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New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides). (Getty Images)
New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides). (Getty Images)

Spring in Southern California arrives in February. 

This is the month when lots of shrubs and trees are beginning to bloom and some will reach full bloom — such as deciduous magnolias — if they haven’t already. This is an as daytime temperatures exceed 60 degrees with rain coming down, on average, in a quantity that exceeds that of any other month. It is commonly advised not to plant after it rains or when the soil is wet because such soil is easily compacted, depriving roots of the oxygen they need to grow. However, as long as you incorporate compost or amendments that dry out the soil prior to planting, you need not worry about soil compaction.

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Now is the time for spinach. This leafy green does best before the heat comes in another few months. I recommend you pick up spinach starts in six packs from the nursery. Plant them and you can begin to harvest in another month or so. The trick is to pluck a few outer leaves at a time and that way you extend spinach longevity in the garden. This cut-and-come-again strategy is utilized with lettuce, kale, cabbage, and collard greens as well. There are other crops whose leaves are edible that you might not know about. Cauliflower and broccoli leaves taste like a cross between kale and collard greens and sweet potato shoots are fine for eating as well.

There are a number of other plants with spinach in their names. Their high nutritional value makes them worthy of planting here, too. Between them and common spinach, you could create an impressive spinach garden.

New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides) is not botanically related to the spinach (Spinacia oleracea) familiar to us but it does have a similar taste. For years, I have grown and eaten the leaves raw, although they may be boiled as well. This plant was consumed by Captain Cook and his shipmates to prevent scurvy after he landed in New Zealand in the 1700s. It is advisable to keep New Zealand spinach fertilized with a high nitrogen formulation such as 21-0-0 in order to prevent flower formation which stops its growth. New Zealand spinach is a tough plant with minimal water needs and is pest and disease-free. Unlike regular spinach, it thrives in hot weather. You can find 50 seeds for three dollars at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ().

Okinawa spinach (Gynura crepioides), native to Indonesia, is a leafy green you can plant now or anytime. It is unrelated to either regular or New Zealand spinach but easier to propagate than either one. The foliage has a delicately nutty flavor with young leaves being tastier than older ones. Some studies have shown that Okinawa spinach can lower cholesterol. Foliage is highly attractive and gently serrated, green on the top, purplish on the underside. It is best grown with some shade but can handle sun with more frequent irrigation and makes an excellent perennial ground cover. Propagation is a snap as terminal shoot cuttings root easily placed directly in good garden soil or in a glass with an inch or two of water on the bottom. Okinawa spinach grows as a perennial in frost-free zones. Order three plants for $16 at .

Malabar spinach (Basella rubra) is a highly ornamental vine with heart-shaped foliage and red stems. Native to the Malabar coast of India, it requires moist soil and, although growing best in full sun, can thrive in shade as well. The leaf flavor has pepper and citrus elements. 35 seeds sell for $3.50 at

Strawberry spinach (Blitum capitatum) is related to common spinach. offers 40 seeds for $3.00 and notes that its attractive red fruit has “a watermelon-berry flavor” and is “addictive for snacking and irresistible for desserts,” and its leaves are edible, too. 

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Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and turmeric (Curcuma longa), which are closely related plants, are highly sought after by cooks and apothecaries alike. You don’t have to go far to find the rhizomes of these plants if you wish to grow them in your garden. They are readily available in grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Sprouts and some others, too. Make sure the rhizomes you take home have eyes from which shoots will sprout. These rhizomes are sometimes sprayed with growth retardant to prevent them from sprouting on the supermarket shelf and therefore, when you take them home, soak them for several hours to make sure they sprout before planting outdoors.

This is the ideal moment to procure your ginger and turmeric rhizomes. Place them on a warm kitchen counter — next to your refrigerator, for example — and watch them sprout. You can grow them outdoors in our area as long as you are aware of their need for steady soil moisture. Morning sun with afternoon shade is the recommended exposure.

California native of the week: Pink chaparral honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) is native to the Sierra foothills. It is a highly versatile vine or shrub, growing in lots of sun but tolerating lots of shade as well. It is also adaptable to different soil types, including clay. This honeysuckle is an excellent candidate for growing up walls and fences, reaching a height of six feet. It is also known as hairy honeysuckle due to its hirsute leaves. Pink flowers, in bloom when summer comes and visited by hummingbirds, are followed by luminescent red berries that are snacked upon by birds. These berries are non-toxic to people but have a bitter taste. You can find pink honeysuckle at Tree of Life Nursery () in San Juan Capistrano or order it from Annie’s Annuals ()

Please send questions, comments, innovative gardening practices, or information about newly introduced or exotic plants to Joshua@perfectplants.com

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