It may be the prettiest vegetable on Instagram–but are you ready to see chard in your garden?
Swiss chard has seen a huge burst of popularity in recent years, mainly due to its colorful stems and incredibly photogenic leaves. However, though chard may be taking over the internet, it has definitely not overtaken other leafy greens in many people’s refrigerators or gardens.
At Gardenuity, we cannot get enough of chard. Its tender leaves and flavorful stems are delightful to eat, but we also love just how easy it is to grow. Sturdy and reliable, it makes for a great addition to any container vegetable garden, and it can even be grown inside during the colder winter months (though it is also hearty enough to withstand frost!). The vitamins and antioxidants that are packed in every bite–they don’t hurt, either. Chard can be enjoyed in soups, pastas, risottos, or even on its own. Young leaves can even be eaten raw and used as salad greens.
Step aside, kale and spinach–the queen of Instagram is about to become the queen of the container garden.
How to Grow Chard in Containers
Swiss chard plants thrive in containers. Unlike other vegetables such as squash or tomatoes, chard has a shallow root system, can grow in poor soil, and is tolerant of cold. It also grows relatively quickly, meaning that once you sow seeds, you can be enjoying fresh chard in as little as 4-6 weeks (and even sooner if you decide to use transplants).
Here is a quick step-by-step breakdown of how to grow Swiss chard. We’ll dig into each of these processes and our own gardening tips later in the article.
Time needed: 56 days.
How To Grow Chard in Containers
- Decide on your varietal and life stage.
There are several different varieties of Swiss chard, all of which are nutritious and delicious. You’ll want to make sure you pick the right one for your lifestyle and personal preferences. Another decision to make is whether or not you want to start with plant seeds or if you’d prefer to use transplants (there are pros and cons to each).
- Pick the right growing container.
Growing chard in containers is simple and fairly straightforward. However, you do need to take some care in choosing the right vessel for your garden, as well as consider what companion plants to grow beside it.
- Grow with care.
Chard is pretty resilient, but you will still want to provide your plants with optimal growing conditions for a generous harvest. Picking the right soil, ensuring the garden is in partial or full sun and managing a cool temperature are all keys to helping chard grow.
- Harvest and enjoy.
Your chard is ready to harvest when the older leaves reach about nine inches tall, though you can use the smaller, tender leaves in salads.
Step One: Decide on Your Varietal and Life Stage.
What is Chard?
The terms “chard” and “Swiss chard” are virtually interchangeable when talking about the plant. The “Swiss” denotation comes not from its place of origination (it comes from the Mediterranean, not Switzerland), but as an homage to a Swiss scientist named Koch, who determined the plant’s scientific name in the 19th century.
A part of the beet family (Beta Vulgaris), chard is part of the cicla group. It differentiates itself from its cousin in the way that it is enjoyed. Though, like the beet, the root of chard is edible, the stems and the leaves are the most commonly consumed parts of the plant. It has similar nutritional benefits to kale and spinach and a earthy, slightly bitter taste that mellows when cooked.
Varieties of Chard
There are dozens of different chard varieties, many of which do well in containers. Here are some of our favorites:
- Bright Lights–sometimes mistakenly referred to as “rainbow chard” (rainbow chard is actually just a collection of different varieties), this cultivar produces orange, purple, pink and gold stemmed plants.
- Barese–similar in appearance and flavor to bok choy, Barese is particularly suitable for container gardens.
- Fordhook Giant–identified by its white stems and dark green leaves, it is mild enough to be enjoyed raw in salads.
- Magenta Sunset–shockingly bright purple stems ensure this chard is Insta-ready.
- Orange Fantasia–its bright gold stems keep their color even when cooked.
- Peppermint–different from your favorite holiday herb! Its pink and white stems give this variety its stripey name.
- Rhubarb–not to be confused with a summer pie ingredient, rhubarb chard can be identified by the bright red in its stems and veiny leaves.
Seeds vs. Transplants
Before you get in the garden, you’ll have to decide whether or not you want to start with seeds or transplants.
