Plant Answers  >  Monstrueux de Viroflay Spinach

Monstrueux de Viroflay Spinach
Heirloom “monster” Spinach
Spinacia oleracea

Texas A&M horticulturists, in cooperation with local plant producers and nurserymen, have "struck a blow" for the salad lovers of south central Texas. For years a great injustice has been inflicted upon the gardening population who know they should be partaking daily of a health promoting leafy crop in salads but are not satisfied with the homegrown lettuce they try to produce.

So what's the answer? Texas gardeners need to find a leafy salad crop that grows here optimally, and is more nutritious than lettuce as well. We have such a crop in spinach. Nutritionally speaking, spinach is a super champ of the vegetable garden. Spinach has nearly twice as much protein, calcium, iron, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B, and B2, niacin and Vitamin C as any other of the leafy greens. Spinach is easy to grow, especially in this area of Texas, since spinach plants actually thrive in alkaline soil types and are more productive here than anywhere else in the world. Commercial growers in this area produce 20 percent of all the spinach consumed in the United States. Spinach can be killed by temperatures around 12 degrees F. so the mild winter that is normally experienced in this area of Texas, ensures a continuous cool season harvest of gourmet quality product.

If all of this is true, why haven't gardeners been growing spinach for years? The answer to this question is, “past experience”. Most people plant too early, and even if seeds do germinate, plants soon die in the heat. The other "experience" which keeps spinach from being all that it should be is the childhood memories of being force fed spinach because "it is good for you". Some of us made a silent, if not loudly vocal, vow that if we ever lived to reach voting age, we would NEVER eat spinach again! Because of those horrors of youth and a lot of negative conditioning, we are punishing our bodies and our palates by ignoring the best tasting, most nutritious salad crop in the world.

Spinach is classified as a "very hardy cool season crop." Although it can be grown almost anywhere in the Unites States, it does best at mean temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees F. If planted in late winter or in spring, with lengthening days and the approach of hot weather, the plant will quickly form a flower stalk, going to seed after the development of only a few leaves.

Spinach is a cool season crop with seed that germinates very poorly, if at all, in hot soils. Therefore, to avoid a poor stand, the first planting should occur when soil temperatures are 85 degrees F. or below. As mentioned earlier, gardeners have had bad luck growing spinach because they ignored this growing requirement. People plant fall gardens in August and September and are actually harvesting fall produce before spinach planting should even be considered. Gardeners are out of the planting mood when optimum spinach planting time arrives. They are discouraged by the zero success of earlier spinach planting attempts so they bypass the opportunity of planting the most nutritious, Texas-salad vegetable--spinach.

Transplants in October solves most of the spinach growing problems. Spinach transplants should be planted in rows on top of raised planting beds. Planting in rows is preferable since weeds that emerge near the spinach plants can be more easily removed. Transplants of hybrid spinach varieties should be spaced 4 to 6 inches apart.

For all of you non gardening types, plan to transplant some spinach into a sunny flowerbed or patio container so you too can eat yourself to health. Spinach will tolerate and produce in a partially shaded planting location, and produce a fair crop with less than full sunlight. If planting in a soilless mix in containers, pre-mix into the container mixture copious amounts of a slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote which is specifically for containers. Then water with a water-soluble fertilizer such as 20-20-20 every time you water the plants. REMEMBER: Spinach is a leafy vegetable and nitrogen is the main nutrient required for leafy green crops.

Before planting in the garden, mix 3 or 4 pounds (3 or 4 cups) of a 50 percent slow release fertilizer such as 19-5-9 per 100 square feet of planting area. About 2 weeks after transplanting, you should stimulate the growth of the spinach with a light application of nitrogen fertilizer. Use a pound or one cup of a 50 percent slow release fertilizer such as 19-5-9 for each 30-foot row of planted spinach. Apply the fertilizer to the soil near the side of the plants and then water it in lightly.

