Malabar spinach is also known as basilla alba, vine spinach, and ceylon spinach. It’s okay if you’ve never heard of malabar spinach before: it is a rare plant more commonly found growing in Southeast Asia than in United States gardens.
Malabar spinach isn’t a spinach plant which is confusing. The plant is a vine with spinach-like leaves that are delicious in soups and stir-fry recipes and are even better than spinach in many ways. If you find yourself experiencing frustration over poor spinach yields, try growing Malabar spinach plants for absolutely massive harvests.
Suppose you are fortunate enough to live in a tropical climate. In that case, you can grow malabar spinach as a perennial. Still, gardeners in most regions will enjoy success planting malabar spinach as an annual.
We will let you know all about malabar spinach and how to grow it in your home garden. We will also tell you how to use this fascinating tropical vine to create delicious meals your family won’t forget.
What is Malabar Spinach?
So, it’s not spinach. It’s not even a type of spinach. Malabar spinach is a vining plant that grows wild in Southeast Asia and Africa. It has become natural in Brazil and other South American countries.
Malabar spinach plants provide a broad, thick leaf similar to spinach in taste, texture, and color. Instead of a loose-leaf heading plant like spinach, Malabar spinach will grow tremendous vines measuring more than 30 feet in length. Gardeners able to maximize summertime temperatures can produce a massive harvest of Malabar spinach leaves.
Unlike regular spinach, the malabar spinach plant is native to tropical regions and loves heat and humidity. In warm climates, Malabar spinach will grow as a perennial. Still, most U.S. gardeners will want to cultivate it as an annual plant. Gardeners in the U.S.’s hot and humid regions will have tremendous success growing Malabar spinach, where a traditional spinach plant may struggle to survive.
Let’s face it. You’re bored of growing vegetables you can buy in the store. It’s time to grow something rare, unique, and delicious: Malabar spinach is the answer.
How to Grow Malabar Spinach
We want you to have ultimate success growing Malabar spinach. This fast-growing vine isn’t the most challenging plant to grow, but getting massive harvests requires special steps we want to share with you.
We found out the best ways to grow strong and healthy Malabar spinach vine plants. When you are ready to try something different, this growing and care guide for Malabar spinach is going to be your one-stop information you need.
– Where to Buy Malabar Spinach Seeds
It’s unlikely that you will find Malabar spinach in grocery stores; it’s even a rarity in specialty stores in many parts of the country. Most U.S. gardeners will need to buy high-quality seeds from an online seller with a reputable history. Most seeds will be treated seeds, so avoid planting Malabar spinach in your organic garden.
– How to Start Malabar Spinach Seeds
You can start Malabar spinach seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost. Malabar spinach seeds have a tough outer shell you can scarify with a sharp knife or a file to aid in germination. The seeds should soak in filtered water overnight before planting. Start seeds in a seed tray or biodegradable seed pods to make transplanting easy and fast. Seeds germinate from 10 days to three weeks, depending on temperature.
– When to Plant Malabar Spinach
As a tropical plant, Malabar spinach will not tolerate frost, and even cool temperatures can severely inhibit growth. Wait to transplant your Malabar spinach seedlings until several weeks after any chance of frost has passed. These plants won’t grow much until daytime temperatures begin increasing.
– Propagation Tips
So, your friend wants to start a Malabar spinach plant, but it’s too soon for seeds. An excellent trick for propagating Malabar spinach is to snip off the vines’ tips and put them in a glass of water. The tips will quickly produce roots, making it fast and straightforward to reproduce Malabar spinach even when you are out of seeds.
– How to Plant Malabar Spinach
Once you can work the soil in your garden, mix in high-quality compost and ensure you have plenty of drainages. Plant your Malabar spinach seedlings at least 12 inches apart.
The Malabar spinach plant will eventually put out vines that can be more than 30 feet in length, so you must provide a trellis. It’s best to place the structure before the Malabar spinach is too big to work around.
