Swiss chard is a leafy green vegetable that can be grown in a variety of climates and soils. It is easy to grow, making it an ideal vegetable if you want to enjoy abundant harvests of fresh greens year-round. Learn how to grow Swiss chard so you can enjoy plenty of harvests throughout the gardening season.
Swiss chard can be eaten raw in salads, cooked like kale and spinach, and used in soups, stews, and pasta dishes. The plants are more tolerant to heat than other cool-season greens, making it a good crop to grow all season long. When spring spinach bolts as the summer heat arrives, Swiss chard can take its place in recipes.
Chard is easy to grow from seed, and can be planted in containers, or an in-ground vegetable garden. It’s also an ideal plant to grow indoors during winter, and as microgreens. It is such an attractive plant too with its colorful stems and bold green leaves, that it will even blend in well as an ornamental among your flowers. Any way you decide to grow Swiss chard, it is a nutritious plant that earns its spot in your garden.
About Swiss Chard
This leafy green vegetable, also known as silverbeet was identified and named by a Swiss botanist, that’s why it has “Swiss” in the common plant name. The scientific name for the plant is Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla and the plant is often called “chard” for short.
Chard is a member of the beet family, even though it does not develop a bulbous root. Swiss chard, beets, and spinach are also members of the goosefoot family because the plant leaves are shaped like the foot of a goose.
The stems come in a wide array of colors that include red, pink, yellow, orange, white, and can be chopped and added to recipes much like celery.
Swiss chard is naturally low in calories, high in fiber, magnesium, potassium, iron, and rich in vitamins A, C, and K. The plant is considered to be one of the top super foods and is a nutritional powerhouse that is ideal for adding to any type of diet.
Varieties to Consider
Swiss chard is known for its shiny green leaves and bright colored stems. While colored chard is attractive in the garden and on the plate, the white stem varieties are generally more productive, cold tolerant, and bolt resistant. Here are some common varieties of Swiss chard:
- Fordhook Giant has dark green crinkly leaves and white stalks and veins. Give these plants plenty of room, and they will vigorously produce broad leaves throughout the growing season. Matures in 50 days, and will tolerate heat better than other varieties.
- Lucullus produces an abundance of wide light green deeply savoyed leaves with white ribs on top of ivory colored celery-like stalks. The plants mature in 70 days and can reach 2 feet tall.
- Multi-Colored chard is a mix of different varieties that produce green leaves and an assortment of colored stalks in gold, pink, orange, red, and white. Colored stem varieties are slightly less frost-hardy than others. Types of mixed colored chard include bright lights, celebration, five-colored silverbeet, and rainbow blend chard.
- Ruby Red chard, also called rhubarb chard due to its dark green leaves and red stems that resemble a miniature rhubarb plant. This variety grows reddish tinged dark green wrinkled foliage with red veins and stalks. Young plants are more sensitive to cold than other varieties, and may bolt prematurely if exposed to nighttime temperatures below 50˚F.
- Silverado chard is a more compact plant with glossy, deep green crinkled leaves, and short, narrow white stems. The plants glow more slowly that other varieties, but are extremely bolt resistant and will continue to produce harvests all season. Silverado can also withstand cold temperatures better than the colored chard varieties.
- Sunset chard features large green leaves and bright yellow to orange stems and veins. The plants tolerate both frost and heat very well for a colored variety, and will be ready to harvest as baby green in just 30 days, or full sized in 60 days.
Tips for Growing Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is a cool-weather vegetable that is easy to grow and thrives when given the right conditions. The plant grows best in moist, well-draining, fertile soil, with a between 6.0 and 6.8, but can also be grown in poor soil with adequate water and fertilizer. The plants prefer full sun but will tolerate part sun or light shade. Here are a few tips for growing Swiss chard:
When to Grow Chard
Chard is a cool-season vegetable that grows best in spring and fall. It is one of the few plants that can grow well in partial shade, and mature plants are tolerant of warmer temperatures.