Most people will want a continuous supply of garden fresh spinach salad and they want it as soon as possible. Approximately 6 to 8 weeks after planting, depending upon the weather, it is harvest time. You will note that as the weather cools down your spinach will take a little longer to fully mature and will grow more upright. Generally, spinach that matures when temperatures average between 50 degrees and 60 degrees F. will be fuller-bodied with thicker, more tender leaves.

This year gardeners can try a faster growing spinach variety named Monstrous or Viroflay. The relatively slow growth of hybrid spinach can be a problem for impatient gardeners. To help speed up the spinach growing process, a different, heirloom spinach variety named Monstrous will be tried in the fall of 2013. Monstrous is the largest, most vigorous spinach variety, and is harvestable earlier.

Viroflay’s scientific name is Spinacia oleracea 'Viroflay'. Viroflay is generally thought of as a heirloom open-pollinated variety -- France is believed to be where Viroflay originated in 1866. Known as simply, "Viroflay" or “Monstrueux de Viroflay” spinach, the huge, deep green, tender leaves are a spinach lover’s gourmet delight! Give it more room in your garden; the plant can get up to 24 inches wide, and with 10 inches long, tender leaves, spinach production is a snap! Extremely vigorous, and particularly good for fall plantings. Use the thinned out seedlings fresh in salads.

Days to Emerge: 6 - 21 days
Spacing: A group of 3 seeds or one transplant every 12-18 inches
Row Spacing: 1 foot apart
Thinning: When seedlings are 4-6 inches tall, thin to 3 inches apart every 12-18 inches
Days to Maturity: 40 – 50 days

This very large spinach plant grows to 18-24 inches tall. Of all the spinach, this one is lowest in oxalic acid, so its leaves are sweet and stay sweet as the plant matures. It has large dark-green crisp leaves, slightly savoyed -- flavorful, tender and succulent even when large. It is very day length sensitive, and will bolt when temperatures reach 75 degrees F. in the spring so it must be grown in South Texas mild winters.

Gardeners should plant in a location that enjoys full sun. Keep in mind when planting that Viroflay is thought of as half hardy, so protect with a row cover such as the DeWitt Plant & Seed Guard (10 feet by 12 feet sheet costs $13) which is a plant protection blanket whenever the temperatures drop much below freezing.

When to Plant: Plant or transplant in late September or October in South Texas. Make successive sowings of seed thereafter every 3 weeks until 4 weeks before the first hard freeze in December. Sow on top of a well prepared (fertilized) and moistened (pre-irrigated) soil.

Seed can be found in local nurseries on Botanical Interests seed racks under the name of Monstrueux de Viroflay Spinach or can be ordered online from:

Germination can be tricky. Soak seeds for an hour or two in warm water before planting, and plant extras just in case. Germination will be poor when temperatures are over 85 degrees F.

Harvesting: Pick individual leaves from outer edges of plant as they become big enough to use, or cut the whole plant one inch above the ground, and new leaves will be produced. Harvest before the plant sends up a flower stalk.

Possible Problem: After moist weather, spinach can develop yellow spots on the upper foliage. On the underside of the leaf are white spots which some gardeners say resembles bird scat. This is white rust, a serious problem on spinach caused by the water mold Albugo occidentalis. Entire leaves can develop symptoms. The disease is favored by cool temperatures, dew, intermittent rain, and overhead irrigation. Once the disease is observed in a planting of spinach, the affected leaves should be stripped from the plant so they will not serve as a source of secondary infection. For further information about white rust, see:

October IS the month to plant the most nutritious garden vegetable--spinach. And now that you know how to plant from seed and have the right transplants to assure spinach growing success, the fault of malnutrition is yours only if you don't plant this most healthful of the vegetable crops. Compare “Monstrueux de Viroflay” spinach to your favorite standard hybrid variety.


Photos courtesy of:
The Scientific Gardener blog_A Tucson AZ Gardener applies research to organic

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