Swiss chard (or simply chard) belongs to the beet family even though it’s grown for its dark green leaves and tasty stalks. Many kinds of chard grow well in home vegetable gardens including rhubarb chard (with red stalks), ruby chard (with deep red veins) and rainbow chard (with stalks in many colors). Because chard can be so colorful, it makes an attractive ornamental plant to add to flower gardens and containers.
How to Grow Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is a cool-season vegetable that’s easy to grow from seeds or transplants. One of chard’s advantages over other greens is that it’s adaptable to a variety of conditions. It can take a little shade or it can grow through summer, even in areas with high temperatures. If you stagger planting dates, you’ll be able to have chard from spring into fall.
- Chard can grow in average garden soil, but soil that’s fertile and drains well makes for a better crop overall. Amend the vegetable bed, raised bed or large container with compost and well-aged manure to give the leafy greens a good start. An alternative to digging in manure is to spread a pre-plant fertilizer over the amended planting area.
- Chard can be planted from seed or transplants, even before the danger of frost has passed. In spring, when soil temperatures are about 50 degrees or warmer, plant seeds ½ inch deep and about 2 inches apart in rows.
- If planting chard transplants, space plants about 4-12 inches apart.
- A layer of mulch between plants will help maintain soil moisture and keep weeds out of the garden.
- When plants start growing, thin them twice to get bigger leaves. First, thin to about 4 inches apart and wait for plants to fill in. Second, when the plants start to get too crowded, thin to 10-12 inches apart.
- You can transplant the thinnings to make a larger crop or wash and use them in spring cooking.
- For a longer harvest, sidedress the chard crop with a well-balanced fertilizer. Sprinkle fertilizer on both sides of the rows of chard about 6 inches away from plants. Rake the fertilizer into the soil and the water in.
- Many chard varieties are ready to harvest in about 60 days. You can cut several outer stalks from each plant by using shears to snip about 1 or 2 inches from the soil. As long as you leave the center of the plant and a few inches of stems, it will continue to grow new leaves. An alternative is to cut the entire plant at soil level.
- If you see light brown tunnels in the leaves, discard them. This is the work of leaf miners, an insect pest.
- Wrap chard in plastic and store in the refrigerator. Wash before using. For most recipes, the greens are separated from the stalks because they cook faster.
Plant swiss chard with these companions:
- Cabbage family members
- Onion family members
Avoid planting chard near corn, melons, and cucumbers.
Materials for Success
- Soil thermometer
- Drip irrigation system or soaker hose
- High-quality compost and manure
- Organic mulch (like straw)
- Well-balanced fertilizer
To learn more about growing swiss chard or about growing your own edible vegetable garden, contact the pros at Nick’s Garden Center.