More than just a gag gift or the latest healthy food trend, chia is a plant worth adding to your garden.
Chia seeds are widely promoted as a superfood that appears in candies, jams, and baked goods. You’ve also likely heard of chia in connection with the exotic “pets” that feature spiky vegetation like hair or fur on a terra cotta statue. Fortunately, you don’t need a geeky kitty in the shape of a cute critter to grow this versatile chia plant (Spanish sage). Whether you grow them from seed and add the sprouts to your salad, or grow them to maturity, you’ll find these plants are well worth the time and space in your garden.
Where is the chia plant grown?
Chia plants are annual plants native to Central America. It grows best in warmer climates such as in the southeastern United States or in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11. The chia plant can reach 3 to 5 feet in height and several feet wide in one season, so it needs a site with plenty of space.
How and when to plant a chia plant
Growing chia plants from seed is easy in areas with mild winters. In the fall, soak chia seeds in water until their gelatinous coating absorbs as much water as possible, after which they look like frog eggs. Use a spoon to scoop two to three seeds and place them on the surface of a prepared garden bed about three feet apart. Cover the seeds lightly and water daily until they germinate and begin to grow vigorously in five to seven days.
Chia plant care tips
Once established, chia plants are very low maintenance.
Chia plants need at least eight hours of full sun per day.
soil and water
Chia plants tolerate a wide range of soils from sandy to loamy, but the soil must drain well or the roots may rot.
Seedlings and young plants need plenty of water. After the plants have established full root systems, they are drought tolerant and thrive in the midday heat. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings to help avoid root rot.
temperature and humidity
Chia plants grow best in warm weather with a temperature between 70°F and 85°F. They can survive temperatures as cold as the 50s but not extremely cold. Chia plants do not have strict moisture requirements but have been known to do well in high humidity environments.
Chia does not require fertilization when grown in rich soil. In poor soil, dig in some compost at planting time.
Potting and repotting chia plants
Chia plants can be grown indoors in containers, but they require at least six hours of direct sunlight per day, so they need a sunny window or grow lights. Select a terra cotta pot with good drainage and fill it with commercial potting soil with some sand added. This annual does not require repotting; Just start over with fresh seeds and soil in the same pot each year.
Related: The 13 Best Planting Soils for Indoor and Outdoor Plants
Pests and problems
One particularly great aspect of chia plants is their disease tolerance, which makes them good for sustainable farming practices, especially in desert regions. Any pests that attack can often be treated with a mild organic pesticide such as neem oil.
How to propagate a chia plant
Chia plants are prolific self-seeders, so they will produce a new crop of plants each year without assistance.
To harvest seeds for future crops (or to eat!), snip the blooms at the end of the season after they have dried out and the petals have fallen off. Place the flowers in a paper bag to hold the seeds. When completely dry, crush the seed heads in the bag to dislodge the seeds.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the nutritional value of chia seeds?
Chia is high in protein and fatty acids and is one of the few food sources that contain all nine amino acids that humans cannot produce. Chia is also high in protein and fiber.
How do I germinate chia seeds to eat?
To eat chia as highly nutritious sprouts, spoon the seeds onto a disinfected, waterproof surface and keep them moist. The seeds should germinate and be ready to eat within two to four days.
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