Swiss chard is a leafy green vegetable that’s renowned for its nutritional value, and it’s popular with gardeners because it is so easy to grow. It is a cut-and-come-again crop that produces for quite some time and is cold hardy too. If you want to grow Swiss chard in your garden, here’s everything you need to know.
You can also download my How Do I Grow Swiss Chard one-sheet and keep the free resource handy for your reference.
Also known as silverbeet, spinach beet, leaf beet or simply, chard, Swiss chard is a wonderful addition to soup, dip and baked dishes, and it can be sauteed in oil with garlic for a side or a warm salad. The taste is reminiscent of spinach and beet greens, and the stalks come in green, red, purple, yellow and more.
Where, When and How to Plant Swiss Chard
Swiss chard seeds can be direct sown any time after the last frost date, and the seeds will germinate once the soil temperature has reached 50°. For earlier harvests, Swiss chard may be started indoors three to four weeks before the last frost date. Sow seeds in sterile seed-starting mix, with two seeds per cell. The seeds can sprout in as few as five days if the soil temperature is between 50° and 85°. One week after the seeds were sown, thin seedlings to one per cell.
Use a grow light so the seedlings don’t stretch out in search of light. Another good thing to use when starting seeds indoors is an oscillating fan. The air movement will prevent damping off disease, a fungus that is fatal to newly sprouted seedlings.
Before seedlings can be planted outdoors, they must be hardened off. Hardening off is the process of gradually introducing plants to the outdoor environment and the intensity of the sun. Put seedlings out for just a half-hour on the first day and add more time outdoors each day for a week until they are ready to handle eight hours of direct sunlight.
Rather than starting seeds yourself, you can also get a jumpstart by buying transplants from a nursery. This option is convenient but keep in mind that it is more costly than growing from seeds. Transplants also offer less variety than seeds.
Swiss chard performs best in full sun but will also tolerate a little shade. The soil should be well drained and amended with plenty of organic matter, namely compost. Further amend the soil with a slow-release organic nitrogen fertilizer, such as blood meal, feather meal or cottonseed meal. The nitrogen will provoke vigorous growth of tender leaves.
The ideal pH range for Swiss chard is 6.0–6.5, a range that most vegetables enjoy. You can conduct a soil test to find out the garden’s pH, and the test results will also reveal any nutrient deficiencies.
Be conscious of how wide the plants will be when they mature. Space the seeds or seedlings out so that the plants will not touch one another once they have reached full size. After planting, apply 2–3 inches of organic mulch around the plants, such as shredded leaves or straw, to suppress weeds and retain moisture.
Types and Varieties of Swiss Chard
All varieties of Swiss chard are the same subspecies of Beta vulgaris. That’s the species that also includes sugarbeets and garden beets. The two types of Swiss chard are the Cicla group, also known as the leafy spinach beet, and the Flavescens group.
Bright Lights is my favorite variety of Swiss chard. It’s an All-America Selections winner, which says a lot. Having grown this variety for years, I’m always amazed at how carefree and beautiful it is in the garden and on the plate. It’s like a painting with all the range of stem colors from red, orange, pink, yellow and white, all in one crop.
Fire Fresh is a fast-growing chard with ruby stems and veins. The leaves are ready to harvest in 23 to 35 days from transplanting, and the plants have a good degree of disease resistance.
Fordhook Giant is an heirloom variety that dates back to the 1920s. It grows as tall as two feet. The leaves are fleshy and well puckered.
Lyon is renowned for its taste. The leaves are lime-green on white stalks. The leaves grow more than a foot long and near 10 inches wide. It is an open-pollinated variety that is ready to harvest in 50 days.
Perpetual is an open-pollinated chard that has tasty, smooth leaves that taste like spinach and are ready to harvest in 50 days. It produces all summer and can last for many years in zone 7 and warmer climates. The plants grow 20 inches tall.
Red Magic is a hybrid with cranberry red stems and veins. It is a hybrid that grows up to 18 inches tall. It reaches maturity in about 60 days.
