Chard for Your Winter Garden

With colors as brilliant as a Southwest sunset, chard is a beautiful plant for any garden.

Grow this “Vulgar” Plant for Leaves

Sadly, chard’s scientific name is not so beautiful. Chard goes by the scientific name Beta vulgaris – the “vulgar” indicating it is only a commoner and not noble at all, it’s just a “common beet.” Also called Swiss chard, this beet relative is not grown for the roots. It has been bred for centuries to produce colorful and tasty stems and leaves.

Chard leaves are good in salads, for cooking, or even pickling! Or if you don’t eat it, chard is so pretty that it doesn’t have to a vegetable – it can be a pretty foliage plant. That said, if you’re short on space, grow this lovely vegetable in the perennial flower garden. It will look right at home.

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Bright Lights chard, the 1998 All America Selections winner. There are newer varieties available, but this is just so dang pretty! Photo courtesy of All-AmericaSelections.org.

When and Where to Plant Chard

Chard grows best in cool temperatures, so this month up to about mid-March is fine to plant chard in all but the freezing areas of the Southwest.  In freezing areas, wait until soils are 65F.

Soil for chard should be good garden soil. Rich, well-drained acidic soil is best, with ample compost and pH of 6.0 to 7.0.

This sun lover needs at least 6 hours of winter sun a day. Partial shade is okay but plants may be wimpy and prone to health issues.

How to Plant Chard

Sow seeds directly out into the garden, one seed every 2 inches, ½ inch deep (thin them to proper spacing later). You can soak seeds overnight before planting. Plant transplants at least 8 inches apart. Chard plants can get fairly large, so some gardeners prefer block planting as is done with lettuce.

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Chard is easily grown from seedlings you can buy at the nursery.

How to Grow Chard

Keep chard evenly moist. For best production, fertilize with a balanced fertilizer every two to four weeks during the non-freezing months.

As for pest control, use insecticidal soap to take care of any aphids that might appear. Leaf miners are inside the leaves, and thus the only recourse is to cut and entirely discard any infested leaves.

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Too much chard? You can blanch and freeze the leaves just like spinach.

When and How to Harvest

You can start harvesting leaves of chard as soon as the plant has at least four or five leaves. Take the outermost leaves first, and allow the inner leaves to grow and provide sugars for the pant. Use a sharp knife, scissors, or hand pruners to cut the leaf stalks at the soil level.

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vegetables-soule-growMore onions and vegetable gardening in this book Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press).  This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.

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