The time to start seeds is based on the last estimated frost date for your growing area. You can find your last frost date by contacting your local extension office (search for “extension office near me”) or enter your zip code here at PlantMaps.com.
In northern climates, direct sow seeds in early spring after danger of heavy frost is past, or start chard seeds indoors 4 weeks before your last spring frost date. Transplant hardened off seedlings to the garden after your last frost date.
To lengthen harvests into late spring and summer, grow Swiss chard in a location that will provide the plants with morning sun and afternoon shade. This growing tip will provide the plants with ample sunlight to develop, while keeping it cool enough to prevent bolting.
You can also succession sow to extend both the spring and fall harvests. Sow a few seeds every two weeks. Some of the seeds that are planted last in the spring or fall will not have time to develop fully mature chard leaves before bolting in the hot weather of summer or succumbing to the freeze of winter, but you can harvest the immature leaves for a tasty addition to recipes. Learn more about succession sowing in this article: 3 Succession Sowing Tips to Extend Your Harvests.
Also consider starting fresh plants for a fall harvest. To plant a fall crop of chard, determine the first predicted frost date for your area, and count backward 60 days. That will be the date the seeds should be planted to ensure a fall harvest before a killing frost.
Planting Swiss Chard
Chard grows best in the cool temperatures of spring and fall. It is one of the few plants that can grow well in partial shade, and mature plants are tolerant of warmer temperatures.
Chard will thrive in direct sunlight in early spring or fall since the sun is less intense during those times of the year. Although the plants will appreciate a little shade in the afternoon, as the weather gets warmer, and the sun is more powerful.
You can start Swiss chard seeds indoors under grow lights, purchase transplants at a garden nursery, or direct sow seeds in the garden.
Starting Seeds Indoors
Starting seeds indoors under lights will provide you with an earlier harvest. Sow seeds indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost date.
Swiss chard seeds are actually a seedpod that contains several seeds. The pod can be soaked for 24 hours before planting them to soften the hard outer shell.
Fill your containers with damp seed starting mix to within 1/2-inch of the top of the container. Poke a hole about 1/2-inch deep, drop in a seed cluster, and then cover with a soil mix. Just one seed cluster is needed. Swiss chard seeds have a very high germination rate, and you can expect 95% germination.
Gently moisten the soil by spraying it with water from a spray bottle, and cover the containers with a humidity dome to keep in moisture. Keep the soil moist at all times using a spray bottle so the seeds won’t be dislodged during the germination process.
Chard seeds germinate best in temperatures between 50˚F to 85˚F, and you should seed sprouts within 7 to 12 days. Place the plants under grow lights or in indirect lighting from a window, and continue to keep the soil moist. Harden off and transplant into the outdoor garden after the soil has warmed to 50˚F and the seedlings are 3 to 4 inches tall. You can learn more about starting seeds indoors in this article: 10 Steps to Starting Seeds Indoors.
How to Prepare the Garden Bed
Prepare the garden bed as soon as the ground can be worked in early spring by cleaning up plant debris and weeds. Add about 2 inches of finished compost, and work it in about 6 to 8 inches deep. The compost will help keep the plants fed, prevent soil compaction, and promote good drainage and airflow. Plus the compost will attract earthworms that will be beneficial to the garden soil.
If the weather has been dry, prepare and water the bed very well the day before you sow seeds or transplant seedlings.
If you start seeds indoors or purchase transplants from a warm greenhouse, they will need to be hardened off to adjust to the environment outdoors. The hardening off period helps your plants adapt to the sun, wind, and chilly nights they will experience in the garden. Learn How to Harden Off Seedlings with this step-by-step tutorial.
After your seedlings are hardened off, they are ready to be transplanted into their permanent location in the garden. Prepare your garden beds ahead of time. If the weather has been dry, soak the soil very well with water the day before you transplant.
