Beta vulgaris (Leaf Beet Group) 'Northern Lights'

Common Name: Swiss chard 
Type: Annual
Family: Amaranthaceae
Zone: 2 to 11
Height: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Spread: 0.75 to 1.50 feet
Bloom Time: Non-flowering
Bloom Description: Green
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Annual, Vegetable
Flower: Insignificant
Leaf: Colorful


Leaf Beet Group consists of a number of different cultivars of Beta vulgaris which are grown for harvest of leafy vegetables (mostly chard and beet spinach). They are typically grown as annuals in moist, light, fertile, organically-rich, well-drained soils in full sun to light shade. Plants thrive in cool summer temperatures, but are tolerant of heat and humidity. Add nitrogen fertilizers to the soils as needed. Plants are grown from seed clusters (each with 3 or 4 seeds) which are typically sown in the ground in early spring for harvest from late spring to early fall in Zones 3-7, but in summer for harvest over winter in Zones 8-10. Several seedlings will emerge from each seed cluster. Young plants should be thinned carefully by hand. Plants typically need regular and consistent moisture. Soils should not be allowed to dry out. When grown in vegetable gardens, plants should be grown in rows about 18-24" apart. Successive plantings may be made every month during the growing season if desired. As leaves are harvested from the outer parts of each plant, new leaves will grow up from the middle. It is generally best to regularly remove the largest leaves (whether or not eaten) to encourage growth of new tender tasty leaves.

Noteworthy Characteristics

A cultivar group is an assemblage of named cultivars within a species which have similar characteristics based primarily on description and usage. Leaf Beet Group consists of a number of Beta vulgaris cultivars (primarily chard and beet spinach) which are grown as vegetables for enjoyment of their tasty leaves and petioles. Plants in this group lack an underground rounded storage root. They grow in upright clumps featuring basal leaves which rise to as much as 24” tall. Non-showy, greenish flowers in dense spikes do not appear on these biennial plants in the first year, but bloom occurs in the second year on flowering spikes rising to 4’ tall.

Chard features leaves of varying sizes rising to as much as 15-24” tall, sometimes ruffled and puckered, with smaller leaves appearing on second year flowering stems. Chard leaves are green, but some cultivars feature unusual multi-colored foliage (petioles and midribs) which make them excellent candidates for ornamental use. The name Swiss Chard originated in Europe in the 19th century as a way of distinguishing chard from French spinach in seed catalogs.

Both chard and beet spinach were domesticated in the Mediterranean area at least 2000 years ago.

Genus name comes from the Latin name for beet.

Specific epithet comes from Latin meaning common.

‘Northern Lights’ is a chard cultivar in the Leaf Beet Group which is noted for producing a dense rosette of upright-arching, crumpled, glossy, medium green leaves, each having distinctive colorful midribs and leaf stalks. Plants typically grow to 18-20” tall. Both the leaf stalks (petioles) and leaves are edible. Each leaf features showy leaf stalks and midribs in a mixture of bright colors including golden yellow, orange, red, magenta, purple and white, hence the cultivar name of ‘Northern Lights’. It is often grown as (1) an ornamental in borders or other garden areas for enjoyment of the contrasting colors of the leaf stalks, midribs and wrinkled green leaves, or (2) a vegetable for harvest of the leaf stalks and leaves which make tasty additions to salads and vegetable dishes.


No serious insect or disease problems. Beets may suffer from seedling blight, fungal leaf spots, downy mildew, powdery mildew and root rots. Watch for leaf miners, flea beetles, aphids and caterpillars.


Fresh young leaves and leaf stalks are noted for having excellent texture and taste. Good addition to salads. Although green-leaved plants are typically grown in vegetable gardens, multi-colored cultivars are often grown as ornamentals in fronts of beds and borders, cottage gardens, sidewalk edges or in mixed containers.