So, you need to get rid of some bugs in your Swiss chard. And fast.
- What bugs are eating your chard
- Natural ways to get rid of pests on your chard
- How to protect your chard from pests
- Ways to prevent future bugs
- And more
You’ll have a solid foundation by the end of this page to get you started on exterminating those pesky bugs for a bountiful harvest?
Sound good? Let’s save your chard.
What’s eating my chard leaves?
It’s probably a bug.
Because Swiss chard is such a nutritious and delicate plant, it’s easy to digest, climb on, and eat by a variety of host bugs.
Everything from slugs, snails, leafminers, leafhoppers, ants, aphids, worms, maggots, whiteflies, and even animals eat chard.
If you notice damaged chard leaves, you should suspect that you’re dealing with a pest. Chances are that a pesky bug has found its way onto the chard and has now deposited eggs.
This can be a ground-based bug like a caterpillar.
Or it can be a flying pest like whiteflies. Leafminers and leafhoppers are also common.
Or it can be a Swiss chard fungus, which we’ll also talk about.
But let’s get one thing out of the way.
What animal is eating my Swiss chard?
Most animals won’t eat Swiss chard found in the yard. If you find that your chard is being eaten and you don’t have any known herbivores in the area, it may be the work of bugs instead.
We’ll cover the popular Swiss chard pests on this page.
There aren’t that many herbivores that actually eat chard, but some are rabbits, mice, or possums.
But most likely, you’re dealing with bugs rather than animals.
A lot of growers are often confused and suspect that an animal is eating the chard, but usually, it’s the work of pests. The damaged leaves and chew patterns can be easily done by any of the bugs on the following list.
How to get rid of bugs in Swiss chard
The most common Swiss chard pests you’ll come across are flea beetles, spinach leaf miners, and aphids.
We’ll cover all of these bugs so you can protect your chard from being eaten up.
Spinach leaf miner
Also known as the Swiss chard leaf miner, this is one of the most difficult bugs to deal with. Leaf miners are common on Swiss chards and they stem from larvae.
The larvae dig narrow tunnels and look like small maggots or worms. These Swiss chard bugs will eat up the leaves of your veggie.
When they turn into adults, they’re a flying pest. The larvae are maggots. So they have two different distinct parts of their life cycle.
The flies are about 0.5” in length and are gray with black bristles. Pregnant females will lay eggs on the bottom of the leaf and deposit them in neat rows. There may be small batches also.
Each larva will eat up the chard and may also eat multiple leaves.
They continuously put much of the chard for about two weeks, and then they fall off the chart onto the soil.
The maggots then pupate into cocoons and overwinter during the colder months. In spring, they emerge as flying adults. This may cause confusion for some people because the flies and the maggots are both the same species. Leaf miners are both flies and worms.
Usually, in April and May, flies will cause much more damage to toSwiss compared to other seasons. If you have other veggies like tomato, cucumber, celery, or parsley, these leaf miners may be coming from those plants. Or they may migrate from your chard to other veggies.
How to get rid of Swiss chard leaf miners
There’s not an easy way to control leaf miners, but you can start taking some DIY measures at home to get rid of them naturally from your Swiss chard.
Here are some methods you can try out.
Removing damaged leaves
The first thing you should do is prune the damaged foliage.
Leaving it there and ignoring it will only make the problem worse as the larvae will begin to feed on other leaves and thus destroying your chard.
Prune off any damaged chard leaves or noticeable eggs on your plant and dispose of them. You can also dunk them into a container full of dish soap and water (8 drops per liter of water) to kill the leaf miners before throwing them out.
This can help ensure that none of them will escape and eat our other plants.
You can use a tiller or plow to remove host weeds that are native to leaf miners. If you have weeds like lambsquarter, nightshade, or chickweed these will host the miners and they’ll continually eat up your chard.
Remove any sources of weeds around your chard in your garden and this will reduce the number of pests in your yard.
You can also help the Swiss chards get more nutrients with less competition just by taking out nearby parasitic plants.
The most critical part of the leafminer life cycle the egg. You’ll want to remove the eggs or kill them before they emerge as nymphs.
The adult fly deposits the eggs on the underside of leaves. You can check your chard for leafminer eggs and prune that portion off. Saturated it with soap and water rot kill the eggs before they hatch into nymphs.
This will help kill the larvae so you don’t have total destruction of your chard. This also interrupts the leafminer life cycle at a critical point. This is critical to get rid of Swiss chard bugs and kill leafminers naturally.
Keep your chard healthy
A healthy chard will resist pests and even last longer during an attack.
You should already know how to care for chard if you’re growing it, but if not, check out this post about caring for chard.
Keeping your plant strong and virulent can be the difference between saving chard or complete destruction by pests.
Check it weekly
Damage from leaf miner flies is slow, but the population can quickly spiral out of control and destroy your chard.