Choose a cloudy day with no wind and transplant in the late afternoon or evening to give your plants time to adjust without the additional challenge of the sun.
Dig your holes about 6 to 8 inches apart. Carefully remove the seedlings from the container, place in the holes, and gently firm in the soil around the plants. Water well after planting, and keep the soil damp until the plants become established.
Direct Sowing Seeds
Swiss chard seeds can be direct sowed outdoors in the garden in early spring once soil temperature is above 40˚F. The seeds will germinate best in temperatures between 50˚F to 85˚F, and should sprout within 7 to 12 days.
Prepare the garden ahead of time, and sow your seeds in shallow damp soil, about 1/2-inch deep. Space the seeds out 2 to 3 inches apart, and cover with soil. Firm the soil gently, and water in well. If you need more information about direct sowing seeds, check out this article: How to Direct Sow Seeds.
How to Care for Chard Plants
Swiss chard plants are easy to care for, and other than watering, thinning, and weeding, are pretty trouble free. Here are some tips to keep your plants healthy and thriving.
Swiss chard plants love moisture, and they will continue producing new leaves as long as the plant is receiving regular watering. The plants need about 1-inch of water per week either from rain or hand watering. The leaves will turn bitter if the plant doesn’t get enough water.
Check the soil moisture by poking your finger in several inches deep. If the soil is dry, give your chard a good watering. Apply the water directly to the soil around the plants, and avoid wetting the leaves to help prevent fungal diseases
Thinning the Plants
Since the seeds are clustered in a seedpod, you are likely to get several plants sprouting from one seed. These will need thinning as they grow.
Once the plants are around 5-inches high, thin so each seedling is spaced 6 to 8-inches apart. Use scissors to cut the unwanted plants at the soil level to avoid disturbing the roots. The thinned plants are perfect to eat raw in a salad or to add to a stir-fry recipe.
Weeding and Mulching
Weed around your chard plants by hand, and then apply a generous layer of organic mulch around the plants to keep the soil cool and retain moisture. The mulch will also help prevent weed growth. Keep the mulch several inches away from the plants.
If you worked in a good amount of compost when you prepared the garden beds for planting, you may not need to add any additional fertilizer. However, if your plants are struggling, give them a boost by watering with an organic liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion or compost tea. Apply to the ground at the base of the plants, and avoid wetting the leaves.
Additionally, you can nourish your plants with an organic nitrogen fertilizer part way though the growing season. Nitrogen will help produce healthy green growth. Side dress the plants with composted chicken or poultry manure, or use an organic nitrogen fertilizer such as blood meal or feather meal.
Extending the Harvest
Swiss chard seedlings that are sufficiently hardened off, will survive light frosts, and mature plants can tolerate freezing temperatures as low as 20˚F.
Even so, you can extend the harvests well into winter by providing some protection from cold. Try growing Swiss chard in a cold frame, hoop house, or grow tunnel. You can use 10-foot pieces of PVC to make hoops over a raised bed and drape with 5-mil painter’s plastic for some cold protection. You can see more ideas in this article on how to protect your plants from frost.
Pests and Diseases
Many pests do not bother Swiss chard, but a few you may face are aphids, caterpillars, flea beetles, leaf miners, slugs and snails. Most are not a big problem and won’t kill the plant, but they may ruin some of the foliage. You can use row covers to prevent the pests from finding your plants. If you do see signs of damage, remove affected leaves.
- Aphids are small insects that congregate in clusters on the leaves of your plants. They are sap-sucking insects, meaning that they suck out the nutrients from your plant, causing the leaves to look wilted. Aphids can be easily dislodged from your plants by hosing them down with a jet stream of cool water.
- Caterpillars and worms come from butterflies and moths laying eggs on the foliage. After hatching, the caterpillars feed on chard until they form a cocoon. Hand pick frequently and toss in a jar of soapy water, and use row covers to prevent the moths from laying eggs.
