Swiss chard is an herbaceous biennial plant in the family Chenopodiaceae grown for its edible leaves and leaf stalks. The botanical name of swiss chard is Beta vulgaris var cicla and likely originates from the Mediterranean. Swiss chard is actually a common name, but in reality, you can simply call the vegetable ‘chard’. It is closely related to beets, and actually has the same scientific classification, but beets are usually cultivated for the roots, while Swiss chard is grown for its leaves. Chard is a green leafy vegetable. Chard may also be referred to as silverbeet.
The chard plant has an erect growth habit with a basal rosette of leaves with long fleshy petioles which can be red or white in color. The leaves are large and wrinkled with a pronounced midrib and prominent veins. 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. All parts of the chard plant are edible.
Table of Contents
6 - 24 inches
6 - 12 inches
6.0 - 7.0
Growth Nutrition of Swiss Chard
Swiss chard will grow in poor soil conditions, but an application of nitrogen fertilizer can help boost the leaf growth about two weeks after planting. You can use an organic fertilizer such as blood meal (12-0-0) around the base of the plants.
Varieties of Swiss Chard
There are multiple varieties of Swiss chard, including:
Green Lucullus is possibly the most common and well known Swiss chard. Originally an Italian heirloom variety, it has dark green leaves and white, crisp stalks. This is a nice variety if you live in a hot area because it’s more heat tolerant than some other types.
As the name suggests, a pretty orange variety. It holds its color even after being cooked. Both beautiful and tasty.
This collaborative breeding project between Johnny’s Seeds, Organic Seed Alliance, and Nash’s Organic Farm yielded a stunning organic red Swiss chard with a special affinity for northwestern and northeastern climates. It is the most bolt-resistant red variety on the market, with vibrant rhubarb-red stems and crumply savoyed leaves.
Hybrid seeds are traditionally bred (no genetic modification here) by crossing two inbred lines of parents. The result is an ultra-vigorous, fast-growing variety like ‘Red Magic.’ The cranberry red stems and greenish-merlot-colored leaves are great for salads as well as steamed, sauteed, or baked.
This colorful variety looks lovely on a sunny day because the red, orange, pink, and yellow leaves seem to glow in the sunshine. The leaves are particularly tasty when they’re young.
Peppermint is another common variety you’ll often see in stores. It has distinctive red and white striped stalks. It’s disease resistant and slow to bolt.
Barese is a compact growing Swiss chard. A dwarf variety, it has large tender leaves with white stalks and matures earlier than other varieties.
This is the classic blend of chard stems ranging from vibrant Fuschia to golden yellow to whitish-green to deep burgundy. While not technically a single variety, this medley of seeds has one of the All-America Selections Edible Vegetable awards quite a few times.
One of the most well-known heirloom Swiss chard varieties, ‘Lucullus’ produces heavily crumpled leaves that yield heavily through hot weather until the first frosts. The broad white ribs are crisp and crunchy amidst thick light green leaves.
This variety of chard has a milder flavor and bright pink stalks. It tends to bolt if it’s exposed to cool temperatures early on.
Oriole has gorgeous golden stems with dark green leaves. It was named after the Oriole bird and adds beautiful color to the garden. It matures in 60 days and is heat and cold tolerant.
This dark green chard has thick, tender leaves and is prolific even in the heat. It gets 16-inches tall and matures in 60 days.
Large White Ribbed
This heirloom variety has a wide, flat, white stem and smooth, tender leaves. Young leaves make a tasty addition to salads, and the mature leaves can be enjoyed steamed or stir-fried.
As the name implies, this chard has lovely pink stems. It’s an heirloom variety that is slow to bolt.
This extremely bolt-resistant variety produces vibrant, clean leaves that grow perfectly upright for baby greens harvest. It has a heavy savoy as well as bright Fuschia stems and veins for beautiful color and texture in salads.
It’s not often you get to see bright magenta pink in the vegetable garden, but this chard shines just as loud as any daisy. The color holds when cooked and the leaves are tender when harvested young. ‘Pink Lipstick’ is open-pollinated.
They offer maximum color in just 16-25 days. Harvested at the micro stage, these greens are loaded with nutrition and a tender delectable flavor for salads, garnishes, and slaws.
Perpetual spinach belongs to the same species as chard and beets (Beta vulgaris) but it is a special sub varietal that tastes and looks more like their spinach cousin. The leaves are flatter and more pointed, the stems are slimmer, and it can be grown as a low-maintenance alternative to spinach.
Planting Swiss Chard
Chard will tolerate partial sun, but grows best in full sun. It prefers a location with moderately fertile, well-draining soil and a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral). Before planting, mix aged manure and/or compost into the soil to boost soil fertility.
