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Swiss Chard: How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Swiss Chard | The Old Farmer's Almanac

How to Grow Swiss Chard Plants: The Complete Guide

Swiss chard
Caption

Swiss chard with its colorful stems.

Photo Credit
Nancy Kennedy/Getty Images
Botanical Name
Beta vulgaris var. cicla
Plant Type
Sun Exposure
Bloom Time

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Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Swiss Chard

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Learn how to grow Swiss chard—or simply “chard”—a member of the beet family. It does well in both cool and warm weather. It is a nutritional superfood, high in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber. Plus, its rainbow of colors is beautiful! See our chard growing guide for information from planting to harvesting.

About Swiss Chard

Similar to beets, both the stems and leaves of chard can be eaten cooked or raw. Swiss chard is prolific—leave plenty of room in the garden bed! It has a mild flavor, adding nutrition and color to salads, pasta, pizzas, quiches, sandwiches, and more.

Swiss chard is very easy to grow, incredibly hardy, and a great choice for beginner gardeners. And it looks beautiful in the garden, with broad, thick stems available in colors ranging from pure white to golden yellow and even hot pink! 

Typically grown as a cool-season crop because it grows quickly and easily during the cooler temperatures of spring and fall, chard is quite tolerant of hotter temperatures, too. Its growth will slow down in summer, but chard’s higher heat tolerance makes it a great salad green to grow when it gets too hot out for the others.

Chard is a superfood, high in vitamins A, C, and K. It doesn’t have the bitter taste that many other greens have, and it makes a good substitute for spinach or kale if you’re not a fan of those superfoods. 

On top of all its virtues as a garden vegetable, chard is a lovely edible ornamental plant, coming in many different colors to mix with landscaping or in containers. Why, you could even use chard in a vase or bouquet, mixed with flowers, or on its own. Why should flowers have all the fun?

Planting

Chard will tolerate partial sun, but grows best in full sun. It prefers a location with moderately fertile, well-draining soil and a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral). Before planting, mix aged manure and/or compost into the soil to boost soil fertility. Scatter a general-purpose organic fertilizer on the soil one week before sowing, then rake the soil to a fine tilth.

When to Plant Swiss Chard

  • For the spring season, plant chard seeds 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost date.
  • For a fall harvest, plant chard seeds about 40 days before the first fall frost date. (Many varieties will tolerate a light frost.)
  • Soak seeds in water for 24 hours before planting to speed germination. 

How to Plant Swiss Chard

  • When ready to plant, apply 5-10-10 fertilizer to the area.
  • Sow seeds 1/2 to 1 inch deep, 2 to 6 inches apart, in rows 18 inches apart.
  • Continue planting seeds at 10-day intervals for a month.
  • You can also start chard off in pots for transplanting later, which has the benefit of helping to prevent slugs from eating the young seedlings. This is also useful for succession planting, while you wait for space to become available in the garden. Once you’ve cleared out the previous crop, transplant the sturdy chard seedlings in the garden one foot apart, leaving 16in between rows.

Swiss chard growing in the garden

Growing
  • When plants are 3 to 4 inches tall, thin to 4 to 6 inches apart, or 6 to 12 inches if plants are large.
  • Use scissors to avoid disturbing nearby plant roots. You can eat the cuttings.
  • Chard usually does just fine without the use of fertilizer, but if yours seems to be staying small, consider applying a balanced fertilizer halfway through the season.
  • Water evenly and consistently to help it grow better. Water plants often during dry spells in the summer. Water regularly to promote plenty of fresh leafy growth and to stop the plants from running to seed, or ‘bolting,’ in dry weather. If they do bolt, they’ll no longer produce new leaves, so dig them up and add them to your compost pile.
  • Mulch the plants to help conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Keep your chard weeded using a hoe. 
  • When plants are about 1 foot tall, cut leaves back to 3 to 5 inches to encourage new tender growth, if chard plants become overgrown, they become less flavorful. 

Check out this video to learn how to grow Swiss chard:

Harvesting
  • Begin to harvest when the plants are 6 to 8 inches tall, depending on which size leaves you desire.
  • Cut off outer leaves 1-1/2 inches above the ground with a sharp knife. Avoid damaging the plant’s center. Eat what you cut.
  • Harvest regularly, and the plants will produce continually. Use the “cut-and-come-again” harvesting technique, taking the largest, oldest leaves and leaving the young ones to continue growing. 
  • In fall, position row covers over the plants to keep the harvests coming for longer.
  • To extend the harvest, lift the plant, with roots in the soil, and transfer to a container in a greenhouse. Maintain the temperature at around 50°F. Initially, the chard will appear limp, but it should rebound.

How to Store Swiss Chard

  • Rinse off Swiss chard leaves and store them in the refrigerator in ventilated plastic bags.
  • To use, draw a sharp knife along the ribs to separate the leaves.
  • You can cook the ribs like asparagus (steamed, roasted, sautéed).
  • Cook chard leaves just like spinach. Strip the leaves away from the central stems, chopping them up and steaming or wilting them in a pan. The central stems can be cooked in the same way but take a little longer. They can be served with salt and melted butter, a rich hollandaise sauce, or dipped into the yolk of a soft-boiled egg.
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Wit and Wisdom
  • Swiss chard originated in—you guessed it—Mediterranean Europe! Oddly enough, chard is not native to Switzerland at all. According to legend, a Swiss botanist was responsible for determining chard’s scientific name, and the “Swiss” just stuck!
  • Embrace your leafy greens! Learn more about the health benefits of going green!
Pests/Diseases
Chard Pests and Diseases
Pest/DiseaseTypeSymptomsControl/Prevention
AphidsInsectMisshapen/yellow leaves; sticky “honeydew” (excrement); sooty, black moldGrow companion plants; knock off with water spray; apply insecticidal soap; put banana or orange peels around plants; wipe leaves with a 1 to 2 percent solution of dish soap (no additives) and water every 2 to 3 days for 2 weeks; add native plants to invite beneficial insects
Cercospora leaf spotFungusMany small brown spots with red-purple halos on leaves that enlarge and turn gray; centers of spots eventually fall out, leaving the halosDestroy infected plants; weed; avoid overhead watering; ensure good air circulation; rotate crops
Flea beetlesInsectNumerous tiny holes in leavesUse row covers; mulch heavily; add native plants to invite beneficial insects
Leaf minersInsectMeandering blisters in leaves caused by tunneling larvaeRemove infested leaves; weed; use row covers; till soil early in season; rotate crops
Slugs/snailsMolluskIrregular holes in leaves; slimy secretion on plants/soil; seedlings “disappear”Handpick; avoid thick bark mulch; use copper plant collars; avoid overhead watering; lay boards on soil in evening, and in morning dispose of “hiding” pests in hot, soapy water; drown in deep container filled with 1/2 inch of beer, or sugar water and yeast, and sunk so that top edge is slightly above ground; apply 1-inch-wide strip of food-grade diatomaceous earth as barrier
Cooking Notes
  • Chard can be used in salads to add color, in smoothies, in soups and stews, on pizzas, in sandwiches in place of lettuce, in quiches, and anywhere you use spinach or kale (especially if you dislike the latter).
  • Swiss chard holds its shape well when cooked and adds a nutritious boost.
About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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