Growing Swiss Chard

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Plant Swiss chard with other vegetables in a raised bed.

Swiss chard is a neat plant that grows well among other vegetables, as shown in this raised planter at Juniper Front Community Garden in San Diego.

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 with the tendency to bolt. In the fall, it grows well until killed by a hard freeze.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Set out plants 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. For fall gardens, set out plants 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.

Plant Swiss chard in containers with other vegetables and flowers. It’s a beautiful container plant.

Swiss chard is also great in containers, either strictly for ornament or for harvest when you are ready to eat. This planter also holds begonia, marigolds, and a pepper plant.

Swiss chard grows best in rich, moist soil with a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.8. Plant about 12 to 18 inches apart in fertile soil, watering directly after planting. Work nitrogen-rich amendments such as blood meal, cottonseed meal, feather meal, or composted manure into the ground before planting. Other options include applying a timed-release vegetable food, such as 14-14-14, according to label directions, or using a liquid plant food such as Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food when planting and every couple of weeks during the growing season.

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 plant leaves clean, reducing the risk of disease.

Troubleshooting

Plants are generally problem free but may be attacked by aphids, mites, or 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.

Harvest and Storage

Bright Lights Swiss chard has colorful stems. Cut the outer stems with large leaves from the plant.

Harvest large leaves by cutting them from the outer part of the plant at the base of their stems.

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. Cut out the midrib of larger leaves before cooking or chopping into salads. Chop large leaves to cook down like spinach, or use 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.

FAQs

Is Swiss chard cold hardy?

Yes, it will tolerate light frosts. It is not as freeze tolerant as collards and kale, but will certainly make through the first early frosts of the season when the temperature is not too low and doesn’t stay below freezing but a few minutes in the wee hours.

I thought that Swiss chard was for cool weather, but I saw it at a botanical garden this summer. Was this a special type?

No, it was probably not any special type. Of all the greens, Swiss chard is certainly the most tolerant of heat. It continues producing leaves through summer, but the quality of the leaves – both flavor and texture – is best in cool weather.

Will Swiss chard grow in pots?

It is perfect for pots because it is tidy and you can just keep picking the outer leaves to let the center ones grow. It is also very pretty in a container because of its colorful stems. Combine with lettuce and flowers such as marigolds or pansies.

19 thoughts on “Growing Swiss Chard

  1. I have started Swiss Chard from seeds and they are growing really nicely except that I have noticed that every leaf has a little area that starts getting thinner and eventually spreads all over drying out the whole leaf. I live in MD and have used miracle grow garden soil in my garden and I am not sure if there is something in the soil that swiss chard doesn’t like or if there is something else that is going on. Everything else in the garden is doing well except beets. They are affected by the same thinning/drying process. I would appreciate any help/advice because I really love swiss chard and was so excited to finally grow my own.

    Iva

    • Hello Iva,
      Way to garden! Thin leaves (or drying out of the leaves) is caused by a wide variety of things – such as very windy conditions, insects – like leaf miners, diseases, even eatering habits. I am linking you to a couple of great extension publications from your area with pictures to help you with some common problems with swiss chard. Keep up the great gardening! – danielle, Bonnie Plants

  2. I have been using swiss chard mostly as an ornamental with pansies in a large container over the winter. I was away for 10 days and it did not rain much. When I got back, there was a long, slender stem shooting out of the top of each plant and looks like it is going to flower. Can I just cut it out or is the plant done? It’s been in since last fall.

    Also, can chard take our hot Atlanta sun?

    • Hi Libby,
      Swiss chard can take the Atlanta sun, but may not be at its peak in an Atlanta summer. Swiss chard, unlike its cousins, tolerates warm weather better than the rest, but the hot part of summer may render some bitter tasting leaves. Trim those flowers off – swiss chard has been known to last a couple of seasons by clipping back flowers and keeping it moist. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

  3. Hi I am growing swiss chard from seeds outside in a pot in orlando Fl. My seedlings are leggy and are not able to stand up although they have two beggining leaves. When they should be thinned up?
    Thanks

    • Hi Manu,
      They should be thinned when the seedlings have a couple of pairs of leaves. – danielle, Bonnie Plants

  4. I live in Saskatchewan, which gets occasional cold snaps down to the -50’s C. Last year’s chard got covered with leaves purely by accident, and it’s now coming up again. I don’t know whether it was the covering of leaves or whether the chard can withstand a prairie Winter, but it’s coming up, thick and healthy.

    • Hi Greg,
      That’s great! Very well could have been the leaf mulch :) I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t withstand a prairie Winter! – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  5. Swiss chard is a biennial, meaning it will grow back a second year and then set seed. It’s not neccessary to pull it out the first year as it will come back.

  6. I enjoy swill chard the simple way. Simplt steam the leaves, with stems attached, until soft. Then drizzle on some apple cider vinegar and enjoy. My wife puts butter on hers. My kids love it also. Its good stuff.

  7. I am Italian and Italians eat a lot of Swiss Chard. Here is a really tasty way to enjoy it. Boils some potatoes(any variety you like-any quantity), set aside.Boil or steam some Swiss chard, drain well,set aside. Heat a skillet or frying pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil and saute garlic(to your taste) in the oil, add the chard and thoroughly coat it with the olive oil/garlic mixture,then add the potatoes but slice them or cut into quarters first.Add some coarse red pepper to taste, black pepper, and salt. Heat all the way through. Very delicious!!

  8. When winter approaches or a hard freeze kills the plant, do you then just pull the plant?

    • Hi Cristine,

      Yes, you’ve got it. Swiss chard is a semi-hardy plant, meaning it can tolerate light frost, but it will be killed by a hard freeze. At that point, you just pull the plant, compost it, and plan for the next go ’round. Happy growing!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

  9. Excess swiss chard can be dried and powdered. Beautiful when sprinkled on a baked potato. Sprinkle on salads for even more vitamins. We use swiss chard frequently in our green smoothies. Green smoothies are fruit smoothies with added greens. Yes, the color can take a bit of getting used to but if you don’t get carried away with the amount of greens you add, you will hardly notice them. The big plus is that you are getting even more fresh vitamins and minerals in your diet.

    • Thanks, Loren. Great ideas! I love Swiss chard in my smoothies, too. Balancing the flavor with something sweet and tangy like frozen pineapple or mango works well.

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

    • Hi Jon,

      So glad you want to grow Swiss chard! As you can tell from my blog post, I really love it. As for whether you can plant now, it depends on where you live and plant availability. If you’re in a colder, northern region, you might still be able to find Swiss chard plants. If you’re in a southern region, though, it’s a bit too late. But it’s never too late to think ahead and plan to include this plant in your garden this fall or next spring!

      Happy growing!
      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

  10. These make my raised bed veggie garden look extremely beautiful and bountiful with the huge leaves and brightly colored stems. They make it look like I know what I’m doing!!! love them! I have never eaten cooked swiss chard before (that I was aware of). I will try it this weekend.

    • Hi Melissa,

      I’m so glad you’ve discovered Swiss chard! It’s one of my favorite plants too, for all the reasons you describe. It’s beautiful in the garden, and it also tastes great. Try our recipe for Simply Sauteéd Swiss Chard. I also love putting sauteéd chard in my omelettes and frittata. Happy growing!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

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