Rhubard is a chard variety that is so named because it has thick red stalks like rhubarb. However, unlike rhubarb, this chard has deep red veins in the leaves. It is an heirloom and is ready to harvest in 60 days.
Watering Swiss Chard
Like most vegetables, Swiss chard requires an inch of water per week. If rainfall does not provide that much water in a week’s time, make up the difference with supplemental watering. A drip irrigation system works well to ensure Swiss chard gets the moisture it needs for consistent growth. If hand watering, be sure not to get the plants wet. Wet foliage promotes disease. Instead, apply water at the base of the plants, under the leaves.
Fertilizing Swiss Chard
If you have soil that is rich in organic matter and you fertilized with a slow-release organic nitrogen source at planting time, there won’t be much else that Swiss chard ever needs from you. If your soil is poor or you want to promote more vigorous growth, you can continue to apply blood meal, feather meal or cottonseed meal at the manufacturer’s recommended rate of application — or less often. Using more fertilizer than recommended is likely to have an adverse effect on plants, so don’t go overboard. I like to use fish emulsion, which is an organic liquid fertilizer. Just make sure that if using a fish fertilzer on chard that the first number in the NPK ratio is the highest. For example, a 5-1-1 fertilzer has more nitrogen than phosphorus and potassium.
Swiss Chard Pests & Diseases
Swiss chard is largely unbothered by pests and rarely affected by disease. Still, there are a few problems to look out for.
Aphids are sap-sucking insects that can spread plant diseases as they damage crops. While feeding on plant leaves they excrete honeydew, which attracts ants and other insects. They are easily controlled by knocking them off plants with a sharp stream of water or insecticidal soap. Covering swiss chard with floating row cover early on can stop an infestation before it starts
Flea beetles are small black or bronze jumping leaf beetles, just an eighth of an inch long. These chewing insects can be kept off plants with floating row cover. Another strategy is to plant a trap crop of radishes, which flea beetles prefer over most anything else.
Leafminers are fly larvae that tunnel through leaf tissue. The damage is unsightly but will not be fatal to the plant. When you find leaves with leafminer damage, remove and dispose of them. As with aphids, floating row cover is a good preventative tool for leafminers because it prevents adults from laying their eggs on plants in the first place.
Slugs and snails can occasionally affect Swiss chard. Slugs can be handpicked, though it can be hard to spot them all. For a severe infestation, a bait like Sluggo, which contains iron phosphate, is a safe, organic option.
Powdery mildew and downy mildew are fungal diseases that can affect swiss chard leaves. Plants severely affected by powdery mildew appear coated in white powder, and downy mildew causes yellow spots. To prevent mildew, plant in full sun and provide adequate spacing between plants so air can circulate. Avoid overhead watering that creates a welcoming environment for fungal spores. Read my comprehensive guide Powdery Mildew Prevention & Control for more information.
Harvesting Swiss Chard
The best time to harvest leafy greens is early in the morning. Leaves cut in the afternoon will contain less moisture and will readily wilt.
Begin harvesting Swiss chard when the leaves are about six inches tall. The younger leaves are great in a salad or eaten like beet greens or spinach. Cut the young plants an inch above the ground with sharp scissors or garden shears and they’ll continue to grow over and over. Alternatively, cut stalks from the outside of the plant and leave behind the heart of the plant, which will continue to grow as well.
Plants may overwinter and continue to provide a harvest the following spring. However, it is time to pull the plant out once it sends up a flower stalk. This is known as bolting, and when it happens, the chard will no longer be palatable.
Swiss chard is best enjoyed the same day it was cut, but it can be stored, unwashed, in an unsealed plastic bag for up to a week. It can also be frozen or used in a canning recipe for later enjoyment.
What are your secrets to grow Swiss chard successfully? Let us know in the comments below.
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Links & Resources
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joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Three popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; and seed starting!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Growing Epic Tomatoes: Tomato expert Craig LeHoullier joins me in leading this course on how to grow healthier, productive tomato plants and how to overcome tomato-growing challenges.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class: Learn how to create the perfect soil environment for thriving plants.
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