How to Grow Chard
A member of the beet family, chard, also known as Swiss chard, is one of the more nutritious, versatile vegetables. It is rich in both vitamins A and C, as well as antioxidants, and can be used raw or cooked in recipes. A patch of chard can also help brighten up your garden with its colorful, ornamental leaves. If you're thinking of planting some in yard, the best news is that it's easy to grow once you prepare the soil and arrange the seeds or seedlings in the right way.
Choosing Chard for Planting
Choose a type of chard.There are three main types of chard that you can plant: white-stemmed, colored, and perpetual. White-stemmed chard is usually the most productive, but colored chard are the most attractive ornamental option. Perpetual varieties have a spinach-like taste.
- White-stemmed varieties, such as ‘Fordhook Giant’ and ‘Silverado,’ are usually more tolerant of both heat and cold than other types of chard.
- Colored varieties, such as ‘Pink Passion,’ ‘Golden Sunrise,’ and ‘Orange Fantasia,’ come in shades of red, pink, yellow, and orange, and usually grow quite tall. You can find some seeds and seedlings that only feature a single shade and others that offer a mixture of colors.
- Colored varieties of chard are usually the least cold hardy, so they work best in warm to mild climates.
- Perpetual varieties, such as ‘Perpetual’ and ‘Verde da Taglio’, provide mild tasting leaves over a more prolonged growing season. They tolerate heat pretty well, so they're a good option for warmer climates.
Decide on seeds or seedlings.When you’re planting chard, you can either start from seeds or seedlings, which are young plants that you can purchase from your local nursery. The obvious benefit of planting chard from seedlings is that you don’t have to wait as long for the plant to develop, so you can enjoy your chard more quickly. Buying starter plants will also save you time. On the other hand, planting chard from seeds is less expensive and you usually have a wider range of varieties to choose from.
- In a warm or mild climate, you shouldn’t run into much trouble planting your chard as seeds.
- In climates where you go from a cold season to a warm season very quickly, you are usually better off planting your chard from seedlings.
Consider mixing seeds.If you decide to plant your chard as seeds, you’ll likely find packets that contain a mixture of colored chard. However, you can customize your chard by combining different colors yourself to get the exact combination that you want. Purchase packets of seeds for different colors, such as pink and orange, and mix them together before planting.
- You can also mix white-stemmed varieties with colored chard for a striking contrast in your garden.
Choose the right time.You can plant chard in either the spring or the fall depending on your preference. If you’re opting for a spring harvest, plant the chard two to three weeks before the last frost. For a fall harvest, you can plant as early as late summer but no later than 40 days before the first frost.
- A spring planting usually provides a harvest through the spring, summer, and fall.
- If you plant in both the spring and the fall, you can have a chard harvest virtually year round.
Find the right spot.When you’re selecting a spot in your garden to plant chard, it’s important to consider the amount of sunlight that the plants will receive. In early spring and fall, when the weather tends to be cooler, chard prefers full sun. In the summer, when the weather is warmer, it prefers partial sun. However, keep in mind that chard usually tolerates heat fairly well, so it can work well in a sunny section of your garden.
- Chard grows well in containers, so if you don’t have the right spot for it in your garden, consider planting it in a pot or planter.
Prepare the soil.For chard to grow well, it needs properly prepared soil. Several weeks before you plan to plant, dig through the area to remove any large rocks or weeds. You should also mix some compost and organic fertilizer, according to the rates on the label. Allow the mixture to sit for two to three weeks, so the soil has time to receive enough moisture and air.
- Chard grows best in soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8, so it’s slightly acidic. You can purchase a soil pH testing kit at your local garden supply store to check your garden.
Space the chard at the correct intervals.For a successful harvest, you must space the chard properly. For seeds, plant them in rows approximately 3- to 6-inches apart. If you’re working with chard seedlings, place them in rows approximately 12-inches apart.
- When you’re creating the rows for the chard, make sure that they’re at least 12 to 18 inches apart.
- If you’re working with seedlings, you may need to thin them out to get the distance right.
Plant at the right depth.When you’re ready to plant the chard in the soil, it’s important to place it at the right depth. For seeds, plant them approximately ½- to ¾-inch deep. If you’re working with seedlings, plant them at soil level.
- Pay attention to how many seeds you plant too. The rule of thumb is eight to ten for every foot in the row.
Water regularly.Consistent watering can help your chard grow better. Stick to a regular schedule, and apply approximately 1- to 1 ½-inches of water a week if it hasn’t rained. Place a rain gauge in your garden, so you know how much water the plants have received and adjust accordingly.
- Giving chard enough water can also help prevent it from getting a bitter taste.
- Adding an organic mulch around the plants can help them retain moisture so they grow well. Ground bark, compost, straw, or finely ground leaves work well as mulch.
Harvest when the plants are the right size.You can usually tell when chard is ready to be harvested because the leaves are large enough to eat. The plants should be approximately 6- to 8-inches tall, though colored varieties may be taller. Use a sharp knife to cut off the outer leaves that are at least 1 ½-inches off the ground.
- If you’re careful when you harvest the chard, the young, inner leaves will continue grow in place of the outer leaves that you've removed, so a new harvest will be ready in the future.
- To harvest your chard plant all at once, cut the stems 3” above the ground level of the plant. This will enable the leaves to regrow.
- It typically takes anywhere from four to 12 weeks for chard to be ready for harvest.
Rinse thoroughly.Right after you harvest the chard, bring it inside to rinse it in cold water. The water helps cool the leaves, and remove any dirt, insects, or other debris from the surface. Take a moment to examine the chard after rinsing to ensure that the leaves are completely clean. Insects in particular can cling to the underside.
- Place the chard leaves on a piece of power towel after rinsing to soak up any excess water.
Store in refrigerator.The best place to store your chard is in the refrigerator, where it can last for two weeks. Make sure that the leaves are completely dry, and place them inside a ventilated plastic bag. If possible, store them inside the crisper drawer.
- You can also freeze chard if you’re not going to use it right away. Place it in boiling water for two minutes and then immediately into ice water to blanch it. Dry thoroughly, and place in airtight containers or plastic freezer bags for freezing. It can last up to a year in the freezer.
- There are other ways to preserve Swiss chard, including canning.
- Chard is a relatively problem-free plant, but caterpillars, slugs aphids, and mites may chew through the leaves.
- Chard substitutes well for spinach in most recipes.
- Young chard plants don’t compete well with weeds, so be sure to weed your garden regularly with new plantings.
Video: Growing Chard from Sowing to Harvest
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