Scientific: Beta vulgaria var. cicla
Common: Swiss chard, leaf beet
Family: Chenopodiaceae
Origin: Around the Mediterranean Sea, West Asia and Northern Europe. Cultivation for edible leaf and root first recorded around 400 B.C.

Pronounciation: BAY-ta vul-GAR-is variety SIC-la

Hardiness zones
Sunset
All zones, seasonal cultivation depends on climate.
USDA All zones, seasonal cultivation depends on climate.

Landscape Use: Edible vegetable gardens, edible herbaceous mixed border planting, entry way plantings, landscape gardens, mass color.

Form & Character: Herbaceous annual or short lived perennial depending on growing location, leafy, upright, colorful, brittle and crinkly, spreading, fertile.

Growth Habit: Large lustrous leaves, elongated, emerging from short stems at near ground level are upright. Mature plants to 2 feet tall.

Foliage/Texture: Crinkly, often colorful, large entire leaves, 1 to 2 feet long with signifacnt flattened, angular and relatively broad petiole, petiole often colored white, orange or red. Swiss chard leaves look like 'spinach leaves on steroids'; coarse texture.

Flowers & Fruits: Insignificant ornamental green flowers clustered on tall spikes; fruits are small, brown, roughened and dry. Fruit produce seed that will germinate in moist garden condition in fall.

Seasonal Color: Colorful leaves during Phoenix cool season (November to March).

Temperature: Intolerant of air temperatures above 105oF, thrives during Phoenix winters.

Light: Full sun

Soil: Well-drained moist and fertile garden soil with a high organic matter content is best. Applications of an organic fertilizer during fall and winter will greatly encourage leafy, succulent growth during winter.

Watering: Provide regular water to maintain vigor.

Pruning: Remove recently mature young leaves plus petiole stalks at stem base for food. Remove older leaves to enance plant appearance and vigor. Allow swiss chard plants to produce flower and seed heads during spring and early summer.

Propagation: Very easy to propagate by seed. Plants are self fertile. If your garden plants are allowed to set seed in late spring (in Phoenix that means it's aleady over 100oF during the day), then you can either collect and store the seed for the following fall, or allow the seed to fall to the ground and they will germinate in place during the next fall.

Disease and pests: Curly top virus and nematodes can be problematic. Insects are generally not a problem, but aphids, leafminers, cabbage worm, flea beetles have been rarely reported as pests.

Additional comments: Swiss chard was first offered to U.S. gardeners from Europe in 1857. Today, its a definite must for any Phoenix landscape edible garden. Swiss chard once established will reseed itself yearly if allowed to flower and fruit in late spring and summer. As such, it will maintain a "colony" like structure and appearance in one's garden. There are many varietal selections each having different secondary pigments (different colors) in the leaf blades and petioles.

Chard leaves are good to harvest for cooking from November to March. Harvest the entire leaf, both blade and colorful leaf stalk. As a leafy green vegetable, swiss chard is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and magnesium. Leaves (including elongated and colorful petioles) are a wonderful side dish when cooked in olive oil or steamed. Best to harvest leaves for food from January to March in Phoenix; leaves are very tasty then. In warmer weather chard leaves become bitter tasting. Here's one Swiss chard recipe. Swiss chard extracts have been shown to reduce blood glucose levels by regeneration of the B cells (Journal of Ethnopharmacology 73:251-259). Swiss chard has also been shown to reverse effects of diabetes by helping to normalize blood glucose and tissue lipid peroxidation and glutathione levels (Journal of Medicinal Food 5:37-42).