You should check weekly for any signs of pests. This may help prevent an outbreak of leaf miners, aphids, or other vegetable flies.
You should always be checking regardless when you harvest or water your chard.
Plant chard indoors
Chard can be grown indoors, especially during the colder months or when sowing from seed.
You can start your chard off in your home to keep it free from pests as the environment is controlled.
But you should still watch out for indoor pests like whiteflies and succulent pests. Even mature chard can be grown indoors under the right conditions.
Using a powerful grow light that has full-spectrum lighting can replace the outdoor sunlight. Consider this option if you just have too many bugs on your Swiss chard.
Leafhoppers are similar to leafminers in that these pests can stunt the growth of your plant.
They’re also disease-carrying bugs that can transfer a variety of fungi and mildew between your plants.
You can get rid of them in the same manner that you’d do to get rid of leaf miners. Consider using pruning, DIY pest soap, and manual removal.
Clear up any surrounding debris and keep your plants in check.
Tarnished plant bug
Also known as lygus bugs, these are tiny 0.25” bugs that start out as nymphs.
They’ll eat up your chard until they turn into adults. They’re green and often have markings on their back that are lighter in color.
Nymphs can’t fly and they eat the plant, but rarely kill it. You may notice curled, twisted, or chewed chard. This may be the result of lygus bugs. You can use a variety of techniques to get rid of them, but removing the debris that they live in is the answer.
They overwinter in the debris, so if you remove it after the first frost, you can really put a dent in their population.
Combine with the other methods like pruning, DIY sprays, and keeping your plant healthy.
Flea beetles are also a common bug that eats chards. If you notice that your Swiss chard has holes or your chard turns to a darker brown, this may be because of flea beetles.
These pests aren’t as destructive as leaf miners on your chard, but they can exponentially develop and kill your plant if you don’t get rid of them.
Flea beetles appear as black, blue, bronze, or silver pests. They can also be striped in a pattern
Here are some ways you can protect your Swiss chard from these bugs.
Soap water is an effective and fast way to kill bugs on chard.
You can make this mixture by using 8 drops of dish detergent and mixing it with 1 liter of water.
The thing to note is that dish soap sprayed on chard means a possibility of you ingesting the mixture and harming yourself.
So you should use a natural, non-toxic, or organic soap and make sure it’s diluted with water.
Also wash your Swiss chard before using it, especially if you plan to use dish soap on it. You do NOT want to eat dish soap.
Use the mixture on the nymphs, flies, and eggs. It’ll kill them upon contact. You can change the stretch of the mixture by adding more or less water.
Re-apply as needed until the chard bugs are exterminated. Most people use Dawn dish soap, but I’d say to go for a natural or organic one only.
Essential oils can also be used as a strong and natural pest repellent.
The thing to keep in mind is that you never want to spray the plant directly because you’ll be eating it later.
Use the essential oils to spray around the plant, such as the soil or neighboring non-edibles. The point of the oil is to keep bugs away because of the strong aroma.
Use peppermint oil, citrus oil, or lavender oil. Do you research each one and see what’s suitable for your pets. Some pets and people may be sensitive or have reactions to some oils.
Sticky traps can also be an effective take against flying pests.
There are many different types on the market, but the one that you’ll want for chards are the yellow ones.
These are traps to be placed around the chard, hanging on miniature stakes or neighboring plants.
Either one will work. Just make sure to use the traps as directed and check them often. When the beetles fly into the traps, they get stuck and can’t escape.
A safe and passive, easy way to get rid of chard pests.
Just like the hanging traps, there are also vertical sticky stakes you can buy that you place into the soil around your chard.
They stick up into the air and lure flying pests into them. As soon as they touch the stake, they get stuck and can’t move.
Stakes are nice because they don’t require neighboring companion plants and they don’t need to be hung on anything. Just stick and you’re all set.
Slugs and snails
Slugs will eat up nearly any plant that has new fresh young leaflets.
Chard is a perfectly tasty meal that slugs will gobble up overnight. They can be persistent and show up in the dozens and can be hard to control.
There are a variety of methods you can utilize to get rid of slugs:
- Manual removal at night
- Beer traps
- Attract slug predators
- Use slug repelling plants
- Create your own slug spray
- Make slug repellent
Check out this guide on slug control for a detailed tutorial.
Cutworms are also common during the summer and you may find them gobbling up your chard. These are the larvae of flies and will eat up any green seedlings.
Thankfully, cutworms aren’t that difficult to manage and you can use a combination of essential oils, manual removal, pruning, and bacillus thuringiensis to kill and manage cutworms.
Be sure that you’re dealing with cutworms, as there are also other worms that are very similar like looper worms and the common garden budworm.
Swiss chard fungus
Fungus is another common problem with Swiss chards.
There are two main fungus types that will rot your chard. Here’s how to get rid of them.
This mildew is caused by humid or moist conditions.
