How to Grow Swiss Chard for Fall Harvests

As midsummer hits its stride with long, hot days, the production of leafy greens often slows or stops as plants bolt and prepare to set seed.

But you can extend the season for fresh, crisp greens with a late planting of cool-season favorites like Swiss chard.

A close up vertical image of a fall vegetable garden planted with Swiss chard in a variety of colors. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

Chard comes in a rainbow of brightly hued colors, with a highly attractive ornamental value for the fall garden, as well as outstanding nutrition and kitchen uses.

It’s one of those easy and fast-growing veggies that can deliver multiple harvests per season. Flavors improve with cool nights, and plants can even withstand a light frost – but not a sustained freeze.

Let’s dig into the details on how and when to plant Swiss chard for delicious harvests in the fall.

Swiss Chard Primer

This beautiful, savoyed leafy green is a member of the Amaranthaceae family that’s native to the Mediterranean.

A close relative of the beet, it has foliage with an upright growth habit that develops in a fanning form, and has been bred to emphasize the large edible leaves and stems.

A close up horizontal image of the purple and green foliage of Swiss chard growing in the fall garden, ready for harvest.

The roots are non-bulbous and don’t form an underground storage organ like typical beets.

Also known as leafy beet, perpetual spinach, Roman kale, rhubarb chard, seakale beet, and Sicilian beet, Swiss chard is a biennial that flowers and sets seed in its second year.

Cultivars are vividly colored, with orange, pink, red, yellow, and white stems and veins that contrast with and complement lovely leaves of bronze, green, or purple.

Eaten raw, it has a mild, sweetly earthy flavor with a hint of bitterness that’s quite like spinach. Cooked, the flavor mellows and leaves lose their bitterness.

The immature baby greens add flavor and nutrients to salads and smoothies, and larger leaves are usually enjoyed freshly steamed or added to pasta, rice, soups, and stews. Chard can also be canned, dried, or frozen.

A close up horizontal image of large Swiss chard plants with red stems and deep green leaves growing in the fall garden ready for harvest.

It grows well in both cool and hot temperatures, but prefers the cool evenings of spring and fall, with nighttime temperatures ranging between 60 and 70°F.

Swiss chard is noted for its excellent nutritional value, with high levels of vitamins A, C, and K, plus many antioxidants and minerals.

Plants mature in 50 to 75 days, depending on the cultivar, and frequent snipping encourages new leaf formation.

Timing Your Fall Crop

For a fall harvest, direct sow seeds in beds or containers from mid-July to mid-August, or up until about 50 days before your first autumn frost date, depending on the variety that you select.

A close up vertical image of Swiss chard seedings planted in a raised bed in late summer for a fall harvest, with a white label in the background.
Photo by Lorna Kring.

Ideally, you want plants to mature a couple of weeks before the first frost to avoid damage from an early freeze. Mature plants can withstand a light frost but not a hard freeze.

Succession planting until mid-August can help to extend your harvest, provided freezing temperatures remain at bay.

Growing Tips

Adhere to the following tips for a successful autumn harvest:

  • Chard requires a full sun location, although it will tolerate partial sun.
  • The soil needs to be well-draining and should be enriched with compost or well-rotted manure before sowing. Chard prefers slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0.

A close up of rows of Swiss chard seedlings planted in rich soil in the fall garden.

  • Seeds germinate in soil with temperatures above 50°F, but struggle to sprout if soil temperatures are consistently in the 80s or above.
  • In very hot climates, you can start seeds indoors for planting out when the temperatures cool down.
  • To speed up germination, soak seeds in room temperature water for 24 hours before planting.
  • Sow the seeds one-half inch deep, spacing them two to six inches apart in rows 12 to 18 inches apart for full-size plants. Thin to six inches when plants are six to eight inches tall.
  • For baby greens, sow seeds more densely and cut the young leaves frequently.
  • For an autumn crop, it’s important to provide ample water in the seedling stage, one to two inches per week. Young plants are not drought tolerant and inadequate moisture has a detrimental effect on early growth.
  • To protect tender seedlings from hot sun, and later from early frost, cover crops with a floating row cover or sow in a cold frame.
  • If needed, apply a balanced (10-10-10 NPK), water soluble fertilizer halfway through the growing season.

For full details on cultivation, check out our Swiss chard growing guide.

How and When to Harvest

Cut stems with a sharp knife to about two inches above the soil, taking care not to remove more than half of the stems from each plant at one time.

A close up horizontal image of freshly harvested Swiss chard with bright red stems and green leaves set on a wooden surface in dim lighting.

Chard is recognized as a “cut-and-come-again” crop. That is, the older outer leaves are harvested a few at a time from each plant, while the tender new growth is left in place to grow and harvest later.

This method encourages continuous new growth, but care should be taken not to damage the central terminal bud.

Alternatively, all of the leaves can be harvested at once when mature. Cut all stems to two inches, leaving the base and roots in place – if temperatures stay above freezing, plants often set another light flush of small leaves.

For the best flavor and quality, cut back full-sized plants when they reach 12 to 14 inches – the flavor starts to decline when overgrown.

Fall Cultivars to Select

Crop selection can be made based on color, the shape and texture of leaves, and size, but for fall crops I recommend those with a short growing season of 50 to 55 days. Give one or more of these cultivars a try:

Bright Lights

A 1998 All American Selections winner, ‘Bright Lights’ is a cultivar distinguished by multi-hued stems of gold, orange, pink, purple, red, and white.