You can begin to harvest Malabar spinach as soon as it begins vining. You can harvest individual leaves as the plant grows. The tips of the vine are also edible and make a delicious addition to garden salads. The thick leaves are eaten raw in salads or steamed and sauteed like traditional spinach. The leaves and shoots have a slightly peppery flavor and texture similar to spinach when raw. The leaves are mucilaginous, so they get a little slimy when you cook them, much like okra.
– Nutritional Value
One of the reasons spinach is popular is due to the tremendous health benefits the plant offers. You’ll be happy to know that Malabar spinach has similar nutritional benefits.
It’s high in vitamin A and Vitamin C and high in iron and calcium like spinach. It also contains a significant amount of antioxidant properties, so it can help prevent cancer and boost your immune system.
Malabar spinach is an ideal garden plant for people who like their leafy greens in the summer heat. Where traditional spinach wilts and fails, Malabar spinach thrives. You can use Malabar spinach leaves in any recipe that calls for spinach. It’s delicious chopped in garden salads and is tasty in stir-fry recipes. The mucilaginous properties also make Malabar spinach an excellent choice for thickening soups.
Controlling Pests in Your Garden
Several pests will destroy your Malabar spinach crop. You will find a variety of caterpillars and insects that eat the fleshy green leaves. There are a few things you can do to limit the destruction pests cause to your plants. You can use a 70% neem oil spray to contain pests. It’s also helpful to use diatomaceous earth to prevent pests from infesting Malabar spinach gardens.
Very few diseases are commonly found in Malabar spinach crops. Sometimes, root rot, blight, and several varieties of fungus can attack the plants. The best way to treat diseases in your crop is to remove infected plants and destroy them immediately. For powdery mildew problems, a 70% neem oil spray is effective at killing the fungus that causes mildew.
Varieties of Malabar Spinach
While Malabar spinach doesn’t have many relatives, there are two varieties you can grow.
- The variety basella alba grows green vines and leaves with white flowers.
- Red Malabar spinach, or Basella rubra, grows dark red stems and leaves with a purple tint.
Both varieties flower from stalks in showy clusters. Seeds have four lobes and are dark purple or black. The seeds have no flavor and are useful for dying and coloring food.
Plants to Grow With Malabar Spinach
Due to the vining characteristics, you should avoid growing Malabar spinach near trees and other plants that Malabar spinach will harm. It’s best to control the vining spinach plant’s growth because it grows fast and can quickly get out of control.
Malabar spinach makes an attractive plant in your garden when grown with other tropical species, particularly varieties with dark foliage against the spinach’s bright green leaves.
Many vining plants can be grown with crops like corn, where they use the tall stalks as a natural trellis, but corn isn’t a good choice due to the tropical nature and summer growth. If you plan on harvesting Malabar spinach leaves, you can train the vines onto twine, fences, or tomato cages.
- Malabar spinach is not a spinach plant; it’s a tropical vine
- Malabar spinach grows well in warm, humid environments but won’t produce strong vines or big leaves in cool climates.
- Like many tropical plants, Malabar spinach can’t tolerate frost or even cool temperatures. It’s a prolific producer when temperatures are above 85 degrees.
- Though Malabar spinach will self-seed, gardeners will have the most success starting seeds indoors in most growing regions in the U.S.
- Wait to transplant Malabar spinach until well after the last frost. It’s best to wait until nighttime temperatures are above 60 degrees.
- Gardeners can harvest Malabar spinach once the leaves are full and the plant is vining.
- Malabar spinach is high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- It can be eaten raw or sauteed and works to thicken soups and stews.
- Few pests or diseases regularly cause problems for U.S. gardeners. Using a 70% neem oil spray effectively kills most pests and diseases impacting these tropical plants.
- There are two varieties, green and red Malabar spinach.
- Plant Malabar spinach with other tropical plants and avoid letting the vines get into trees or other summer crops like corn.
Suppose you have thought about trying something different and you like spinach. In that case, the Malabar vining spinach plant is an excellent and unique variety to try. The red Malabar spinach makes a beautiful plant when grown with other colorful plants.
Once you have your Malabar spinach plant established, it will grow quickly. You’ll be able to harvest massive amounts of Malabar spinach all summer when other leafy green plants suffer.