinach seedlings.
Named after its medicinal bone and tissue healing properties, comfrey certainly brings the same rejuvenating skills to garden beds! This dynamic accumulator searches deeper soil realms and recycles expansive leaves plump full of minerals upon chopping back. Just a few comfrey plants nourish whole gardens for decades with only sun, rain, and the occasional haircut!
Peas & Beans
As mentioned, legumes give back generously by cultivating nitrogen-fixing bacteria on their roots. They gather this fertilizer from thin air and deposit bioavailable nutrients right into soil life’s bank account! Fava and rye, specifically, develop gorgeous symbiosis with mycorrhizal fungi that shepherd nutrients directly towards eager spinach.
Garden Designs for Spinach & Friends
Now that we’ve covered ideal complementary plants in depth let’s draw design blueprints for planting an uber-productive spinach patch with trusty companions!
Living Lasagna Beds
Stack alternating layers of nitrogen- and carbon-rich ingredients in a raised bed. Top off with a thick mulch blanket over spinach seedlings. The mattress will compost itself, delivering nutrients as layers blend together. Expand by adding layers!
Give Peas a Chance
Provide pea teepee trellises over spinach beds. The climbers will ascend while also enriching the soil for below-ground greens. Radishes serve as trigger plants, germinating first to prep garden spaces. Carrots and select lettuce fill gaps for a vitamin-rich polyculture bounty!
Three Pillars of Compost
Dedicate separate raised beds to 1) dynamic accumulators (comfrey and borage), 2) pest-distracting sacrificed lambs (nasturtium and radish), and 3) heavy nitrogen fixers (peas and hairy vetch). Chop and drop mineral collectors to feed insectory and legume beds. Transfer amendments grown by these pillars back to spinach beds, completing the seasonal growing cycle!
And More Ideas Abound!
This article focuses on spinach, but companion planting offers many possibilities! Now that you grasp the guiding principles unleash your creativity by blending compatible plants productively and beautifully. Notice what thrives easily with minimal intervention. Troubleshoot pairings struggling despite amendments. Most importantly, revel in the wondrous web connecting everything subtly and miraculously.
Let Your Companion Planting Journey Unfold
Hopefully, the concepts here have demystified companion planting’s foundations and possibilities so you feel empowered to concoct your symbiotic soup, starting with spinach! I encourage you to experiment with different combinations guided by nature’s wisdom. Keep records of what works well in your unique garden ecosystem. Over time, patterns emerge and invisible connections reveal themselves more clearly.
Most of all, remember that gardening opens doorways into fantastically complex living systems that nourish us physically and spiritually far beyond just the harvest itself. Once companion planting clicks, you start witnessing previously hidden cooperative exchanges unfolding elegantly. So get out there and grow abundantly!