How to grow Swiss chard in containers & raised beds

We grow Swiss chard more or less year-round as it gives a great harvest with little fuss and is easy to store for later use. Swiss chard, or just chard, is a tasty leafy green vegetable with shallow roots and large, often colourful leaves and stalks.

Chard is sown in heated soil in the spring and then often planted again in summer and fall to be harvested throughout the year. 

Swiss chard is often referred to as a nutritional powerhouse [1] and is full of vitamins and goodness and is especially popular in the Mediterranean region.

A fast cut and regrow leafy vegetable

Swiss chard takes about 45-60 days from starting seeds to harvest and can be found in a variety of colours that will light up any garden. 

We find that the green-leaved varieties yield larger harvests compared to the more eye-catching red-leaved varieties that are more prone to bloom. 

Chard is a great cut and regrow vegetable and will continue to produce new leaves as long as you leave at least 2-3 cm / 1 inch after harvest.

Grow Swiss chard in containers

Chard or Swiss chard, Beta Vulgaris, grows best in full sun or when given at least 5-6 hours of natural sunlight per day. 

Swiss chard develops shallow roots so your choice of container should focus or growing area rather than depth. A container with a depth of 20 cm / 8 inches is sufficient as long as the container itself is stable enough to hold the developing large chard leaves. 

Swiss chard is not too picky about soil quality but you will be rewarded if you use a fertile, loosely structured, well draining soil with plenty of organic matter.

With a development time of 45-60 days you do not have to start seeds indoors. But, pre-cultivating seedlings in seed trays will extend your growing season and maximise your potential harvest.

We find Swiss chard to be one of those vegetables that are great to have on stand-by to fill in gaps in the growing beds after harvest. 

Also, as chard seeds have been known to germinate unevenly, it helps greatly to have seedlings and young plants ready when seeds fail to germinate in containers and grow bags.

Starting seeds indoors

Start seeds in small pots or seed trays about 4-6 weeks before estimated last frost and planned planting. 

Use a well draining potting soil and plant seeds in clean small starter pots, seed trays or containers. 

We strive to use a lean and well draining potting soil mix when we start our seeds in pots and containers. But, we have successfully used regular garden or soil for starting chard indoors. From our experience, larger and more robust seeds like Swiss chard and for example New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides) can be started in regular garden soil. 
Size of Swiss chard seeds compared to common thyme and New Zealand spinach
Swiss chard (top left), New Zealand spinach (top right) vs the more delicate thyme seed

Sow 2-4 seeds in each cell or pot or simply scatter the seeds in your container.

Take care not to place seeds too close together as it will just complicate transplanting at a later stage. 

As the chard seeds are quite large you should find it quite easy to space the seeds in the pot or sell.

Make sure that the soil is kept moist but not wet. If the soil dries out, the seeds will not germinate

Keep soil moist and move pot to a location with good light when seedlings start to grow and develop.

Transplanting seedlings in containers (or outdoors)

You should move your seedlings to containers outdoors when there is no longer any risk of frost. At this stage your seedlings should be about 10-20 cm / 4-8 inches tall. 

When you grow Swiss chard it is important not to overcrowd your containers with seedlings. Place seedlings approximately 15-20 cm / 6-8 inches apart. If your container is larger enough for planting in rows, place rows about 20 cm / 8 inches apart.

Cover solid with a layer of mulch when seedlings are transplanted. The mulch will help the soil to retain moisture and prevent contact between leaves and any soil based diseases and pathogens. 

Water thoroughly when seedlings are transplanted and make sure not to wet the leaves.

You can of course also grow Swiss chard directly in the ground outdoors. For best results, wait for the soil temperature to reach 10 degrees Celsius / 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Sow seeds 1-2 cm (0,4 - 0,8 inches) deep with a spacing of about 15 cm / 6 inches between seeds. Place rows about 20 cm / 8 inches apart. Cover seeds gently and then cover with a layer of mulch before watering thoroughly.

How to care for chard in containers

Water thoroughly right from the start and then continue throughout the season. Chard responds well to regular watering habits and you should try to establish a pattern. 

Chard is somewhat cold hardy but if you have cold early spring or summer mornings where you live, you should cover your plants with a protective cloth.

The cloth will not only protect the chard from the cold but will also drive the growth of the plant. We use clear plastic sheets and there is a very noticeable greenhouse effect in early spring. 

When plants reach about 15 cm / 6 inches you can thin your plants if needed. Aim for a  distance of 10-20 cm / 4-8 inches between the plants. Any leaves that are thinned out are great to use for fresh salads.