- Leaf Miners are the larvae of small flies that lay eggs within the leaves. Once hatched, the larvae feed in between the plant tissue, leaving behind a tunnel of dead material. Remove and destroy the affected leaves.
- Slugs and Snails love to turn your greens into their dinner. Luckily, there are some very effective methods of controlling them. Putting down a layer of crushed eggshells is extremely helpful in deterring these pests from reaching your plants. You can also hand pick them off your plants and toss them out of the garden.
Some fungal diseases, such as powdery mildew, downy mildew, and leaf spot take hold under a combination of humid conditions, wet foliage, and a lack of air circulation. To help prevent fungal diseases, improve airflow by properly spacing the plants, and growing in full sun to partial shade. Mulch and water close to the base of the plant to reduce the risk of wet foliage, and remove foliage that is damaged or shows signs of mildew.
Growing Swiss Chard in Containers
Swiss chard’s upright shape and shallow root system makes it an ideal crop to grow in pots. The plants do get top heavy, so choose medium sized containers that are at least 6 to 8-inches deep and holds at least 2 to 3 gallons of soil to help anchor the pot and prevent it from tipping over.
Use a good quality potting mix suitable for growing vegetables in containers. Mix in a balanced slow release organic fertilizer, and then hydrate the soil by letting it soak for several hours. Fill the pot once the soil is evenly damp.
Transplant seedlings, or sow the seeds, and water in well. Keep the soil evenly moist until the plants become established. Then let the soil dry out a bit in between, watering only when the top inch of soil is dry. Thin and harvest the outer leaves as needed for meals.
How to Grow Chard Indoors
Swiss chard plants will grow indoors year-round with some supplemental lighting. I think Swiss chard plants are colorful and just as attractive as houseplants, especially when growing them in winter. Since it is a cool season crop, it will also grow very well on a south-facing windowsill that may get a bit chilly at night.
Choose pots that are about 6 to 8-inches deep, fill with a damp potting mix suitable for containers. Mix in a balanced slow release organic fertilizer, and sow your seeds or plant seedlings. Water regularly, thin as needed, and harvest as needed.
Harvesting Swiss Chard
Swiss chard can be harvested at any stage, from baby greens to full sized leaves. It is best to harvest in the morning, while it is still cool, once the dew has evaporated from the foliage.
You can harvest Swiss chard in about 45 days for baby greens once the young leaves are about 3-inches high. To harvest, snip leaves from the outside, and the plant will continue to grow more foliage from the center.
Mature leaves can be harvested in 50 to 60 days when they are between 9 to 12 inches high. Harvest the outer leaves first, to allow the tender inner leaves to continue growing and producing more foliage.
Harvest frequently by using scissors to snip the stem at the base of the plant. The longer leaves are left on the plant, the more likely they will become tough and bitter. If this happens, simply snip off the older leaves, and allow the plant to continue to produce fresh foliage.
Enjoy the stalks and leaves raw or cooked. Toss the greens into salads, sauté with olive oil and garlic, use as a wrap for sandwiches, or stuffed and baked in the oven. The stems can be chopped and added to salads, braised like asparagus, or cooked into a variety of soups and stir-fried dishes.
To store freshly harvested Swiss chard, wash well under running water, air dry, and store in plastic zipper bags in your refrigerator crisper drawer. If you add a paper towel to the bag, it will absorb extra moisture and help keep your chard fresh. Swiss chard should last about two weeks in the refrigerator.
Swiss chard is a versatile vegetable that can be used in a variety of dishes. I hope this article helps you see how easy it is to grow, and how beneficial it can be to have a continuous harvest of this healthy green. So why not give Swiss chard a try in your garden this year?
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Good planning is key to a successful vegetable garden
Whether you are new to growing your own food or have been growing a vegetable garden for years, you will benefit from some planning each year. You will find everything you need to organize and plan your vegetable garden in my PDF eBook, Grow a Good Life Guide to Planning Your Vegetable Garden.