A close up square image of the bright stems of 'Bright Lights' Swiss chard growing in the fall garden. To the bottom right of the frame is a white circular logo and text.

‘Bright Lights’

A vigorous and adaptable cultivar, it has a mild flavor similar to spinach. Plants grow 18 to 24 inches tall and can be picked in 20 days for baby greens, or 55 days for full-sized plants.

Open-pollinated seeds in a variety of package sizes are available at True Leaf Market.

Lucullus

With an above-average abundance of light green, mid-sized leaves on white stalks, ‘Lucullus’ is an old-time heirloom favorite with a mild, slightly bitter flavor.

A close up square image of 'Lucullus' Swiss chard with large white stems and dark green leaves growing in the fall garden. To the bottom right of the frame is a white circular logo with text.

‘Lucullus’

Very tolerant of heat and cold, the vigorous plants grow to 18 to 22 inches. Harvest baby greens in 25 days and full-sized plants in 50 days.

Pick up seeds at True Leaf Market.

Orange

Perfect for the autumn garden, ‘Orange’ features bright orange stalks and veins with rich, deep green leaves that have a crumpled texture and a mild, earthy flavor.

A close up square image of freshly harvested Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris 'Orange' on a white background. To the bottom right of the frame is a black circular logo and text.

‘Orange’

Adaptable and hearty, the mid-sized plants grow eight to 14 inches. Tender greens can be cut in 25 days, or harvest full-sized plants in 55 days.

Seeds in a variety of package sizes are available at True Leaf Market.

Perpetual Spinach

An heirloom variety with lightly rumpled leaves and white stems, ‘Perpetual Spinach’ is a rewarding plant that increases production the more it’s cut.

A close up square image of Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris 'Perpetual Spinach' with carrots set on a kitchen counter.

‘Perpetual Spinach’

With a delicious spinach-like flavor, as the name suggests, and excellent cold hardiness, the compact plants grow eight to 10-inch stalks and have mid-sized ovate leaves.

Harvest tender salad greens in 25 days, or wait 50 days for plants to mature.

Seeds are available at Eden Brothers.

Red Magic

With vibrant cranberry red stems topped with deep green to maroon leaves, ‘Red Magic’ casts a bewitching spell.

A close up square image of 'Red Magic' Swiss chard growing in the fall garden, with bright red stems and dark green leaves.

‘Red Magic’

The savoyed leaves of this hybrid are flavorful and fast growing, on plants that reach 12 to 18 inches in height. Harvest tender salad greens in 25 days or mature plants in 55 days.

Seed packets are available at Burpee.

Ruby Red

Aptly named, ‘Ruby Red’ has glorious red stems and veins that add eye-catching appeal to the deep green and highly savoyed leaves.

A close up square image of the bright red stems and dark green foliage of 'Ruby Red' Swiss chard freshly harvested and set on a wooden surface. To the bottom right of the frame is a white circular logo with text.

‘Ruby Red’

Prolific plants, this heirloom can grow up to 22 inches tall. The leaves are excellent in salads and smoothies, or they may be enjoyed steamed.

Harvest baby greens after 25 days, or expect a growing time of 55 days for full-sized plants.

Seeds are available at True Leaf Market.

Yellow

Flavorful and pretty as an ornamental, ‘Yellow’ starts out with orange stalks that change to bright yellow as they mature, topped with highly savoyed, dark green leaves.

A close up square image of 'Orange' Swiss chard growing in the fall garden. To the bottom right of the frame is a white circular logo and text.

‘Yellow’

The mid-sized leaves grow on stems of eight to 14 inches. Young leaves can be harvested in 25 days, or expect 55 days for mature plants.

You can purchase seeds at True Leaf Market.

One Cool Crop

With fantastic rumpled leaves, flavorful nutrition, and heat and cold tolerance, Swiss chard is one cool crop for the autumn garden!

A close up horizontal image of Swiss chard growing in the late fall garden covered with light frost on the dark green leaves and colorful stems.

A great choice for late season greens, you’ll love how quickly it grows in response to the crisp evenings of early fall – and the colors are outstanding.

Plant seeds in succession for a steady harvest, and remember to water seedlings generously. After that, just pick regularly, and enjoy!

Do you folks like to plant fall crops like Swiss chard? Drop us a note in the comments and tell us about your favorite varieties.

And for more information about growing Swiss chard, check out these guides next:

Photo by Lorna Kring © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Burpee, Eden Brothers, and True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

About Lorna Kring

A writer, artist, and entrepreneur, Lorna is also a long-time gardener who got hooked on organic and natural gardening methods at an early age. These days, her vegetable garden is smaller to make room for decorative landscapes filled with color, fragrance, art, and hidden treasures. Cultivating and designing the ideal garden spot is one of her favorite activities – especially for gathering with family and friends for good times and good food (straight from the garden, of course)!

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Henry Earwig
Henry Earwig (@guest_9460)
3 months ago

Is there any advantage to replanting for fall if one has good chard (Bright Lights) already growing?

H
H (@guest_9494)
3 months ago

Sounds good; I will use the space for overwintering carrots instead! Thanks.