Nothing can pull someone’s eye toward a kitchen garden quite like the jewel-toned stems and rich green leaves of Swiss chard. This member of the beet family packs a nutrient-dense punch unmatched by most other leafy greens. Even a small serving gives you more than your daily requirement of vitamins A and K, plus vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, plenty of antioxidants, and fiber.
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REASONS TO GROW SWISS CHARD
If you’re not a huge fan of spinach or kale, Swiss chard is a good substitute in salads and so many other recipes. Both the colorful stems and leaves of chard are quite tasty and can be sautéd, tossed into a smoothie, baked, pickled, or eaten raw.
This is the ideal veggie for busy or inexperienced gardeners. Native to the Mediterranean, it can tolerate poor soil, water, and even sun conditions, though it flourishes in full sun.
Let’s look at some tips to grow your own Swiss chard in the greater Austin area and our favorite types to grow in our warmer climate.
OUR FAVORITE TYPES OF SWISS CHARD TO GROW IN TEXAS
Try growing any of these colorful Swiss chard varieties to see which flavor and appearance you prefer. The following have done well in this area:
Pot of Gold Container Chard
This variety is beautiful with its vibrant golden stems and contrasting deep-green, savoyed leaves. It’s easy to grow, and as the name says, great for small garden spaces or containers. Harvest in 50 days. Shop seeds here.
Heirloom Rainbow Chard
You’ll love the rainbow-bright stalks of this Swiss chard variety. Since both the leaves and the crunchy stalks are edible, you can add pops of color and texture to your salad bowl. Harvest in 50 days. Shop seeds here.
Baby Leaf Chard
If you’re looking for a faster-growing chard, this one is perfect. It’s best sown thickly together so that you can harvest the smaller leaves often to use in salads and sautés. These little leaves will be more tender and have a mild flavor, making them a great addition to salad bowls or good replacements for any other leafy green vegetable. Shop seeds here.
Other fun varieties to consider include:
I love the Swiss chard names that sound more like fun nail polish colors than something super nutritious to grow at home. It makes it feel like a treat to add those seeds to my planting list!
HOW TO GROW SWISS CHARD
Grow Swiss chard under its preferred growing conditions to ensure lots of leafy success.
Swiss Chard Growing Season in Texas
Here in Austin, Texas, our cool season between late fall and early spring provides the ideal temps for this cool-season crop.
While it loves cool temperatures, chard is actually a biennial plant, which means it has a two-year lifecycle in our milder climate.
Your plants will thrive in cool weather, but they can still hang in there when it’s warmer out, especially if you give them some afternoon shade and keep them well watered. You might notice your plant doesn’t grow as quickly during our hot Texas summers.
Swiss chard can also hang in there during cold weather. A little light frost actually makes the leaves taste sweeter. If we’re expecting a hard freeze, however, it’s best to cover Swiss chard, especially young plants, with some frost cloth or row covers.
Where to Grow Swiss Chard
You can certainly grow chard plants in pots that are at least 12 inches deep, but raised beds are the ideal spot for these leafy greens. The soil in raised beds gives chard roots plenty of room to dig down for water and resources.
If you do opt for a container, make sure it has at least one good drainage hole to allow excess water to leave; I like container gardening in terracotta pots to better regulate soil moisture.
Swiss chard loves well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter. Add plenty of compost to your planting area or container.
Make sure the spot you’ve selected gets at least 4 hours of sunlight a day, though anything closer to 6 hours is much better. You’ll enjoy better leaf production in full sun, but some partial shade can certainly be appreciated on warmer days.
TIPS TO PLANT SWISS CHARD SEEDS
Swiss chard is easy to grow from seed. You can start seeds indoors in late summer for a fall crop or about 4 to 6 weeks before our last frost date the following spring. If you’d rather sow seeds directly in your garden beds, the best time to do so is during cool weather.
When starting Swiss chard from seed, sow each seed about 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep.
Each seed is actually a cluster of seeds. Thin seedlings to one plant when they’re about 3 to 4 inches tall. The best way to do this is to pick a weaker-looking seedling that’s growing too close to another and snip it just above the soil surface. Thinning might feel wasteful, but you can bring what you cut inside and toss them on your next salad.
You’ll want your plants to be about 9 to 12 inches apart so they’ll have plenty of room to grow to their full and glorious potential.
Keep newly planted Swiss chard covered with garden mesh cloth to prevent pests from attacking the tender, young leaves (so tempting!).
TIPS TO CARE FOR GROWING SWISS CHARD PLANTS
Swiss chard is pretty fuss free, but to keep your plants at their happiest, fertilize them once a month with some MicroLife Ocean Harvest. Growing such a nutritious vegetable requires nutrient-rich soil that’s regularly resupplied.
Keep the soil evenly moist for your Swiss chard. Water regularly by hand or a drip irrigation system.
For a leafy vegetable, Swiss chard is surprisingly not very prone to pests or common plant diseases. (This is especially true if you cover your garden with mesh after sowing seeds or transplanting Swiss chard to your garden space.)
If you notice aphids on the underside of your leaves, spray the plant down using a soaker hose. For larger pests, remove them by hand and prune any damaged leaves. The tender inner leaves should be unaffected by whatever munched on the outer leaves.
HOW TO HARVEST SWISS CHARD LEAVES
Like most leafy greens, Swiss chard is a “cut-and-come-again” kind of crop, which means every week is harvest time during the growing season.
You can begin harvesting Swiss chard about 45 to 60 days after planting from seed. Your plant should be taller than six inches by this point.
The best way to harvest from Swiss chard plants is to take individual leaves one at a time by simply twisting gently and pulling on the stem.
Take outer leaves (these are the older leaves growing closer to the base of the plant) and allow at least 3 to 4 of the young leaves to continue growing from the center of the plant for next time. This is how you encourage your plant to produce new leaves for a continuous harvest. It’s really that easy.
Throughout the plant’s growing cycle, you can harvest younger, more tender leaves or wait for full-size, more mature leaves based on your personal preference.
Young leaves (AKA baby greens) are great to add to salads and smoothies. Full-size leaves are great in sautés with garlic and lemon, or added to soups or eggs with mushrooms. Larger leaves make a great wrap for veggie sandwiches. You can also make Swiss chard pesto for a fun twist on the classic recipe.
You can separate the leaves from the stems for cooking with a sharp knife.
Near the end of their second year in your vegetable garden, mature plants might bolt, or go to seed, in the summer heat or during a long drought. You’ll notice the plant growing taller all of a sudden and producing a central flower stalk. The entire plant is still edible, though you might not like the more bitter taste of the leaves. It’s best to remove the whole plant from your garden and start fresh or plant something more heat-tolerant like arugula, mizuna, or New Zealand spinach.
HOW TO STORE SWISS CHARD LEAVES
Wash your leaves and store them in the refrigerator inside a ventilated container for use within the next one to two days. You could also chop and freeze in plastic bags to add to smoothies or soups later.
For longer-term storage and to save on freezer space, dehydrate the leaves or freeze dry them for a greens powder you can add to smoothies or soups. Shop my favorite freeze dryer here.
LETTUCE HELP YOU GROW
You will not regret adding this tasty and stunning ornamental plant to your garden. What other plant looks just as pretty as anything you might grow in a flower garden and tastes better than those wilted leaves from the grocery store?
CLICK HERE TO GROW WITH US if you’d like to learn more about other easy-to-grow edible plants here in Austin, Texas, or if you’d like to get your own growing space set up this season.