You may have been told swiss chard is an easy plant to grow. If this is the case, watching it grow at a microscopically slow rate may have you wondering what’s going on. Swiss chard does grow slowly, but the slowness can usually be attributed to something pretty easy to fix.
If your swiss chard isn’t growing, it could be because the soil’s pH is off, you planted them too close together, or it’s too hot outside. Additionally, the plant may not be getting enough sunlight or water, though too much water is also a problem. Finally, it could have an infection or infestation.
This list may be overwhelming, but don’t worry. I’ll give you some tips on detecting each of these things in your swiss chard plants and tell you how to fix them. Additionally, we’ll go over how to grow the best swiss chard plants possible.
1. Your Swiss Chard’s Soil pH Is Off
If you’re new to gardening, you may have the basics down: plants need sunlight and water. While this is true, things are a little more complex than that, especially when we begin talking about plant soil.
Your plant’s soil is its home. It’s also their kitchen. They need water and sunlight to grow, but they need nutrients within the soil to grow tall and strong. Mainly, plants need nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, but they also need:
- Calcium (root health)
- Magnesium (chlorophyll & photosynthesis)
- Sulfur (energy-processing)
- Iron (promotes growth)
- Manganese (photosynthesis)
- Copper (enzymes)
- Zinc (stems and leaves)
- Boron (growth)
- Molybdenum (nitrogen conversion)
Like humans, your plants need all of their vitamins and nutrients to grow big and strong.
But what does that have to do with soil pH?
Your soil has a pH level at any given second. The level determines what nutrients can be absorbed by your plants. It can be high (which means your soil is alkaline) or low (which means your soil is acidic). Most nutrients are available to your plants for consumption at a pH level of 6.8, which is just below the neutral score of 7.
So even if your soil has nitrogen, boron, zinc, all the nutrients, and the kitchen sink, it won’t matter if your soil pH is off. Your plants won’t be able to benefit! If your swiss chard isn’t growing, it might be a nutrient deficiency or an inadequate pH level. Swiss chard prefers a level between 6.0 and 6.8.
How To Fix This
To determine if this is the problem, you can do a pH soil test or send a soil sample to a lab. I like to use a soil test kit tool that tells you your soil pH and lets you know if your soil lacks phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium. There are dozens of soil pH tests you can grab from a gardening store or online, but most will only tell you pH. Additionally, a moisture meter might read your pH for you.
If your swiss chard’s soil is below or above the preferred range of 6.0-6.8, you’ve got a problem. Typically, pH issues are fixed with mulching, composting, or sometimes liming. Liming is a process where you’d add lime (not like the citrus lime) to your soil to make it less acidic. You can get liming fertilizer or material at a garden store or online.
You can add compost or mulch to help richen the soil and lower the pH. Try adding more life to your soil by starting some simple composting methods or adding mulch as a top layer.
If your soil pH is too high, you can try to add some sulfur or aluminum sulfate. These can also be found at your local gardening store.
2. You Planted Your Swiss Chard Plants Too Close Together
You might have wanted to get as much swiss chard as possible out of your harvest–meaning you put those babies pretty close together. Unfortunately, this will have done the opposite of what you wanted–a full garden bed of swiss chard might make your plants grow incredibly slow!
Typically, you want to put your swiss chard rows 12 to 18 inches (30-46 centimeters) apart. This can seem like a huge distance, especially if you have a small garden. If you’ve seen swiss chard grow, you know that it grows up and out, so it takes up a lot of space. If you grow them too closely together, roots will get tangled, they’ll fight for nutrients, and they won’t have room to grow to their full potential.
How To Fix This
Unfortunately, if you’ve grown your swiss chard too close together, there’s little that can be done. Take note and write it down for next year’s garden plan! You could also pull a few of your slower growing, weaker looking swiss chard to make room for the ones doing well.
3. It’s Too Hot Outside
Most plants have a window of temperature in which they thrive. For swiss chard, you’ll want cooler weather for its best growth. In the summer, swiss chard tends to grow slower because of increased temperature. Large heat waves can also stress the plants and affect their growth.
