Grow Chard in the Southwest

Chard is beautiful in any garden.  With colors as brilliant as a Southwest sunset, why not plant some of this cool-season beauty.   Sadly, it’s “official” name is not so beautiful.

Grow this “Vulgar” Plant for Leaves

Chard goes by the scientific name Beta vulgaris – the “vulgar” indicating it is only a commoner and not noble at all.    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.

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Kale, chard, chard, kale, arugula. Some of the winter yummies in my garden.

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.

How to Plant Chard

When

Chard grows best in cool temperatures, so November up to about mid-March is fine to plant chard in all Low, Middle, and High Desert areas (Upper Elevations & Mountains have to wait to plant).  More about growing cool season vegetables in the Southwest – I covered earlier.  For a list of which cool season vegetables to grow – it is under Resources.

gardening-with-soule-growing-chard
some people grow lots of chard and then blanch and freeze it. It’s kinda like spinach that way. Photo courtesy of Renee’s Garden Seeds.

Soil

Chard likes rich garden soil. “Rich” means ample organic matter in the soil. You get this with ample compost turned into the soil and mixed well. Well-drained acidic soil is best, so maybe add some sand too. The pH range should be 6.0 to 7.0.

Light

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.

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Seeds

Sow seeds directly out into the garden, one seed every 2 inches. They are big seeds so this is easy. Plant them 1 /2 inch deep.    You can soak seeds overnight before planting.
Thin. Thin your sprouted chard once it has 4 or more leaves. Best to simply snip the entire plant off – right across the middle. I use scissors. Add the trimmings to the salad bowl.

You could yank out the excess plants to thin the patch – I have much better success with survivors using the scissor method. Less root disturbance. Makes sense. I also snip off weeds growing next to my veggies rather than yanking.

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Plant Seedlings

Buying seedlings from the nursery? Plant these “transplants” at least 8 inches apart.    They also look beautiful in a big pot on the patio. Warning – javelina will tip the pot over and eat these green goodies, so these need to be on a private patio.

How to Water Chard

Keep chard “evenly moist” when young – meaning keep the soil moist but not soaking wet.  Once it gets older and has deeper roots, let the top 1 inch of soil dry between watering.  If we have a windy spring (March often “comes in like a lion”) be sure to monitor the water for all your plants.

Fertilizer

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

gardening-with-soule-growing-chard
Chard is usually pest free, but at the end of the growing season, when it becomes stressed by the heat, it may get aphids.

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.

When and How to Harvest Chard

You can start harvesting leaves of chard as soon as the plant has at least four or five large, fully grown leaves.    Take the outermost leaves first, and allow the inner leaves to grow and provide sugars for the plant.    Use a sharp knife, scissors, or hand pruners to cut the leaf stalks at the soil level. Just cut the leaves tho – don’t cut across the middle of the plant.

Enjoy!

Need Southwest Vegetable Garden Help?

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From the review:

In this updated 2nd edition of Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening, you’ll find much-needed advice and practical tips on growing an edible garden, no matter which part of the southwestern US you call home.

Growing in the Southwest isn’t easy. It’s either too hot or too cold and often very dry. The region hosts a range of soils and climate conditions that can be difficult for a gardener to navigate. That’s why this region-specific garden guide is a must-have for every Southwestern gardener!

Botanist Dr. Jacqueline Soule simplifies the ins and outs of gardening in the Southwest and serves as your guide to success. Regardless of whether you’re tending an in-ground plot, a small container garden, or a series of raised beds, Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening is an invaluable resource.”

Profits from the sale of this book go to the Arizona-based Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.

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