Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris var. cicla) is often upstaged in the garden by its close cousins spinach and beets. But this biennial vegetable (meaning it completes its life cycle in two growing seasons) is extremely easy to grow, and it looks as good as it tastes. The large, thick, ruffled leaves grow from a crown at the base of the plant and come in a multitude of colors, with contrasting ribs and veining. And they keep growing as you harvest individual leaves. The plant flowers in its second growing season with small yellowish blooms. Swiss chard has a fast growth rate, with its best growth occurring in mild temperatures. It can be planted in the early spring or late summer.
|Botanical Name||Beta vulgaris var. cicla|
|Common Names||Swiss chard, silverbeet, silver beet, leaf beet, seakale beet, spinach beet|
|Plant Type||Biennial, vegetable|
|Mature Size||18–24 in. tall, 9–12 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Rich, moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic (6 to 6.4)|
|Hardiness Zones||6–10 as biennial, 3–10 as annual (USDA)|
How to Plant Swiss Chard
Direct sow seeds outdoors about two weeks before your projected last spring frost date. Alternatively, you can get a head start by starting seeds indoors roughly three to four weeks earlier and planting the seedlings outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. You can also plant seeds in the late summer about six weeks before the first fall frost for a fall garden.
Chard seeds often come in clusters of two to three seeds, so some thinning will likely be necessary. Plant seeds about 1/2 to 3/4 inch deep and 2 to 4 inches apart. If you have seedlings, plant them about 4 to 8 inches apart. You can always harvest young plants if you don't thin enough and things get crowded. It's best to cut plants instead of pulling them when thinning, so you don't disturb the roots of the remaining plants.
Swiss Chard Care
Swiss chard will tolerate partial shade, but it does best in full sun. Roughly four to six hours of direct sunlight on most days is ideal.
This plant likes an organically rich soil with good drainage. It prefers a slightly acidic soil pH, though it will tolerate a more neutral soil as well.
Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. A layer of mulch around the plants can help to retain soil moisture.
Temperature and Humidity
Chard can overwinter in USDA hardiness zones 6 to 10. But it is still only a biennial in these zones, so it will go to seed quickly in its second year. It also can be grown as an annual in zones 3 to 10. It can take a light frost, but you will lose your plants if the temperature dips below freezing for more than a brief period. Humidity typically isn't an issue as long as its moisture needs are being met and there's good air circulation around the plants.
A mid-season side dressing of compost or manure will keep chard plants fed. If you have poor soil fertilize with an organic vegetable fertilizer, following label instructions.
Swiss Chard Varieties
There are multiple varieties of Swiss chard, including:
- 'Five Color': Also called 'Rainbow', its leaves and stems come in a rainbow of colors.
- 'Fordhook Giant': This variety has great flavor and is a vigorous grower with greenish-white leaves.
- 'Perpetual': This variety tastes very similar to spinach, and it regrows leaves quickly as outer leaves are harvested.
Harvesting Swiss Chard
Most Swiss chard varieties are ready to harvest in 50 to 60 days. It's best to harvest while the leaves are still glossy, snapping two or three leaves off the outside of each plant. If you don't disrupt the crown it will fill back in with more leaves.
While Swiss chard is commonly considered a cooking green, young chard is also very delicious when eaten fresh. To enjoy your harvest, you can chop it up in salad or lightly cook it as a wonderful side dish. Chard also makes a hearty replacement for spinach, and the stems can be grilled or roasted in place of asparagus. Keep freshly harvested leaves in the refrigerator, and aim to use them within a few days. Chard can also be blanched and frozen for later use, just like spinach.
How to Grow Swiss Chard in Pots
Swiss chard is fairly easy to grow in containers. The pot doesn’t have to be especially deep, as the plants have pretty shallow roots. Just make sure to space plants apart based on their mature size if you’ll have multiple chard plants in a container. Also, the container should have adequate drainage holes. Use a quality organic potting mix, and keep the soil lightly moist and never waterlogged.
Common Pests & Diseases
One of the biggest pests of Swiss chard is deer. Although it's not a favorite plant, they will eat it when there's not much else available, especially in the fall. Slugs will also chomp on chard; they'll put holes in the leaves and tunnel into the ribs. Furthermore, leaf spot can cause brown patches on the leaves. Providing good airflow and removing affected leaves will help to keep this disease to a minimum.