Growing Purple Passion Spinach
A Decorative and Delicious Leaf Vegetable
Purple passion spinach, also known as red orach or mountain spinach, is a garden plant that has it all. Pretty, tasty, and nutritious, its broad, velvety leaves range from deep, red-veined green to brilliant purple, making it one of the most visually striking edible plants available to the home gardener.
While purple passion spinach is actually a variety of orach, rather than a true spinach, it packs all of the nutritional wallop of "regular" spinach and then some.
Purple Passion Spinach
Photo by daveesa on Flickr.
Tasty, attractive, and nutritious purple passion spinach is also ridiculously easy to grow in the ground or containers. A heat-tolerant cool weather crop, it can be grown at some time of year in most climates, and year-round in mild climates.
In coastal California's alternating sun and fog, I can sow my orach seeds anytime from late fall through late spring, though germination rates suffer during the coldest part of our mild winters. I particularly love the winter crop, as the purple leaves bring some much-needed color to the winter garden.
Growing Purple Passion Spinach
Purple passion spinach likes full sun and well drained soil. An extraordinarily tolerant plant, it can withstand heat, drought, and even moderate frost. Too much adversity, though, will result in a slow-growing plant with tougher leaves.
Photo by stickpen
While orach resists bolting at warmer temperatures than spinach will tolerate, it will bolt under full summer heat. For a harvest through the summer, plant regularly and harvest the leaves while the plants are young.
Purple passion spinach thrives in the container garden! It can be grown on a sunny patio or balcony, in a bright window, or under a small grow light.
Whether you sow directly in the ground or grow your orach in containers, work some compost into the soil at planting time and you'll be rewarded with a thick, lush crop of tender leaves.
A true annual, red orach will not grow as a perennial. It will, however, frequently reseed itself from last year's crop, making it a low maintenance choice for edible landscaping.
Germination can be a bit slow, though cool temperatures, constant moisture, and soaking seeds prior to planting can all help speed things up. Once the seedlings are started, though, look out world!
This hardy little plant can adapt to just about any environment where it gets a minimum of 5 hours a day of sun. Delicious, nutritious, beautiful, and rugged... what more could a gardener want?
Starting Purple Passion Spinach from Seed - Slow to Start, but Easy to Keep Going
Purple passion spinach can easily be started from seeds in peat pots or pellets. Keep your growing medium moist but not wet, using a spray bottle as necessary. In Northern California, I generally sow indoors toward the end of winter, and toss a few seeds directly into containers outdoors in the early spring and late fall.
Purple passion spinach can easily survive a light frost, but will die off if exposed to prolonged freezing or snow. Once you have a patch going, it will usually reseed well enough to provide numerous "volunteers" in that area the next year!
Purple passion spinach seeds can be a little slow to start, particularly if temperatures are too warm, but once you get them going, they're nigh unstoppable. Plant any time, indoors in small pots or directly outdoors, when the nighttime temperatures are neither freezing nor too far above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Growing Purple Passion Spinach in Containers - Orach is Beautiful in the Container Garden
Purple passion spinach grows very well in the container garden! A robust and adaptable plant, it will tolerate a 1 gallon container, thrive in a 2 gallon container, and positively glow with health in a 5 gallon container.
Plants grown in smaller containers won't grow as large or produce as many tasty leaves as those grown in larger containers. They will, however, be just as perfectly, prettily purple. During periods too cool or too warm for larger orach plants to thrive, a small container can still grow a great crop for use as baby greens.
Choose a container with good drainage. Purple passion spinach grows best in soil that is moist, but never soggy. Fill your container with a mix of potting soil and compost. Place your container in an area that gets plenty of sun, preferably at least 6 hours a day. Water regularly, and try to keep the soil moist without ever letting it get too waterlogged. A nice layer of mulch will help!
Like many leaf vegetables, your purple passion spinach will benefit from an occasional nitrogen boost in the form of coffee grounds. Lightly mix a few tablespoons of used grounds into the top inch of soil about once a month, and then water generously.
