Colorful stems and bright green leaves make Swiss chard the single most glamorous garden green as well as a nutritious vegetable. Because it does not ship well, you are not likely to find it at the grocery store. The only way to have beautiful leaves like these is to grow your own. Fortunately, it is easy to grow in the ground or in containers and is one of the few greens that tolerates both cool weather and heat. It will linger in the spring garden much longer than mustard, turnips, arugula, or other greens that bolt in spring. In the fall, it grows well until killed by a hard freeze.
Set out transplants 2 to 4 weeks before the date of the last frost in spring. A spring planting will go on producing through spring, summer, and fall until a hard freeze kills it.
For fall gardens, set out transplants just about anytime in late summer when they begin appearing at your favorite garden center. Plants tolerate heat well as long as you keep them properly watered.
Swiss chard grows best in rich, moist soil with a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.8. Plant in fertile soil because plants should grow fast to produce tender leaves. Work nitrogen-rich amendments such as blood meal, cottonseed meal, feather meal, or composted manure into the ground before planting. Or, apply a timed-release vegetable food such as 14-14-14 according to label directions.
Space transplants at the distance given on the Bonnie label. If you don’t have the label, a good general spacing is about a foot apart. After planting, water the transplants well and apply a liquid starter fertilizer.
Like all vegetables, Swiss chard does best with a nice, even supply of water. Water regularly, applying 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week if it doesn’t rain. You can measure the amount of water with a rain gauge in the garden. Apply organic mulch such as compost, finely ground leaves, wheat straw, or finely ground bark to keep the soil cool and moist and to keep down weeds. Mulching will also help keep the leaves clean.
Do water regularly, especially in summer, as drought-stressed plants may bolt, or flower.
Plants are generally problem free but may be attacked by aphids, mites, and caterpillars that chew holes in the leaves. Swiss chard is also subject to cercospora leaf spot, a disease that disfigures the leaves with ash-gray spots that have purple edges; or leaves may get downy mildew, which causes a mildew-like growth on the foliage.
Leaves are the sweetest and most tender in the cool of early spring and fall.
You can begin harvesting outer leaves anytime that they are large enough to eat; young tender leaves are the most flavorful and make a colorful addition to salads. If picked 1 or 2 leaves at a time, a spring planting of 6 to 12 plants will yield plenty of leaves into winter. Cut out the midrib of larger leaves before cooking or chopping into salads. Chop large leaves to cook down like spinach or in casseroles, soups, and pasta.
In areas that never experience a hard freeze, Swiss chard sometimes behaves like a perennial, living for several years. When it blooms, you can cut off the bloom stalk and it will produce more leaves.
Whole harvested leaves will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks in a loose plastic bag or sealed container.
Is Swiss chard cold hardy?
I thought that Swiss chard was for cool weather, but I saw it at a botanical garden this summer. Was this a special type?
Will Swiss chard grow in pots?