If you choose to start with Swiss chard seeds, you will have total control over the life of your plant. You will also have the advantage of choice, as, many times, uncommon varietals will be available only as seeds, not transplants. Chard seeds are more adaptable to cold weather than young plants, a good option if you are starting your garden later in the season (we recommend getting your chard started about a month before the first frost, if growing in the Fall). Chard seeds also tend to come in clusters, so expect that you might get multiple plants from a single planting hole.
The growing process will take longer when starting with a seed, as it will need time to germinate before producing leaves. That said, you can start harvesting within four to six weeks of planting,
If you just cannot wait to start the chard-y party, using transplants may be the right option. Though you are limited in the varietals available to you, starting with a transplant will save you time in the growing process. Depending on the maturity of the plant at the time of transplantation, you could be enjoying fresh, home-grown chard in as little as one to two weeks of planting.
Want to have a chard transplant delivered to your door? We’ve got you covered! Our Super Hero Giftable Garden features a wide variety of leafy greens, including Swiss chard, and everything you need to get growing. Get yours here.
Step Two: Pick the Right Growing Container
The Benefits of Container Growing
At Gardenuity, we love container gardens–they are easy to maintain, don’t require a lot of space and can be enjoyed in homes that do not have backyards. And, it just so happens this planting method is especially good when it comes to growing chard.
Chard is incredibly adaptable, tolerates other plants well and doesn’t necessarily require a lot of space (we’ll talk more about that in a minute). It can also go with less water than some other plants, a bonus since container gardens typically require more water than their in-ground counterparts.
Ideal Container Conditions
Picking the right container for your Swiss chard is incredibly important. Depending on the varietal you choose, your chard will need some space (typically, seeds need to be about one and a half inches apart and transplants up to 12 inches), so be sure to get a container that is large enough to support both chard and its companion plants.
Because the root system is fairly shallow, the container you select does not necessarily need to be particularly deep. However, you do want to be sure that there is enough width for the root system to expand and not collapse on itself. We recommend starting with a well-draining container that is at least 15 inches wide and eight inches deep. If you want to grow large, impressive chard plants, a five-gallon container for each plant will do the trick. If you don’t mind smaller leaves, try two plants per five-gallon container.
The material of the container also matters. You want something that can drain pretty easily (one drainage whole for every one to two gallons of potting soil) but is not too heavy. You may find yourself moving your garden a lot, especially if growing in cooler months. Terra cotta dries out easily and will require extra watering. We recommend using plastic, cement or concrete (or, even better, one of our amazing grow bags!).
Make the most of your container garden by planting multiple plants at once. A very friendly plant, chard gets along well with other crops, though there are some exceptions.
Most vegetables are great companion plants for chard. Tomatoes, cabbages, and alliums are strong options, as well as radishes, lettuce and celery. Beans are particularly compatible–the chard leaves will cover the vulnerable sprouts and maintain soil moisture, but will be ready to harvest by the time the beans hit their growth spurt.
Chard does not get along with most varieties of herbs, with the exception of mint. It should also not be grown with corn, potatoes, melons or cucumbers.
Step Three: Grow with Care
Chard, as we mentioned, is resilient and tolerant to a variety of conditions, including frost. That said, optimal growing conditions yield optimal results. Planting using the following methodology will help your chard grow to its fullest potential.
Moist, rich soil with a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.8 is the best for chard. Though it doesn’t necessarily need additional nutrients, incorporating organic matter such as cottonseed meal, compost or feather meal make for more fertile soil. Surrounding the plant with organic mulch, dried leaves or straw will help keep soil cool and leaves clean of disease.
Chard can flourish in a variety of temperatures, but can become bitter when it gets too hot. We recommend planting in cool weather, preferably the late Summer/early Fall (one month before the first frost date) or in the early Spring, for the best results. The cool temperatures will keep the plants healthy and flavorful. If you live in a climate that is mild across seasons, your growing season can last the entire year.
Much like us on a day at the beach, chard requires a minimum of six hours of sunlight. Full sun is best, if possible. You may need to move your garden throughout the day to make sure it catches the necessary rays.
A nice, even supply of water will keep your plant happy. It should be getting between one and one and a half inches of water per week. You can also use a self-watering system if you are particularly forgetful about watering your plants.