Chard is a great cut and regrow vegetable as long as you leave 2-3 cm / 1 inch after harvest and remember to add nutrients. If you are planning to harvest your chard continuously you will need to improve your soil. Choose to mulch with nitrogen rich fresh grass clippings or add nettle water or an organic fertiliser. 

Growing chard over winter

You can grow Swiss chard late fall to overwinter and produce an early spring harvest where we live and grow (zone 7).

But do make sure to plant late in the fall as you do not want the seeds to sprout during a spell of hot days in November. Yes, it has happened.

Now, you may feel that this will not work for you in your zone. And maybe you are right. But there are things you can do to “hack” your grow zone.

Use raised garden beds and wrap them in paper, plastic or bubble wrap. Add a thick layer of mulch and then cover your grow bed with a plastic cover. 

You only have a few seeds to lose and a really fun habit of zone hacking to discover. 

Pests and diseases

Chard is not immune to pests and diseases and can among other things be attacked by aphids, snails, beetles and worms.

But truth to be told, we have had a lot less problems with pests and diseases on chard and other leafy greens since we started mulching our containers, grow bags and garden beds with hay or straw.

We also adhere to a version of crop rotation where we avoid growing the same plant in the same location year after year. 

Needless to say, this is less of a factor when growing chard in containers and grow bags. Still, as we reuse and improve our soil every year we make sure to avoid using the same – albeit improved – soil for our chard plants year after year. 

Shifting the soil and location basically avoids the soil becoming tired and thereby more susceptible to diseases. 

How to grow Swiss chard and be self-sufficient 

Chard is somewhat cold hardy and can with little effort be grown continuously throughout the season. This also makes it possible to grow Swiss chard to be self-sufficient in this healthy leafy green.

You can do this in many different ways. For example, start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the planned last frost. This way you will have an earlier harvest for both fresh consumption and to freeze and save for the winter. 

Schedule spring sowing with summer harvest as well as autumn and winter sowing with spring harvest. When you grow leafy greens in grow bags or containers your plants are mobile to be moved for best possible growing conditions.

Learn how to make a grow bag for shallow root leafy greens in our instructional tutorial “Make grow bags for lettuce and shallow root leafy greens

Always have seed trays with seedlings and small plants ready to be planted out when other vegetables are harvested. Maximise your growing area at any given time. 

Chard is also ideal to grow between slower-growing vegetables to help maximise the yield of your growing area. When the chard leaves are harvested, the main crop can spread out.

And remember to mix it up and grow different varieties as the leaves have different characteristics and tastes. 

Harvesting chard 

We harvest our chard plants in 3 different ways.

1. Harvest while thinning plants

Harvest the early small seedling leaves by removing whole seedlings that are growing too densely. Thinning gives the plants that are left room to spread out and develop while giving you a tasty treat for your next salad.. 

2. Harvest continuously

Chard will regrow and produce new leaves if the plant is allowed to remain in place after harvest. Cut the plant 2-3 cm / 1 inch from the ground or simply break off the outer leaves until only the smaller core remains. Water and cover the soil surrounding the harvested plants with grass clippings and you will find that the plants will start to grow again.

3. Final harvest at end of life cycle

Cut and regrow will have a diminishing rate of return and over time the plant will want to bloom. And this is when you should harvest your chard plant one final time.

Cut the plant level with the soil and choose to leave the root system to break down naturally or remove if you are planning to plant new plants.

How to store and preserve chard

It is not difficult to store and preserve chard. We primarily freeze out chard leaves but they can also be dried. 

Before you freeze your chard leaves you need to blanch them. 

  1. Remove any woody looking stalks from your harvested chard leaves. Tender stalks should of course be left alone.
  2. Place leaves in lightly salted water brought up to a rolling boil (simmering)
  3. Boil leaves for 3-5 minutes
  4. Place leaves in a colander and rinse under cold water
  5. Dry leaves to remove any excess water 

Now you simply place the leaves in a freezer bag and put them in your freezer. We pack the leaves flat and put approximately 200 grams / 7 oz in each plastic bag.

To dry your chard leaves, preheat the oven to 50 degrees Celsius / 122 degrees Fahrenheit and place the leaves in a single layer on an oven sheet – but leave the oven door ajar. Check the leaves every couple of minutes so they don’t burn and crumble. Store dry and dark.

How to use Swiss chard

Chard can be used in so many different ways that it is truly only your imagination that sets the limits.

For us, our favourites include pasta sauces, lasagna, smoothies and power drinks as well as eating the leaves fresh in salads or chopped in salsa mixes.

Swiss chard offers amazing flavours and textures and will reward you with large harvests with very little effort. 

[1] https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/swiss-chard-9-healthy-facts

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants and garden vegetables. For the past two years he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.