Swiss Chard

October 27, 2005

I frequently recommend growing leafy greens such as Swiss Chard because they are so nutritious, delicious, and easy to grow. Often a single sowing can extend across several seasons, providing harvestable greens from spring, right through fall frosts. Even more remarkably, Swiss Chard can survive frigid winter conditions to produce additional early spring harvests when garden fresh vegetables are at a premium.

Growing Swiss Chard in the Home Garden

rainbow swiss chard image
You can grow Swiss Chard from seed, which can be started indoors in containers under grow lights, or you can sow the seeds directly into the garden. The seeds resemble beet seeds but don’t require as much thinning. Space the transplants or thin to about eight inches apart in raised beds that have been composted or enriched with a general organic fertilizer.

The only troublesome insect pest affecting chards are leaf miners, which do mostly cosmetic damage by creating noticable trails in the leaves. For control I simply remove the affected leaves. Some years the plants go untouched by the leaf miners, but even during bad years the damage usually subsides as the season progresses.

Cooking and Preparing Swiss Chards

bright lights swiss chard photoSwiss Chard is very delicious and can be lightly steamed, stir-fried, used raw in salads, and substituted for spinach or other leafy greens in your favorite recipes. The leaves will grow to enormous sizes but maybe used, along with the stems, at any stage of growth.

The wide thick stems can be used like celery, stuffed with a dip, or be added to vegetable trays. The best way to harvest is to carefully twist the stem off from the base of the plant.

Popular Varieties of Swiss Chard

There are many different varieties of chard. My favorites are Bright Lights and Five Color Silverbeet (Rainbow Chard). These are great because they offer an incredible range of brilliant colors from pink, red, yellow, orange, white, and striped that really stand out in the ornamental vegetable garden and can even be used in flower beds.
golden chard image
Other great varieties include: Fordhook Giant, Rhubarb , Pink Lipstick, Vulcan, Golden, Broadstem Green, Witerbi Mangold, Oriole Orange, Golden Sunrise, Virgo, and Canary Yellow Chard. There’s also a cultivar called Perpetual Spinach, which is also a variety of Swiss Chard.

For more great tips to creating an attractive vegetable garden check out the “Amazing Secrets to Growing Luscious Fruits and Vegetables at Home.”

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  • A man after my own heart. First the shallots and now the swiss chard. I’ve grown this for the first time this year but have yet to try it. Am I to understand that the plants I planted late this summer will overwinter and produce next spring too?

  • Hi Kerry, there’s no guarantee that Swiss Chard will survive the winter, but it’s pretty hardy and it often survives here in Pennsylvania without protection. Our winters are probably harsher than what you typically see in Kentucky, so I think that your odds of the plants surviving are pretty high.

  • Andrea Kiture

    I have grown Swiss Chard in Houston, Texas for the first time in a container. It has done exceptionally well, I wasn’t that familiar with them and wasn’t really sure how to prepare them. Do they feeze well?

  • Jake Duffner


    I followed these instructions last year and it came out really well for soups and stir fry.

    To freeze:

    1. Prepare a sink of cold water. Rinse chard through several changes of water lifting leaves out leaving sand and soil behind. Then separate the stems from the leaves.
    2. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Drop about one pound of whole leaves in boiling water, cover and blanch for 2 minutes (blanch stems for 3 minutes).
    3. Remove chard from water and immerse in an ice water bath for 2 minutes. Drain.
    4. Pack in zip-closure freezer bags or freezer containers, leaving no headspace. Label, date and freeze at zero degrees for up to one year.

  • Wesley Cornelius

    I planted some swiss chard seeds about 2 week ago and this morning I went by Home Depot and they had swiss chard plants @ .99 a pot, I picked the pots that had 2 plants in each one so I feel like I got a good deal because swiss is a easy plant to seperate and I am also growing garlic,shallots,cabbage and broccoli and in the summer I grow okra.egg plants ,habanero peppers and tomatoes and herbs. I am in jawja.

  • One of the things I like most about Swiss Chard here in north Texas is that you can start it early but since it is so heat tolerant it will carry on well past the time that the lettuce and spinach and other greens have long since given out. A great choice for warm locales.

  • Sue

    What do you do with the seeds (swiss chard) before you plant them?
    Do you break them up?
    My husband did this and they did not come up.

  • Kenny Point

    Hello Sue, I never break up the swiss chard seeds (or even beet seeds for that matter) before planting, and even though the seeds resemble a compound type of seed the seedlings usually germinate into individual plants that don’t require as much thinning as beet seedlings.

