To growers of “Malabar spinach” / Basella

We recently acquired several “Malabar spinach (“Basella rubra”) plants. I knew nothing about this plant but was able to find sufficient useful information about its needs and how to grow it online with a few exceptions. There areas about which I'd like a little more detailed information and, of course, accounting of personal experiences growing this plant may prove even more helpful.

  • What I've read indicates a trellis is required or, at least, recommended. What type worked best for you?
    Because there will be no need to support heavy melons, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. is it safe to assume a heavy duty, solid framework may not be necessary? Will a simple string or wire type suffice?
    Will a grapevine style support (a wire or two horizontally stretched between vertical posts) work?
    As a vine, does it continue to follow down one line or branch out and spread to cover a wider area?

  • I have my doubts about whether anything truly is --and I sure don't know why this would be --but some list “Malabar spinach” as “deer resistant”. What has your experience been?

  • Lastly, what I am most interested in obtaining information about: “Basella rubra” and juglone.
    It can sometime be difficult enough to find accurate information regarding juglone tolerance or sensitivity of common plants; I've been unable to locate any useful info regarding juglone’s effect on “Malabar spinach”. Have any of you successfully grown “Malabar spinach” near a Black walnut tree?

    As usual, thanks for any input.

Comments (12)

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8a, HZ10, Cent TX, Sunset z30)

    Juglone is often used as a herbicide. Some things are tolerant of juglone, but I'm not aware of any greens that are. There are many lists of such juglone-tolerant plants. Here is one.

  • lazy_gardens

    You can use a tomato cage or cages for the Malabar Spinach. I had one sprawling in my compost bins.

    "Deer resistant" ... deer will eat anything if they are hungry enough.

  • ActionClaw (Northern Ohio zone:5a/5b)

    Yep; lots of them: Juglone Resistant lists, Juglone sensitive lists, etc. but, so far, of those I have seen, Malabar spinach appears on none … hence my question here.

    As for greens, I have been able to grow Swiss chard nearby which makes sense as beets appear on the tolerant lists. I have managed to grow spinach and even kale —though the cabbage family is supposed to be sensitive— relatively nearby: not directly under but within a few feet of the drip line.

    I have not yet looked into or had any experience with collards, turnip greens, mustard or other greens.

    > deer will eat anything if they are hungry enough.
    Agreed. Same thing I was thinking but wouldn't mind hearing experiences of what happens in normal situations.

    > ..use a tomato cage or cages for the Malabar Spinach.

    The Cage alone or as a frame for mesh, screen, chicken wire, etc.?
    I've read that these supposedly can reach six, ten, even up to 30 feet & I've got no 30 foot tall tomato cages!

  • digdirt2

    It likely is not on any lists as they focus on the common crops and it isn't commonly grown. And few try to intentionally grow food crops near a black walnut. When they do it is almost always by accident and a painful lesson. Lastly black walnuts are native only North America so the countries where malabar is commonly grown (India, Indonesia, Cetlon, etc.) wouldn't have that issue as they don't have black walnut trees.

    But best guess is I would be very very surprised to find it tolerate of juglone but you'll likely never know without trying it. GoogleImages has a number of pictures of it growing in a large container with a trellis and on all sorts of types of trellis. That would solve the issue.

    trellis pics


  • carrie_gentry21

    I've grown it in the PNW from seed. I planted it along a fence (about 3' high) near a 5' post. It did just fine there, wrapping itself up and over and around the fence panel. The height of the plant may have been affected by the mild Oregon summer that year.

    I planted it on the outside of a fenced garden. The deer didn't bother it once- maybe they didn't/don't like the texture of the leaves? They walked right past it on the way to the blueberry bushes and plum tree.

    It is a pretty plant but we didn't much care for the texture of the leaves.

  • Lisa 8b

    I grow the red malabar and have grown the green as well.

    > deer will eat anything if they are hungry enough.

    My mom grows the green and out where she lives there are deer.

    Where my mother lives, the whitetail deer have plenty to eat during the spring and summer when malabar is growing. The deer will eat a lot of the plants my mother grows but they do leave a few alone and one was the green malabar she had growing on the fence.

    > I've read that these supposedly can reach six, ten, even up to 30 feet & I've got no 30 foot tall tomato cages!

    I think a tomato cage would be too small as well. I never had them grow 30 feet but I have had them get to about 15 or so feet. I'm sure they can in the correct conditions but it gets to be too hot in the summers here and even though they are supposedly heat loving plants the heat here takes its toll on them. I have mine growing on a trellis, attached to my fence.

  • noki33

    Bought a "Rubra" as a impulse novelty, now I don't know where to grow it since it is reportedly so vigorous and will easily cover up other plants.

    Could Malabar be trained up a large sunflower stem without bothering the sunflower growth much? Do the Malabar spinach roots spread much?

  • SW (Sydney, USDA 10b)

    Depends I guess on whether you’re growing it perennially, but when I dug mine up after a few years I had to sever the roots that I could and leave the rest deep in the ground.

    You can train it up anything but the vines will latch onto everything they find and if you leave it unchecked it will outgrow the sunflower in height. You can keep it pruned to whatever you want, but note that it is pretty fast.

  • Labradors

    Last year I grew two in a very large planter similar to an Earthbox. The trellis was about 6' tall and plenty tall enough. I kept it well watered, but my plants apparently needed more than just morning sun and the leaves didn't grow very big. I think Malabar Spinach grows more rampant in the south as it apparently loves the heat and humidity.

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8a, HZ10, Cent TX, Sunset z30)

    Malabar spinach against sunflower? Malabar spinach wins. It will shade the sunflower leaves, but won't topple the stem over. Mine has topped my 6-foot trellis already, and is hanging over the side by a foot or two. The stuff LOVES heat. They say to keep it well watered, but my Malabar spinach is pretty much my most drought-resistant crop. In fact, for the second year in a row, I never planted it. The seeds dropped the previous year make it a powerful invasive. That trellis is permanently a Malabar spinach trellis. Malabar spinach is pretty much a zero-work vegetable.

  • noki33

    Anyone actually eat these leaves much? Slimy when you bite into them. My initial impression is "gross". Maybe i'll learn to like them more, maybe. Let it grow on a fence and see if it looks good, cut it if it becomes a bother.

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8a, HZ10, Cent TX, Sunset z30)

    About half of our evening salads are Malabar spinach. Good stuff. Maybe it's a matter of taste, but they sure don't seem "slimy" to me. True, they are not iceberg-like crunchy, but who cares? The other half of our salad is usually swiss chard, and those leaves are a bit soft as well.

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