This doesn’t mean you can’t grow your swiss chard in warm weather, just that you should plan it out for the cooler months of summer or expect some slow growth.
How To Fix This
To know if the temperature is your problem, you can use your handy-dandy moisture meter or garden thermometer. Some moisture meters have a soil temperature setting to tell you what kind of heat your plants get.
Remember, soil temperature and your plants’ environment aren’t as simple as checking your weather app.
Outdoors, your plants may be exposed to more or less sun based on their location. Reflective materials (like your car if your garden is planted right near the driveway), valleys, and other factors can change the temperature of your garden. Try to consider this when planning out your chard patches.
4. Your Swiss Chard Isn’t Getting Enough Sunlight
Swiss chard isn’t too picky about sunlight–most experts will suggest full sun but admit that partial shade still works fine–but it can still affect their growth. Sun, in particular, is responsible for the photosynthesis your plants partake in to help them get taller and stronger. If your plants aren’t getting any sun, they won’t grow, even if they are still getting water and nutrients.
Your swiss chard needs four to six hours of full sun, and this sunlight should be direct. This means it’s not being filtered between trees or screens.
How To Fix This
Like our pH and temperature tests above, sometimes a moisture meter will indicate whether or not your plant is getting enough sunlight. You can also purchase other things to check the sunlight in a particular part of your garden patch.
This one from Luster Leaf called the Luster Leaf Rapitest Suncalc (available on Amazon.com) does specifically sunlight calculation. It will tell you if the patch in your garden is sun, shade, partial, etc.
Again, this is a better thing done at the beginning of the season than at the end. If you’re out of options, you could try to get rid of anything that might be shading your plants, like tree branches or other hanging plants.
5. You Aren’t Watering Enough (or Are Watering Too Much)
Water is a good thing for plants, but not in excess! Your swiss chard prefers one to one and a half inches (2.54 to 3.81 centimeters) of water per week. This may differ if it’s particularly hot in your area or going through a heatwave. Going over or under may cause your swiss chard to be growing at a slower rate.
How To Fix This
Watering is one of those issues that’s an easy fix if it’s a straightforward problem–if you are actually watering too much or too little (which can usually be indicated through observation or a moisture meter), you just have to change your watering routine.
However, if it’s something about your soil drainage or you have peat moss that’s not letting the water get through to the roots, the problem gets more complicated.
You can usually tell if you’re watering too much by looking at your soil. If it looks dry and compacted, this could be a sign of overwatering because your soil got so wet it became mud and then hardened. However, wet and waterlogged soil is also an indicator that more is going on (such as peat moss clumping up).
Try to be observant of your water. Your plants and soil should be damp to dry by the evening if you water them first thing in the morning. If it’s still pretty muddy, it’s either your watering or soil composition. You’ll need to figure out if you’re having soil compaction issues rather than watering issues.
6. Your Swiss Chard Has an Infection or Infestation
Finally, there are quite a few bugs and illnesses that attack the plant’s roots. On the surface, we may just notice that the plant is growing. But down below, a lot is going on.
There are a few things that may be causing trouble. Sometimes aphids, which aren’t typically dangerous, can eat away at roots. There could also be other bugs eating at your roots.
How To Fix This
You’ll know this is your problem if it’s not just your swiss chard suffering but everything in a particular gardening bed. Additionally, you’ll likely see more signs above the surface. You can take a magnifying glass and get down into the garden to see if anything is crawling around.
Microorganisms are important in your soil, but if you have an infestation, you can use some natural methods to get rid of them. Try to use neem oil or a mixture of water and soap to get them off any leaves. If it’s all happening below the surface, you may need to transfer your plants to a safer environment.
Swiss chard is an easy-to-grow plant if you can get past its finickiness. It’ll begin to grow slowly if it’s not getting what it needs. Utilize your toolbox (moisture meter, soil tests, pH tests, etc.) to figure out what’s going on. Be observant of other symptoms to make an informed decision about the cause.