When your purple passion spinach reaches about 6 inches in height or has more than 8 leaves, you can begin to harvest the leaves. To avoid slowing its growth, never remove more than half the leaves from a young plant. As your plants grow taller, you can harvest by removing the top few inches from the plant, rather than plucking individual leaves. This will encourage branching and result in bushier plants and a heavier yield.
Short on space? Plant purple passion spinach in the top of a Smart Pot or other fabric container, and an assortment of herbs in side pockets. Side pockets can be created in a Smart Pot by simply cutting an "X" in the side of the container, burrowing a hollow into the soil, and tucking a seedling into the "pocket" you've created! These side pocket plantings make efficient use of tight space and create a vibrant and unique look.
Red Orach in the Garden - Red and Yellow Orach Featured in a Beautiful Garden
Here's a look at a patch of red orach growing alongside yellow orach in the garden. Mixed colorful orach greens make for a truly eye-catching salad and a wonderful splash of edible color in the garden.
Have You Grown Purple Passion Spinach? - If Not, Would You Like To?
Purple passion spinach is no harder to grow than "regular" spinach. In many areas, it's actually a little easier to grow, as it tolerates heat quite well. While seeds have become readily available, and this old crop has seen a recent renewal of interest, purple passion spinach is still not as widely found as many other garden vegetables. Have you tried it yet? Do you plan to?
Is there a place for purple passion spinach in your garden?
More About Purple Passion Spinach - Growing and Eating Purple Spinach
Easy to grow and oh-so-pretty, orach is a must-have plant for home gardeners and edible landscapers. Here are some of the best resources I've found for learning about the care and uses of orach.
- Orach Growing Guide
Cornell University's guide to growing orach in the home garden.
- Red Orach: A Delicious Plant For A Delicious Spring Soup
A growing guide with some great pictures, and a recipe for a unique soup featuring red orach.
- Mountain Spinach
Notes on growing "hillbilly spinach" from ramblinrobert at urbanagroecology.org. I'd never heard this term for orach, and love it.
- How to Orach Microgreens Indoors
Grow orach indoors for tender little salad leaves.
- Stuffed Red Orach with Pomegranate Molasses
Beautiful, healthy, and overflowing with decadent layers of flavor.
Plan a Decorative Vegetable Garden - Beauty Loves Company!
Purple passion spinach is quite lovely on its own, and exquisite when paired with other colorful fruits and vegetables to form a display that feeds the eyes until the time arrives for it to feed the stomach.
Produce that you grow at home has every advantage over produce bought at the store. Fresher, tastier... even better for you, home grown veggies are an all-around win. How perfect that so many of them are also pretty in the garden!
With the wide variety of colorful and attractive fruit and vegetable bearing plants available to the home gardener, home grown produce can also beautify your yard and home. Many vegetables are preceded by beautiful flowers and accompanied by attractive foliage.
A vegetable garden planned with aesthetics in mind can please the eye just as a flower garden can. Select your plants with an eye toward colors, shapes and sizes that please you, and combine them creatively, and your vegetable garden can be a feast for the eyes!
Ivette Soler's The Edible Front Yard is a thorough and gorgeously illustrated guide to the wonderful world of the decorative vegetable garden. Bring your edible crops into the spotlight, and enjoy fresh, conveniently located food and the most beautiful and useful front yard on the block!
Beautiful Food Bearing Plants - Attractive Food Crops do Double Duty in the Garden
I'm a huge advocate of front-yard vegetable gardening. Sadly, some folks are under the impression that vegetables and other edible crops are inherently unattractive, and unsuitable for display. If your homeowners association or, less formally, your most vocal neighbors, are touchy about front yard veggies, these eye-catching and tasty varieties may help you change a few minds.
Cauliflower grows well when planted in late summer, great if you missed an early start to the garden, and a welcome splash of color in the winter garden.
A great crop for spring and fall, romanesco is a stunning example of nature's love for fractals.
Little orange eggplants offer all the flavor of their larger relatives and make an awesome conversation starter.
My favorite tomato, the Indigo Rose is so beautiful! The skins are sparkly, almost metallic, and a true purple-black, not the muddy brown of most "purple" tomatoes.
If you've grown purple passion spinach, I'd love to hear about your experience with it! If not have you grown other decorative edibles or unusual veggies you'd recommend? Let us know about them here.