  • Joy

    If you plant the white chard with the fat stems, especially with a little afternoon shade in the hottest areas, you get two products for the price of one. The stems can be “strung” like celery, and then braised / simmered for meaty-textured, savory dish. Plain salt and pepper is enough, but they stand up to all sorts of things. Cumin and corriander…or basil, marjoram and tomatoes…curry…red peppers and coconut milk… all quite decent. You can also make refrigerator pickles. (I don’t know how they stand up to longer pickling or canning. Wash well and try.) The leaves (tough ribs ideally stripped out) can be cooked like any greens. They are not as tender as spinach or sorrel, but MUCH faster-cooking than kale or collards. Comparable to young beet greens, and with a hint of the same flavors. If you want to throw in wild greens, I seem to remember that they cook OK, time-wise, with Fat Hen (chenipodium, a common weed in most parts) or garlic mustard (a common weed in some parts). Very good for you, very yummy. Don’t cut the whole bunch at once, just keep picking stems off, and they’ll keep going until frost. Cover them (hoops and plastic) and you may bring them through several light frosts.

  • Rich

    Is it practical to dig up a rainbow chard plant and grow it indoors? How long will it continue to produce good leaves?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Rich, I doubt that the mature Swiss Chard plants would tolerate being dug up and transplanted very well. It would probably work better to grow a chard plant in a container and move that indoors. Growth and leaf production would depend on how much light you can provide for the plants.

  • Scott

    When is the best time to start Swiss Chard? I’m down south of Houston, so the winter will be very mild and I’m looking for something to do once my okra gives up its last hurrah soon.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Scott, I’m not sure what to recommend for starting Swiss Chard in your growing region. Here in Central Pennsylvania I direct sow the seed in early spring but after things have warmed up a bit. Established chard plants can tolerate some frost but will not grow under freezing conditions. I would just experiment with various planting times to determine what works best during your mild winters. You could also try some hardier leafy greens like kale, mustard, and collards, which will survive and continue growing under much colder conditions than chard will.

  • Rich Laska

    As an experiment, I brought transplanted three mature rainbow chard plants into my greenhouse. The leaves had pretty much frozen back. They are doing wonderfully, but it takes a lot of energy to keep them alive when the wind chill last night was 2 degrees.

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  • Bryan

    Wow, great growing tips!!!!!!

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  • TheRev1

    I’m curious about this statement: “The seeds resemble beet seeds but don’t require as much thinning.” Chard has a scientific name of Beta vulgaris. Beets have a scientific name of Beta vulgaris. They are the same species of plant. If they are the same species, would they not be the same thing? (Beets would still require more thinning to allow the roots to grow large enough to harvest as beets.)

  • Kenny Point

    TheRev1, beets and Swiss Chard are related but definitely not the same plant. Beets form the harvestable root crop and smaller edible leaves while Swiss Chard produces leafy greens but no large edible roots.

  • qwester32

    Generally, only beets produce the large root while chard leaves are larger with thicker stems than beets. Beet tops when cooked taste somewhat like chard.

  • TheRev1

    I’m thinking that since they are merely different cultivars of the exact same plant, the flavor *should* be the same, which is my experience. I grew a lot of chard last year, half for ‘beetroots’ and half for the leaves.

  • qwester32

    I probably overcooked the beet tops since they were still attached to the beet bottoms as I did not want to lose the juice from cut ends. The beet roots take longer to cook than the tops.

  • TheRev1

    That is easy to do. I never cook the roots and the leaves together. My preferences is to rinse the leaves, put them in a pot with the water that is still clinging to them, add a pat of butter and to then steam them, covered, for about 5-10 minutes.

  • qwester32

    My grandma taught me (and I’m 83) that the nutrition and flavor of beets are in the colored pigment that is lost in the cooking water when the tops and bottoms are separated before cooking. Probably one could cook the whole plant until the tops were sufficiently cooked, separate them with a utility scissors without getting burned and finish cooking the beet root although this seems more complicated than the obtained benefit is worth so your practical method is obviously best. Or the connected tops can be over cooked as I was taught. They still taste good with butter. Try New Zealand spinach for another taste treat.

  • TheRev1

    You’re my senior by about 20 years. The way I do it might work for you. I gather the nicest leaves before I dig up the plant and root. This way, there would still be leaves and a ‘top’ on the plant, if you wanted to cook it with the top on.

    However, from a nutrition standpoint and according the Oregon State University and the self nutrition website, there is virtually no difference in nutritional value if the tops are removed or not, provided that the leaves are still eaten. There would be a difference for people who are silly and throw them away. (Some people will do that.) I’m an herbalist, by the way, which is why I’m interested in such things.

    I’d like to try New Zealand spinach, though it is a little hard to come by here in the Montana Rockies. Still, since it grows wild in Argentina and has been grown in the US, I’m sure I can find some seeds. Thank you for the excellent suggestion!

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