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How to Grow Malabar Spinach

Looking for a summer spinach alternative? Learn how to grow Malabar spinach – a fast-growing, heat-loving, beautiful vine with large, glossy, succulent-like leaves. 

Unlike traditional spinach that grows through the cooler months of the year, Malabar spinach is planted in the spring and harvested through the fall.

How to Grow Malabar Spinach

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What is Malabar spinach?

Malabar spinach is not a true spinach, but instead from the plant family Basellaceae, the Madeira-vine family of flowering plants. 

The 'Basella rubra’ variety has green leaves, light pink flowers, and purple vines.

The ‘Basella rubra’ variety has green leaves, light pink flowers, and purple vines.

The 'Basella alba' variety has green leaves, white flowers and green vines.

TheBasella alba‘ variety has green leaves, white flowers and green vines.

Malabar spinach packs a nutritional punch

It is high in Vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium. It is a good source of plant-based protein, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and antioxidants.

Red Malabar Spinach - Basella rubra

Popeye could have chosen Malabar spinach for its nutritional value.

6 tips for how to grow Malabar spinach

1. Grow Malabar spinach from seeds, transplants, or cuttings

Malabar spinach prefers moist, fertile soil that is high in organic matter. The plants prefer shady areas. The leaf size increases with less sun, but the overall growth rate slows. Wait to plant heat-loving Malabar spinach until the soil warms up. Plant from March through May in the low desert of Arizona. (Start seeds indoors from January – March) 

  • To grow from seeds – In USDA zones seven or warmer, plant seeds ¼” deep and 12” apart when soil temperatures reach 65℉ – 85℉.
  • To grow from transplants – In cool regions, start seeds indoors 6 weeks before the last frost, and wait to transplant until the soil has warmed and there is no chance of frost. Plant seedlings about a foot apart.
  • To grow from cuttings – Trim the cutting to about 6”  and cut it just below a node. Pot the vine in a growing medium or potting soil and allow it to root. Alternatively, plant directly in the desired area. Be sure to keep the area well-watered to allow roots to form. Cuttings can also be rooted in water and then planted. 
How to grow Malabar spinach

2. Don’t let Malabar spinach dry out

Malabar spinach is a tropical plant and needs consistent moisture throughout the growing season. For best flavor, keep soil evenly moist. 

In the warmest areas of the low desert, it may need water every day. Malabar spinach will go to flower and set seed (which can make it bitter) if it doesn’t receive enough moisture.

How to grow Malabar spinach

3. Give Malabar spinach room to grow

In warm areas, vines often reach 10 to 20 feet or longer. Although they can be left to sprawl on the ground, the vines are best grown on a sturdy trellis. The vine is highly ornamental and is a beautiful and tasty addition to a garden arch, trellis or even a ladder.

How to grow Malabar spinach

4. Harvest Malabar spinach all season

Harvest the leaves at any point during the growing season once the vines have at least 8-10 leaves. Cut leaves from the outside first, being sure to leave at least 6 leaves to allow the plant to grow.

For longer vines, allow individual Malabar spinach vines to get longer before harvesting. To encourage branching and a bushier plant, cut back stems earlier. Malabar spinach is best enjoyed soon after harvesting, and does not store well.

5. Enjoy Malabar spinach in a variety of ways

The edible leaves of Malabar spinach have a similar taste to spinach with a mild peppery, citrus flavor.

Eat young leaves for the best flavor. Enjoy Malabar spinach raw or mixed in a salad. Cook it and use it similar to spinach, kale, or Swiss chard in stir-fries, and summer soups.

How to grow Malabar spinach - malabar spinach berries, seeds

When cooked, Malabar spinach has a mucilaginous nature, meaning it can be a little slimy tasting (adding a small amount of vinegar helps reduce this).

6. Harvest the seeds and get creative

At the end of the season, Malabar spinach sets flowers, and those flowers turn into deep purple berries (drupes) with seeds inside.

Save the seeds by drying the berries whole. Plant the seeds the following year. Malabar spinach often reseeds itself from dropped berries as well. Allow volunteer seedlings to sprout, and then transplant them where you want the seedlings to grow in your garden.

How to grow Malabar spinach

The purple flesh of the ‘Basella rubra’ berry has a vibrant color and can be used to make a rich-colored dye.

If this post about how to grow Malabar spinach was helpful, please share it:

Jason R

Wednesday 8th of May 2024

Does Malabar spinach grow year round in Arizona? I live in Chandler, Arizona.

Angela Judd

Wednesday 8th of May 2024

It will die back if we get a freeze - it doesn't like the cold.


Tuesday 6th of September 2022

I am in Tampa FL area and my M Malabar has gone wild. I finally got my Slugs under control but am now fighting the spot fungas and I can't seem to find a good source on how to stop it. I have been removing the affected leaves but it doesn't seem to be working well.

Angela Judd

Tuesday 6th of September 2022

Removing affected leaves is what I would say too. Maybe cutting it back to see if that helps? Wish I had a better answer for you.

Jacey Messer

Monday 4th of April 2022

Can Malabar Spinach be grown in a pot or container with a trellis support? Does it need a sunny location or is shade ok?

Angela Judd

Saturday 9th of April 2022

Yes, it does well in a container. Shade is fine as long as it gets some sun (at least 4 hours).

Don Coughlin

Saturday 8th of May 2021

Growing it for the first time this year. Hoping it does well here in the southwestern desert! Were already hitting the triple digits!

Jacey Messer

Monday 4th of April 2022

@Don Coughlin, how did it go?

Brian Moore

Sunday 12th of September 2021

I started mine in July living in Loma Linda CA. 100 degree temps almost every day since starting. They've grown about 15 to 20 ft vines and just now starting to put out flowers. Water regularly and I'm sure yours can be carried over through the winter and live perennially in your location.

Angela Judd

Saturday 8th of May 2021

It sure doesn't mind the heat.

Melonni Dooley

Friday 22nd of January 2021

where can I buy malabar starts?

Angela Judd

Friday 22nd of January 2021

Check local nurseries. Malabar spinach is also easily grown from seeds. There are several online retailers that sell them, here's one: