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

Swiss Chard

Caption

Swiss chart with its colorful stems.

Photo Credit
Nancy Kennedy/Getty Images
Botanical Name
Beta vulgaris var. cicla
Plant Type
Sun Exposure
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Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Swiss Chard

The Editors
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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, pastas, pizzas, quiches, sandwiches, and more.

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 that bitter taste that a lot of 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.

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.)
  • To speed germination, soak seeds in water for 24 hours prior to planting. 

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.

Swiss chard

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.
  • Mulch the plants to help conserve moisture and suppress weeds.
  • 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. Eat what you cut back.

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. 
  • 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.
  • The leaves are eaten as greens. You can cook them like spinach or eat them raw.
  • You can cook the ribs like asparagus (steamed, roasted, sautéed).
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/Disease Type Symptoms Control/Prevention
Aphids Insect Misshapen/yellow leaves; sticky “honeydew” (excrement); sooty, black mold Grow 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 spot Fungus Many small brown spots with red-purple halos on leaves that enlarge and turn gray; centers of spots eventually fall out, leaving the halos Destroy infected plants; weed; avoid overhead watering; ensure good air circulation; rotate crops
Flea beetles Insect Numerous tiny holes in leaves Use row covers; mulch heavily; add native plants to invite beneficial insects
Leaf miners Insect Meandering blisters in leaves caused by tunneling larvae Remove infested leaves; weed; use row covers; till soil early in season; rotate crops
Slugs/snails Mollusk Irregular 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 it shape well when cooked and adds a nutritious boost.

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