The excess moisture in the air will cause this mildew to eat up your plants. You’ll notice it by a white or gray powder forming on the chard.
Although this won’t kill your plant, it’s still not appealing to look at or consume. You can use a copper fungus killer to control mildew.
You can also spread out your chards so they’re not touching each other- this will make it easier to manage the mildew and prevent it from going between your plants. If you’re plating indoors, this shouldn’t be a problem.
But you can add fans for circulation to minimize humidity for indoor chords.
For outdoor chards, always pour your water at the base of the plant- never the leaves. And water before sunrise so the sun can evaporate the moisture.
Can you eat chard with powdery mildew?
The mildew will be killed upon cooking when heated to the proper temperature.
There is no official rule and it all depends on how well you cook your chard before you eat it. Some reports online state that it’s safe to eat only after cooking, such as the NGA.
But when in doubt, throw it out. That’s the rule to follow. You should take steps to prevent future swiss chard pests and protect your plant from bugs.
Basal fungus (basal rot)
This fungus eats up your plant’s root system and can also tarnish it if you ignore it. The petioles will be infested with basal fungus especially in humid or moist conditions.
Just like the other fungi on this list, excess moisture will cause plant rot. You should always avoid overeating and ALWAYS have good drinking soil.
This can help your chard prevent fungus and also pests.
Curly top is a viral disease that affects swiss chard.
You’ll notice that your chard is turning to a shade of bright orange or yellow with stunted leaves.
These diseases can be spread by leafhoppers, which is why you need to control them ASAP. Although curly top can be contained, you shouldn’t ignore it and act quickly.
First, get rid of the hoppers on your chard. Then prune any foliage that’s been damaged. Repeat and assess until the curly top leaves are no longer visible.
Cercospora leaf spots
Another common fungus on chards is Cercospora.
This will create gray or black spots on the bottom of leaves. It tends to form on lower leaves and leaves behind circular halos that are purple or a similar tone. If the outdoor moisture content is high, leaf spots form fuzzy substances all over the leaf
You can use the same method to kill Cercospora as any other fungus. Look for copper-based natural fungicides for the best results.
Since you’ll be eating the neighboring chard, you don’t want to eat the spray residual that catches onto the other non-infested ones. Use as directed.
Never eat chard that you’ve sprayed. Don’t get it onto nearby plants.
Can I eat Swiss chard with Cercospora?
Just like powdery mildew, there is no specific answer to these questions.
Again, some people online state that once you cook the chard and it’s heated correctly, the Cercospora will be killed and thus the plant is safe to eat.
Use your own discretion. Always throw it out if you can’t come to a safe conclusion.
The best thing you can do is to make sure your next harvest is safe. Note that farmers don’t sell chard with Cercospora because they can’t sell the plant.
Buyers don’t’ have the appetite to eat destroyed chard with a bunch of damage and holes. For the home grower, there is no evidence that shows it’s unsafe to eat. I’d advise you not to eat it and to throw it out.
Just make sure your next harvest is safe by taking the proper steps and protecting your chard.
This usually occurs when the humidity is too high and there’s excess moisture. In hotter areas where the temperature is above 70F, the soil may be too saturated with water or has excess fertilizer.
The culprit is usually nitrogen (N) and you’ll notice that your seedlings sprout but then die off. You should replant and control your soil conditions.
Make sure that the NPK ratios are correct and also that you’re not overwatering. Keep them moist and don’t overfertilize seedlings.
Be sure to thin out the plants, don’t overcrowd, and always use air circulations if you’re planting chard indoors.
Don’t assume that the seedlings are going to be okay just because they sprouted! Practice TLC for your chard.
How do you protect Swiss chard?
You can protect your Swiss chard by practicing good TLC.
There is no exact answer to this as you should be doing all the things to keep your chard healthy. A healthy chard means a plant that’s less prone to infections because it’s tolerant.
Follow the best practices for chard care and supplement with any of the following:
- Check your plant for damage or pest activity often
- Supplement with fertilizer when necessary
- Consider moving your hard inside your home if pests are a problem
- Don’t overwater or over-fertilize
- Set up stakes or sticky traps to catch pests
- Companion plant with plants that repel bugs
- Use a plant net
Here are some handy references and resources you can check out:
- Swiss Chard – Explore Cornell
- Bugs/Worms in my Swiss Chard – Houzz
- What’s eating my Swiss chard? – Ask an Expert
Did you get rid of the bugs on your Swiss chard?
By now, you should have everything you need to know to get started.
You can now deal with the most common pests found on Swiss chard and manage, eliminate, and control them.
You also know how to deal with common Swiss pests like beetles, flies, and aphids.
The key is to find out what exactly you’re dealing with and the best way to get rid of the bug. Be patient and persistent and you’ll have a bountiful harvest of delicious Swiss chard.
If you have any questions, post a comment and let me know.
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Thanks for reading.
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).
Fight nature with nature.