Miss a couple of days? Don’t fret. Pour water into your container until it begins to drain out the bottom. Wait 30 seconds, then repeat. This will ensure that the root systems are well hydrated. Your chard shouldn’t be too affected by the oversight.
How to Plant Swiss Chard
Ready to start planting yet?!
If you have decided to start with seeds, dig a small hole in your soil, about a half-inch deep. Sow seeds with about an inch and a half of space between each and no more than 10 seeds in a row one foot long. If you are starting with a transplant, allow for between six to 10 inches of space.
Once everything is in your container, give it a good watering, using the method detailed in the Water section above.
There are about four phases to chard growth, defined by the height of the plant:
- Germination–seed is planted in soil, with no visible growth.
- Three to four inches tall–chard is beginning to mature. If you have multiple plants in the same container, you will want to thin out the leaves at this point. Ensure that each stalk has at least four inches of room between its neighbor.
- Six to eight inches tall–you can start harvesting your chard when it is six to eight inches tall.
- Up to 12 inches tall–your plant is fully developed, but will need to be maintained. Cut outer leaves back between three and five inches to encourage new growth.
Note–if outer leaves ever start to wilt before inner leaves are ready to harvest, cut the outer leaves from the plant so that it can focus on the health of the other areas.
New gardeners rejoice–chard is a very low-maintenance addition to your garden. However, lIke any plant, chard is susceptible to damaging diseases and insects. Aphids, spinach leafminers, and flea beetles are common pests that you should monitor against, while downy mildew, leaf spot, and fungus are common diseases.
To avoid insect infestation, try spraying leaves with a homemade spray of five parts water, two parts rubbing alcohol and a tablespoon of dish soap. If your leaves are looking a bit wilted despite regular watering and sunlight, this could be a sign of an infestation.
Stave off disease by regularly removing dead or dying plants. Keeping insects off of plants can also help keep your chard happy and healthy.
Step Four: Harvest and Enjoy
You’ve made it to harvest time! When you’re ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor, here’s what we recommend.
When to Harvest Swiss Chard
Chard plants can be harvested as soon as they hit between six and eight inches tall. If you prefer something more mild to enjoy raw, harvest leaves when they are on the smaller side. If you are accustomed to the flavor of chard from the market, wait until your plants are about a foot tall.
How to Harvest Swiss Chard
When you are ready to harvest, take a sharp night to the stems of the outer leaves. You will want to cut them away from the inner plant about an inch and a half above the ground. Remain the center of the plant untouched to make sure that new leaves have what they need to flourish.
With proper maintenance and regular harvesting, your chard plant will continue to grow and produce.
Swiss Chard Storage
Because of its delicate nature, chard is best enjoyed immediately. Try to harvest just before you need it to ensure freshness.
Chard should be stored in ventilated plastic bags in a refrigerator. Keeping it in the crisper drawer can help extend its lifespan.
Swiss Chard Recipes
If you think that chard is a pleasure to grow, just wait until you try it! Here are some the chard recipes we come back to again and again:
- Polenta with Swiss Chard
- Garlicky Swiss Chard (New York Times)
- Easy Swiss Chard (Simply Recipes)
- Swiss Chard with Garbanzo Beans (The Kitchn)
GrowPro Frequently Asked Questions
Absolutely! In fact, we encourage it.
There actually isn’t much difference in modern vernacular. Many see the terms as interchangeable.
Rainbow chard refers not to a specific varietal of chard but to a “variety pack” of chard. The closest varietal would be Bright Star chard.
We recommend using a container that is at least eight inches deep and 15 inches wide. If you can’t find one in those specific dimensions, try using a five-gallon container.
Chard likes lots of sunlight. You should give your plant at least six hours of full sun each day for optimal growth.
Really any time, as long as it is not too hot. Chard is more resistant to cold than other plants and can even withstand occasional frost. We recommend planting in late summer/early fall or early spring for the best results.
Depending on if you decide to sow seeds or use transplants, you can be enjoying home-grown chard in as little as two to four weeks.
Are you ready to start your chard journey? Check out our garden kits for everything you need to get out and grow.