Knowing when to harvest Swiss chard is important if you want the tastiest leaves and to avoid over-stressing the plant.
Swiss chard makes such a wonderful addition to your vegetable garden ideas, and is a generous yielder – with careful harvesting, the plants can keep going for many months. It’s also a highly ornamental crop, adding color and interest to your veg plot.
‘Whether you call it leaf beet, seakale beet, spinach beet, or Swiss chard, you can't deny the appeal of this delicious and attractive vegetable,’ says Kelly Funk, president of Park Seed (opens in new tab). ‘With white, yellow, or red leafstalks, Swiss chard brings vivid color to the garden and tangy flavors to the table.
‘Some say if you like spinach, you'll adore chard: they're in the same family, along with beets. It tastes mild yet earthy and sweet, with faint undercurrents of bitterness.’
To add to its benefits, Swiss chard is one of the easiest vegetables to grow, is heat and frost tolerant, and a fantastic source of vitamins. Good varieties to grow include Bright Lights, Ruby and El Dorado.
When to harvest Swiss chard – expert guide
‘Knowing when to harvest Swiss chard depends on whether you want baby leaves – which are more tender and flavorful – or mature leaves, which are bigger and have a stronger flavor,’ says Gail Pabst, expert horticulturist at All-America Selections (opens in new tab) and the National Garden Bureau (opens in new tab).
‘For baby leaves, you should be able to start harvesting around 28-35 days from sowing seed; for mature leaves it is likely to be around 49-60 days.’
Many gardeners find they can start picking in mid spring, and keep harvesting these kitchen garden ideas through fall.
When deciding whether you’d prefer to harvest young or mature leaves, think about how you intend to use it in the kitchen.
‘If you like small, tender leaves for a fresh spring mix of leafy greens, cut them when young. If you prefer large leaves with colorful, crunchy ribs for sautéing, let the plant grow until the leaves are the size you desire,’ says Michele Chambliss, horticulturist at Perennial Garden Consultants (opens in new tab).
Bear in mind that chard’s flavor gets stronger when the leaves are more mature, and the leaf’s stem can become stringy, so you may wish to remove this part.
How do you know when Swiss chard is ready to harvest?
Swiss chard is ready to harvest as soon as the leaves are large enough to eat. However, if you take too many leaves while the plant is young, then you will limit its lifespan.
‘If you want to harvest baby leaves, wait until the leaves are about 4 inches long. At this stage, the plant will be about 12 inches tall and have at least 10 leaves,’ says Lindsey Hall, horticulturist for Positive Bloom (opens in new tab).
‘Harvest a couple of leaves (no more than a third of all leaves) to encourage the plant to produce more.’
Try to maximize your Swiss chard harvest before the plant bolts and goes to seed during the summer, as the leaves will taste more bitter at this stage.
How do you pick chard so it keeps growing?
‘To pick chard so it keeps growing, cut off the outer leaves 1.5 to 2 inches (4-5cm) above the ground while they are young and tender – about 8 to 12 inches (20-31cm) long. Older leaves can be stripped off the plants and discarded to allow the young leaves to continue to grow,’ says Funk.
She adds that the trick to keeping your plants going is to begin harvesting the oldest leaves while they are still fairly young.
'But there will come a time when your Swiss chards are exhausted from the effort of continually regrowing – usually after a few months.’
Will Swiss chard grow back after cutting?
As well as knowing when to harvest Swiss chard, you need to learn how to harvest it correctly so that it will grow back after cutting.
'To keep Swiss chard growing, clip mature leaves individually, and leave the plants about an inch above the soil line to allow regrowth,' says Pabst.
'You must make sure to cut above the basal plate. Multiple harvests are possible because the plants will grow new stems and leaves.'
To give your plants extra encouragement, you can fertilize them after harvesting. 'Use a water-soluble fertilizer that's a little higher in nitrogen (the first number in the N-P-K). Within a couple of weeks, Swiss chard can be harvested again,' says Chamblis.
'During the warm summer months, morning harvest is best to keep Swiss chard leaves from wilting.’
As editor of Period Living, Britain's best-selling period homes magazine, Melanie loves the charm of older properties. I live in a rural village just outside the Cotswolds in England, so am lucky to be surrounded by beautiful homes and countryside, where I enjoy exploring. Having worked in the industry for almost two decades, Melanie is interested in all aspects of homes and gardens. Her previous roles include working on Real Homes and Homebuilding & Renovating, and she has also contributed to Gardening Etc. She has an English degree and has also studied interior design. Melanie frequently writes for Homes & Gardens about property restoration and gardening.
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