Do You Need To Thin Swiss Chard?

As a member of the beet family, Swiss chard likes cooler temperatures and is a biennial plant whose life cycle resembles that of kale. You can plant seeds right in your garden or start them indoors before transplanting young plants. However, these leafy greens tend to grow large, so do you need to thin them?

You do need to thin Swiss chard. Thinning will allow the remaining chard plants to flourish, grow larger leaves, and get more nourishment from the soil, water, and fertilizer you use. When fewer plants compete for resources, they grow better.

You’ll need to keep up with the plant once it’s in the ground. Swiss chard isn’t a high-maintenance plant, but it isn’t exactly a set-it-and-forget-it one. The rest of this article will look at if, when, and how you should thin Swiss chard. I’ll also discuss the best way to plant Swiss chard for optimal growth, and how to harvest it.

When You Should Thin Swiss Chard

Although thinning Swiss chard isn’t absolutely necessary, there are several benefits. One benefit, which is arguably the best, is that the remaining chard plants will be healthier and grow larger leaves.

Thinning is also ideal when some of the chard plants aren’t measuring up to others, but it’s essential to know when it’s best to thin these plants.

We’ve all had plants start to bolt— that period they enter when they stop putting energy into growing leaves and divert it to reproduction. When chard plants bolt, they need to come out of the ground. 

Of course, if you want chard seeds, the bolting plant will give them to you. However, if you’re going for yield, the bolting plants will be of little use to you, so it’s best to get them up. Some gardeners among us plant their seeds close together, then as the seedlings emerge, they remove the lesser ones. 

This method works well, but you must ensure you don’t thin too early. To know when it’s time, you’ll need to know something about the anatomy of the plant, especially the seedling.

Cotyledons and Leaves

I’ve referred to chard seeds more than once, but it’s worth noting that they’re more accurately described as seed clumps. When those seed clumps begin to germinate, they send up multiple seedlings, which is why thinning is perhaps a bit more important when growing Swiss chard than some other veggies.

The first stage of germination produces cotyledons, thin leaves that don’t look anything like the Swiss chard leaves you plan to eat later in the season. Again, since you’ve planted a clump of seeds, you’ll have multiple cotyledons springing up in close proximity to each other.

After the cotyledons emerge, you’ll begin seeing the first leaves sprouting. When this occurs, it’s getting close to thinning time. Wait until the second set of leaves begins growing and then start thinning.

How To Thin Swiss Chard

While the idea of thinning may remind you of weeding your garden, it’s not the same. When you pull weeds, you want to get them out by the roots as often as possible so you don’t have to keep weeding ad nauseum

But pulling your chard up by the roots will harm the remaining plants. Remember that your cluster of chard has sprouted from a bundle of seeds, so the roots will be intertwined with each other.

The healthiest thing you can do is cut the plants out rather than grabbing and pulling them up from the dirt. However, you’ll need to be careful since they’re close together. Your garden shears will probably be a bit too big and clumsy for the job.

Instead, invest in small clippers— finger scissors or something similar— that allow you to get in close and cause little collateral damage. These handheld clippers are usually only four inches (10.16 cm) long and open less than an inch (2.54 cm) wide. You’ll be able to get in close and only clip what you want.

Snip the seedlings you don’t want right at the soil line. Without leaves to gather sunlight, the seeds won’t keep generating more seedlings, and the remaining plants will have more breaking room.

Once the remaining seedlings reach about five inches (12.7 cm) tall, you’ll want to thin them again. Ideally, you want your final set of Swiss chard plants to be about eight inches (20.3 cm) apart. 

When you do your initial thinning, those tiny leaves have little value to you outside of becoming part of your compost. But when you do that second thinning— once the plants have reached that five-inch (12.7-cm) limit— you’ll have perfectly edible chard, so don’t just throw those clippings out. 

They can augment a salad, and eating things you’ve grown yourself is always nice. Eating what you can from your garden is always a good idea, and compost the rest.

To Thin or Not To Thin

We’ve touched on chard’s willingness to grow in tight quarters, but how you plan to use your chard in the kitchen may help you decide if you want to thin it.

Smaller leaves borne of tightly spaced chard won’t taste any different from chard leaves from plants with feet of space for them to grow into.

However, if you’ve ever cooked spinach, you know how it can cook down very small compared to the volume of the leaves before they get cooked. Chard behaves the same way. 

If you plan to eat your chard raw (such as in a salad), smaller leaves will be fine, and thinning isn’t quite as crucial to your chard plant. But thinning may be a better option if your plans include cooking the chard you harvest, as you’ll get larger leaves. The smaller ones, when cooked, will be really, really small.

How To Plant Swiss Chard

We’ve all planted things in our garden that need space. At least once, most of us have planted things too close together and gotten less than stellar results.

While you should space your chard plants eight or more inches (20.3 cm) apart, they won’t constitute a failed crop if you get them too close together. 

Their leaves won’t grow quite as big as they would with more space, but you’ll still have viable plants. That fact makes chard a good choice for smaller areas, like urban or rooftop gardens. 

If you’re planting in big rows in your multi-acre backyard, you have lots of room, and your chard will have big leaves. But in smaller spaces— say, in something like a raised garden bed- your chard will develop smaller ones.

For any type of usable yield, you’ll need to have as many plants fitting into your small space as possible. Chard won’t rebel if it feels like it’s too close to the others.

Harvesting Your Swiss Chard

Once you’ve thinned, watered, fertilized, and tended to your Swiss chard, it’s eventually time to harvest it and get it onto your dinner plate.

If you have small shears (finger scissors or something similar), they need to be sharp. You don’t want to harvest until the plants stand at least six inches (15.24 cm) tall, though if you want larger leaves, you can wait until your chard is taller.

Snip the chard at the bottom of the stem, but not so close to the stalk (the center of the plant) that you damage it. 

As long as you harvest your chard on a regular basis, you’ll take advantage of the cut-and-come-again harvesting technique. Cutting leaves from the outside of the plant leaves newer growth toward the center. 

Once you’ve harvested larger leaves— the ones ready for you to eat— the smaller leaves toward the plant’s center will expand and grow to fill the plant back out. This will give you more to harvest again in a couple of days.

However, this is different from, say, corn. Each corn plant produces one or two ears of corn, and once you’ve picked those ears, that plant’s job is done. Swiss chard, though, will continue growing, giving you harvest after harvest.

Harvesting larger leaves is another reason to thin your chard at its early stages. By giving your plants room to grow, you’ll have Swiss chard plants that can grow big leaves for you to harvest. Then give them a few days, and they’ll have produced more big leaves for your next meal.


Swiss chard is a pretty plant and a great-looking green on the plate. To maximize the use you get out of your chard, you’ll want to thin it during the seedling phase since they’ll grow in clusters. After that, a second thinning will allow larger leaves on the remaining plants.

However, it’ll still taste just as good if you don’t thin your chard. The only difference will be the smaller leaves that your plants yield.

You can read my other article on why your Swiss chard isn’t growing here: Why Is Your Swiss Chard Not Growing? 6 Causes

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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