Last updated on October 25th, 2023 at 12:27 pm
Tree spinach (Chenopodium giganteum), also called giant goosefoot, is quite an interesting leafy vegetable and suitable for any kitchen garden. I tested its cultivation at my place and almost made the mistake of discarding it as unprofitable, because the young plants were infested with aphids in the first spring and looked a bit more puny compared to the very similar garden melon. But the difference and the peculiarity became noticeable at the beginning of midsummer:
It can only be harvested until the stalks are knee-high. The tree spinach blooms much later. When young, it should be left to grow into a bush over 2 m tall. Then you can conveniently cut the tips of its leaves for the kitchen in midsummer. Constant cutting of the tips delays the flowering of the annual plant. Then, no later than September, Chenopodium giganteum also goes into bloom and ripens abundant tiny seeds until winter. You can harvest the seeds and sow them in early spring (March to April), but it’s easier to let the seedlings drop out. They will emerge on their own in the spring. From these seedlings, place about three in sunny spots in the garden (choose edge spots!) where they can grow and spread.
The special thing about this summer spinach is that it requires almost no care and labor. And with it you make ideal use of the space in the garden, because it grows relatively narrow in height. Tying it to a stick is also not necessary. With the variety ‘Magenta Spreen’ you also have a very decorative plant with dark pink-green leaves in the plot. In narrow allotments, the tree spinach can also be planted as an edible screen against the terrace.
Tree spinach, scientifically known as Cnidoscolus aconitifolius, is a fast-growing leafy vegetable that’s popular in tropical and subtropical regions. It is also commonly referred to as chaya, tree collard, or Mexican tree spinach. Growing tree spinach is relatively easy and rewarding. Here are the steps to grow tree spinach in your garden:
1. Choose a Suitable Location: Tree spinach thrives in warm, tropical, or subtropical climates. Select a location in your garden that receives full to partial sunlight. It can tolerate some shade, but the plant will grow more vigorously with sufficient sunlight.
2. Soil Preparation: Prepare well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. Tree spinach prefers slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Incorporate compost or well-rotted organic matter to improve soil fertility and moisture retention.
3. Propagation: Tree spinach can be propagated from cuttings, seeds, or by dividing mature plants. The easiest method for many gardeners is to propagate from cuttings or stem segments. Cut a healthy stem segment, typically about 10-12 inches long, from a mature tree spinach plant. Allow the cut end to dry for a day or two to prevent rot. Then, plant the cutting about 2-3 inches deep in the soil.
4. Planting: Space the tree spinach cuttings or plants about 2-3 feet apart in rows, as they can grow quite large. If you are planting more than one tree spinach plant, ensure that they have adequate spacing to accommodate their mature size.
5. Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist, especially during the establishment phase. Water deeply and provide a regular watering schedule. Tree spinach can tolerate brief periods of drought once established, but it thrives with regular moisture.
6. Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or leaves, around the base of the plants. Mulch helps retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and maintain consistent soil temperatures.
7. Fertilization: Tree spinach benefits from regular fertilization. Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer or organic compost in the early spring and again during the growing season. This will provide the necessary nutrients for vigorous growth and abundant leaves.
8. Pruning and Maintenance: Tree spinach can grow quite tall and may need pruning to maintain a manageable size. Regularly harvest the leaves to encourage branching and new growth. Pruning can also help prevent the plant from becoming too leggy.
9. Pest and Disease Management: Tree spinach is relatively resistant to pests and diseases, but it’s essential to monitor for common garden pests like aphids or caterpillars. Use organic pest control methods if necessary.
10. Harvesting: You can begin harvesting tree spinach leaves once the plant reaches a height of about 3-4 feet. Harvest the leaves by picking them individually or cutting entire branches. The leaves can be used in various culinary applications, similar to spinach or collard greens.
11. Propagation for Future Plants: To ensure a continuous supply of tree spinach, periodically take cuttings or propagate new plants. This will provide you with fresh, young plants to replace older ones as they become less productive.
Tree spinach is a fantastic addition to a tropical or subtropical garden, providing a continuous supply of nutritious leaves for culinary use. With proper care and maintenance, you can enjoy this fast-growing and resilient leafy green for years to come.
In my case, it took two years before I was able to obtain my own seed that would safely sprout. With some vegetables a safe culture works only with the self-won seed, which proved in this case with me. In the meantime, leafy vegetables have gone wild in my kitchen garden to the extent that I no longer have to worry about propagation. Where the little plants do come up, however, they are not troublesome weeds, but are plucked out and taken as green manure or green fodder for the chickens. Rabbits, however, do not like the tree spinach. If pizza is baked, the leaves are quickly harvested. Otherwise, they are mixed with other types of spinach (for example, New Zealand) in my house. The main purpose for me is actually more for ornamental purposes and as an emergency supply when other types of spinach do not provide enough leaves.
The species Chenopodium giganteum, i.e. the tree spinach or giant goosefoot, actually belongs to the plant genus of goosefoot (Chenopodium). These fit into the plant family of the foxtail plants (Amaranthaceae) via the subfamily Chenopodioideae. These again belong in the plant kingdom to the order of the cloves (Caryophyllales). Through the Betoideae subfamily, the plants are related to beet and chard, and through the Amaranthoideae subfamily, to garden foxtail (Amaranthus caudatus). From the latter we can also use the leaves as a substitute for spinach, and it too is more ornamental than useful plant in home and small gardens.