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Chard and Leaf Beet

Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris

Leaf beet – Cicia Group

Chard – Flavescens Group

The word ‘chard’ derives from the French ‘carde’, itself a derivative of cardoon, the taller version of globe artichokes. Cardoon and artichoke are in the thistle family, but there is no relationship to chard! Nor is there any ancestry of ‘Swiss chard’ in Switzerland, since its origins are coastal, from sea beet.

Chard and leaf beet are in the same subfamily as beetroot, of Betoideae. Their colloquial names can be confusing, such as ‘perpetual spinach’ for leaf beet, which bears a small resemblance to spinach. They are biennial plants, not perennial. And ‘spinach beet’ is half accurate because the flavour is less sweet than spinach, less tasty raw, and the stalks are more substantial and fibrous.

  • At Homeacres I grow almost entirely chard, rather than leaf beet. My customers love the colour of the rainbow chard stalks, and the leaves’ glossiness.
  • Chard’s main harvest season, summer to late autumn, very nicely complements the season of true spinach, which harvests from autumn to late spring. See Lesson 26 on spinach in Course 3B for more on this.
  • In this lesson, I only use the word chard, as being synonymous with leaf beet. To grow leaf beet you follow these same methods of sowing, transplanting and harvest. The main difference is that leaf beet, or ‘perpetual spinach’, has green stalks.

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest: 50–60
Vibrant chard plants in July, six weeks into cropping and three months from sowing
Drone view on 22nd July – in the middle you can see two different plantings of chard, with green chard at the bottom and the darker leaves of the recent planting above; transplants are not yet established
Late November – an autumn frost on the rainbow chard; the leaves are now a lot smaller with dark days and after five months of cropping

Why grow them

Two very strong points are the longevity of production and the weight of harvest. I’m always amazed at how much chard we harvest from not a huge area, and over such a long period.

The flavour is not as amazing as spinach, in my view. There is a metallic edge, perhaps from the high iron content. You can eat chard raw as well as cooked.

In 2007, at the behest of the RHS, I provided the leaves for a tasting of salads with Raymond Blanc at his Oxfordshire hotel. When we got to tasting the raw chard he was unimpressed, and spat out the words ‘Zat is chard!’ Cooking it is worthwhile.

Suitable for containers/shade?

Chard can grow in the shade and is very suitable for containers, as you can see from the photos below. They were a winter season extension, using the main root of a few chard plants in late autumn, which I dug out before frosts were too severe.

The root system is large so you need a container of decent size, filled with any compost – in the photos below I used homemade, for these old roots.

  • One new planting in late spring can give you food over many months from the same container. If the compost is nutritious – pure compost and no vermiculite or peat – you should not need to feed much, if at all.
Ruby chard, dug from the garden before a heavy frost and potted on
21st January – the same ruby chard after six weeks on a windowsill
The same day, looking a lot trimmer after picking

A chard root grown in soil last year – now thriving in a pot in mid-March
21st January – a freshly picked chard plant looking vibrant on the windowsill
At the end of March, this chard plant has now been in the pot for four months


The main variation between varieties is stalk colour. Often growth and flavour are quite similar, but you have a very different looking plant and harvest.

A common white chard is Fordhook Giant. White chard gives the largest harvest because white and green leaves photosynthesise more rapidly than those with some red colour.

Lucullus is a green chard, bred for dry conditions in Australia and resistant to bolting in extreme heat. The stalks are pale green and less fat than most chards – this variety is the closest to true spinach. Erbette is similar, with a paler green colour.

An array of rainbow chard colours
Harvests of white chard from the trial beds – 630 g/1.4 lb in each hand
Yellow chard plants in August, after ten weeks of picking – notice how clean the stems and roots are, from careful picking

Rainbow chard, or Bright Lights, is not a variety, but a selection by seed suppliers of several varieties of different colours.

Names of chard usually describe the stalk colour, for example, Ruby chard, Yellow chard, Red chard.

Some selections of rainbow chard grow gorgeous stalk colours, from crimson to orange to pink. In this regard, I have particularly enjoyed the chard from Bingenheimer seeds in Germany.

sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems


The roots of chard are like thin, long and fibrous beetroot. The main part of them is below ground level and needs removing once you see flower stems in the second spring. Beyond that stage of maturity they would, if left in the ground, continue to grow flowering stems rather than leaf stalks.

Sometimes to clear you can twist them out, if there is enough main root above ground that you can get your hands around it. Otherwise use a sharp trowel, and cut deep enough into the main stem – say 10 cm/4 in – that it does not grow again.

October – this chard is four months old and is already showing its ‘beet’ roots
Late March – these roots have suffered frost damage, after experiencing -7° C/19 °F earlier in the month; note that the roots are upside down – the damage is at the bottom of the photo!
Mid-November – growth has now slowed down; these plants have just been harvested of cooking leaves, and I had spread compost for the following year between the chard which normally continues until spring, thanks to our mild winters

Follow with

Chard finishes mostly in early to mid-spring, so you have a blank canvas for almost any planting in the following year.

You can speed up ground preparation for any following vegetables by mulching before spring.

  • Spread 2–3 cm/1 in of compost between and around chard plants during late autumn or winter, once their leaves are small enough to allow space for applying the compost. Chard continues to crop until spring, then you can remove plants, rake level and your bed is ready for new plantings throughout the coming year.