If you love leafy greens, you can’t go wrong with chard. Talk about easy and reliable! My garden seldom goes without this delicious staple in the ground.
Gardening in zone 9 gets a little tricky with leafy greens like spinach and lettuce, simply because it is too warm for most of the year. Sudden warm streaks when it should be cool are not uncommon and can cause them to bolt (go to seed) and become bitter and unproductive.
A handy growing summary chart is at the end of the article.
Swiss Chard, on the other hand, seems to breeze through both summer and winter here, no problem. I use a cut-and-come-again approach to harvesting the leaves by snipping the larger leaves at the base, leaving behind baby leaves to grow for future gathering. Any flower stems that start to form, I just cut them as far down as possible to encourage new leaves. If Swiss Chard is properly maintained, I will literally have a year-round harvest.
Swiss Chard will grow in pretty much any soil, though very heavy or very loose soils will benefit from having some organic compost worked in to hold water appropriately and provide nutrients. Leafy greens benefit from a more nitrogen rich soil, so you may want to add either some type of manure or blood meal to keep growth optimal.
The plants can tolerate some degree of dry conditions, but will grow best if watered so that the soil is consistently moist (not soaking). Use mulch to help retain water in your soil.
Swiss Chard can tolerate some shade, and in hot summer zones like mine, will actually benefit from a little morning or afternoon shade. In cooler zones, full sun works best. In my zone 9 garden, Swiss Chard will live all year, but it will die off in a hard freeze. Swiss Chard is technically a biennial, living for two years, but most gardeners will grow them as annuals.
In cold winter areas, seeds should be started as early as possible in spring without danger of hard freeze. Otherwise, Swiss Chard can be started either in mid-fall once temperatures are in the 80’s or lower, or in early spring. I like to start mine in fall so that they will have a head start once spring arrives. They will be ready to harvest in late winter/early spring, as a result. I will continue to harvest all through the year, and will start my next batch of seeds in pots to replace the old plants sometime in October or November.
Starting Swiss Chard in the cooler part of fall also helps with its worst pests, snails and slugs. They tend not to be too active at that time, and so my babies will get a fighting chance to grow. Once the plants are larger, the snails and slugs will still nibble, but won’t be as damaging. However, birds love baby chard no matter the time of year! Be prepared to protect them from those little beaks.
Swiss Chard will grow big, so when planting your seeds, give them the proper spacing to prevent fungal diseases and have best growing conditions. I plant my seeds 12 inches apart on all sides. Put seeds 1/2 inch down, and I like to put in two seeds per hole. When the seedlings emerge and are about two inches high, I will snip out the smaller one if more than one is growing.
Swiss Chard can be served pretty much any way that you would use spinach. It’s great fresh in salads, steamed with a little lemon and olive oil, or even sautéed and used in omelets, and tossed into soups! You could even trade out cabbage leaves for larger chard leaves in cabbage rolls, just trim out the chunkier part of the stem before rolling (the stem can be chopped up into the filling!) I have a great tip for storing your chard in the refrigerator, and it can also be steamed then frozen for longer keeping.
- Biennial: grown as annual
- Height: up to 1-2 feet
- Width: up to 1 1/2 feet
- Sun: full sun, or part shade in warm weather
- Water: keep soil moist, but not soggy
- Soil pH: 6.5 – 7.5
- Soil type: loose, amend with organic material if soil is either very sandy or heavy clay
- Key nutrients: nitrogen and iron
- Planting time: zones 8+ in early fall or early spring