Red stemmed spinach (Basella alba "Rubra"), also called Malabar spinach, isn't really spinach (Spinacia oleracea), but its deep green foliage resembles spinach in both appearance and flavor. Both red stemmed spinach and traditional spinach are grown as annual vegetables in the summer or winter garden, depending on your location. Red stemmed spinach may survive as a perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 11. Unlike true spinach, red stemmed spinach is a vining plant, making it ideal for growing on trellises or along fences. Its bright red stems and veins create a striking contrast against the slightly crinkled green leaves.
1 Plant red stemmed spinach in a sunny to partially sunny location. Although it will grow in partial sun, this heat-loving vine performs best in six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day. Partial shade does, however, cause the leaves to be larger, says the Cornell University Extension.
2 Grow red stemmed spinach, spaced 12 inches apart in fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.5 and 6.8. Although it prefers soil high in organic matter, red stemmed spinach will survive in a wide range of soils.
3 Water red stemmed spinach deeply to saturate the soil to the root level once or twice a week, or whenever the soil feels dry 1 inch below the surface. Evenly moist soil keeps red stemmed spinach from flowering. Flowering causes the leaves to turn bitter.
4 Fertilize red stemmed spinach with a water-soluble fertilizer designed for vegetables, mixed at a rate of 1 tablespoon per gallon of water, if it shows signs of slow or stunted growth or nutrient deficiencies, such as yellowed or malformed leaves. Red stemmed spinach typically does not require supplemental fertilizer, if a balanced fertilizer has been added to the soil before planting, but it can be applied once every 7 to 14 days, if needed.
5 Pinch out the growing tips of red stemmed spinach to force new growth along the stem. Removing flowers as they appear is also recommended if you intend to harvest and eat the foliage, as this increases the yield of edible foliage. If it is grown as an ornamental plant, allow it to bloom to add interest.
6 Erect a trellis or other support when planting your red stemmed spinach as this vining plant grows rapidly and climbs to a height of 8 to 10 feet.
7 Cut red stemmed spinach back to the soil level in midsummer if the leaves become too tough to eat. It will soon produce a new flush of growth and begin climbing again.
Items you will need
- Water-soluble fertilizer
- Red stemmed spinach grows slowly in cool weather, but once the mercury climbs above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, this plant thrives and grows rapidly.
- It is relatively pest free.
- Harvest the largest leaves for cooking as they are tougher and resemble the texture of spinach.
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Spinach, Malabar — Basella rubra L
- Temperate Climate Permaculture: Permaculture Plants: Malabar Spinach
- Cornell University Extension: Malabar Spinach
- Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Red Stemmed Malabar Spinach
- Scotts Miracle-Gro: Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food
- Zedcor Wholly Owned/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images