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Swiss Chard Seed Starting Tips

Seedling Swiss Chard 1
Swiss chard seedlings
Swiss seedlings; the variety is ‘Bright Lights’

Chard–also called Swiss chard–grows best in the cool weather of spring and fall but tolerates warm and hot weather as well. If you plan to grow chard into the summer, choose a heat-tolerant variety.

Chard tolerates the light frosts of spring and the moderate frosts of autumn. If you want to grow chard for harvest in winter, plant it under the cover of a plastic hoop tunnel or cold frame.

Chard matures in 50 to 60 days depending on the variety.

Swiss chard seed is viable for 4 years.

Chard Sowing and Planting Tips

  • Chard can be grown from seeds or transplants.
  • Direct-sow chard seeds in the garden 5 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost; chard can be started indoors or in a plastic tunnel or cold frame 10 to 8 weeks before the last frost in spring.
  • Soak seeds overnight before sowing to hasten germination.
  • Seed germinates in 5 to 7 days at or near 60°F to 65°F (16-18°C)—but sometimes seed can take up to 3 weeks to germinate if the soil is cold. Germination will not occur in soil chillier than 50°F (10°C).
  • Keep the soil evenly moist until seeds germinate.
  • Sow seed ⅓ to ½ inch (13mm) deep.
  • Sow seeds 1 inch (2.5cm) apart; later thin seedlings to 6 inches (15cm) apart; use the thinnings in salads.
  • Space plants 8 to 10 inches (20-25 cm) apart in a staggered pattern or in rows 18 to 24 inches apart.
  • Chard grows best in full sun but can tolerate light shade.
  • Chard prefers a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
  • Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of sowing; compost will feed the soil and aide moisture retention.
  • Chard grows best when daytime temperatures are in the 60s°F but can tolerate much warmer temperatures.
  • Keep the soil moist until seedlings are well established; once plants are established mulch with straw to keep the roots cool and moist.
  • Chard can tolerate light frosts in the spring and moderate freezes in the fall.
  • Avoid planting chard where beets, spinach, or orach has recently grown. Plant chard where beans have just grown if you can.
  • Fertilize with an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion at half strength.
  • Aphids and leaf miners can attack chard.
  • Cut plants back to about 3 inches (7 cm) above the soil in late summer; the plant will produce new leaves for autumn harvest.

Interplanting: Interplant chard with carrots, radishes, strawberries.

Container Growing Chard: Choose a container at least 6-12 inches (15-20 cm) wide and tall.

Chard Planting Calendar

  • 12-10 weeks before the last frost in spring: sow seed in a plastic tunnel or cold frame.
  • 5-3 weeks before the last frost in spring: direct-sow seed in the garden; minimum soil temperature is 40°F.

For Fall and Winter Harvest:

  • 12-10 weeks before the first frost in fall: direct-sow in the garden for fall harvest.
  • 8-6 weeks before the first frost in fall: direct sow in a plastic tunnel or cold frame for winter harvest.
Swiss chard plants
Swiss chard
  • ‘Argentata’ is flavorful with crisp leaves.
  • ‘Bright Lights’ is delicious eating, the leaves have vivid reds and yellows.
  • ‘Bright Yellow’ has lemon yellow stems and dark green leaves, delicious.
  • ‘Charlotte’ has cherry-red stalks, and savoy, dark green leaves.
  • ‘Fordhook Giant’ is a good grower with dark leaves and white ribs.
  • ‘Rainbow’ has leaves of vivid reds and yellows.
  • ‘Rhubarb’ has red ribs.

Botanical Name: Beta vulgaris var. cicla

Chard belongs to the Chenopodiaceae family, other members include beets, spinach, quinoa, and sugar beets.

More tips: How to Grow Chard.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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    • Harvest to Table is Steve Albert’s personal gardening blog. He’s been gardening for 50 years and was a landscape architecture instructor and Master Gardener at the University of California for 25 years. This link may be of interest: steves story
      Please send us the link to your gardening blog and we will share it with our readers. Thanks for reading Harvest to Table and Happy Gardening!

    • Spinach and Swiss chard and other greens often draw the same plant nutrients from the soil. If you amend the soil with aged compost or commercial organic planting mix, the crops can be planted in succession.

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