When to Plant Swiss Chard
For the spring season, plant chard seeds 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost date.
For a fall harvest, plant chard seeds about 40 days before the first fall frost date. (Many varieties will tolerate a light frost.)
To speed germination, soak seeds in water for 24 hours prior to planting.
How to Plant Swiss Chard
When ready to plant, apply 5-10-10 fertilizer to the area.
Sow seeds 1/2 to 1 inch deep, 2 to 6 inches apart, in rows 18 inches apart.
Continue planting seeds at 10-day intervals for a month.
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.
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
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.
Harvesting Swiss Chard
Begin to harvest when the plants are 6 to 8 inches tall, depending on which size leaves you desire.
Cut off outer leaves 1-1/2 inches above the ground with a sharp knife. Avoid damaging the plant’s center. Eat what you cut.
Harvest regularly, and the plants will produce continually. Use the “cut-and-come-again” harvesting technique, taking the largest, oldest leaves and leaving the young ones to continue growing.
To extend the harvest, lift the plant, with roots in the soil, and transfer to a container in a greenhouse. Maintain the temperature at around 50°F. Initially, the chard will appear limp, but it should rebound.
How to Store Swiss Chard
Rinse off Swiss chard leaves and store them in the refrigerator in ventilated plastic bags.
To use, draw a sharp knife along the ribs to separate the leaves.
The leaves are eaten as greens. You can cook them like spinach or eat them raw.
You can cook the ribs like asparagus (steamed, roasted, sautéed).
Pests and Plant Diseases
Aphids and leaf miners will attack chard. Control aphids by pinching out the affected leaves or spray them away with a blast of water.
Leaf miners feed on the inside of leaf surfaces. Remove leaves with significant leaf miner damage and look underneath leaves for a row of pearl-white eggs; destroy them.
Swiss chard has no serious disease problems.
Benefits of Swiss Chard
May Help Manage Diabetes
One of the most important benefits of Swiss chard is its potential ability to regulate the blood sugar levels in our body. It inhibits the activity of a specific enzyme named alpha-glucosidase. This means that fewer carbs are broken down to simple sugars, which allow the blood sugar levels in the body to remain stable and prevent hazard for diabetics, or for those people who are at high risk of developing the disease.
May Improve Bone Health
Swiss chard has a significant amount of calcium in those leaves, which means that it may provide a major boost for bone health. Calcium, as well as the other minerals found in this vegetable help stimulate bone growth and development, including magnesium and vitamin K.
May Act As A Brain Booster
Swiss chard is a valuable source of both potassium and vitamin K, both of which are found in significant amounts in the brain and are integral parts of boosting cognitive development and abilities. Add some Swiss chard to your diet and expand your mind!
May Improve Blood Circulation
Iron and copper are both essential elements of red blood cells, and without those two minerals, people can develop anemia, which shows itself as weakness, fatigue, stomach disorders, and lack of concentration. By ensuring a proper amount of red blood cells by eating food like Swiss chard, you can increase blood circulation and oxygenation to essential organs within the body.
May Reduce Blood Pressure and Improve Heart Health
The anti-inflammatory and phytonutrient antioxidants found in Swiss chard, along with potassium, all contribute to reducing blood pressure and stress on the cardiovascular system. Hypertension is due to pro-inflammatory enzymes within the body, which the organic compounds in Swiss chard are able to neutralize. Therefore, Swiss chard protects from a variety of conditions like atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.
May Aid in Eye Care
Swiss chard has a huge amount of beta-carotene, which has been linked in many ways to optimal eye health and a reduction in macular degeneration, glaucoma, night blindness, and other vision-related conditions.
May Lead to Healthy Hair
Swiss chard may also have a possibly significant amount of biotin, among its many other beneficial compounds. Biotin is an organic compound that has been directly linked to healthy hair, the stimulation of follicles, and as a way to increase luster and texture.
May Have Anticancer Potential
Like many leafy, green vegetables, Swiss chard may have anti-cancer properties due to the huge amounts of antioxidants found in it. According to the Institute of Biochemistry, Department of Biomolecular Sciences, University of Urbino ‘Carlo Bo’, Urbino, Italy, it may contain significant amounts of antioxidants like xylosylvitexin, which have been connected to preventing a wide variety of cancers, specifically colon cancer. Swiss chard is also found to have compounds that help promote antimitotic activity on breast cancer cells.
Fresh chard can be used raw in salads, stirfries, soups or omelets.
The raw leaves can be used like a tortilla wrap.
Chard leaves and stalks are typically boiled or sautéed; the bitterness fades with cooking.