Did you know that this plant with cylindrical, hollow leaves is actually a member of the onion family? Now that you think about its mild oniony flavor, you probably can see its relationship.
Having this versataile herb growing in your garden or indoors means that you can have more healthy and flavorful dishes. Best of all, these plants are not difficult to grow!
Chives form clumps of bright green leaves with a spicy onion flavor that make a great addition to salads, soups, vegetables, and eggs. Once established, they come back year and after year, one of the first herbs of spring.
Native to temperate climates in Asia, Europe, and North America, chives are closely related to onions, leeks, scallions, shallots, and garlic. They have been in cultivation for centuries and have both culinary and medicinal purposes.
- · Common Chives are a staple in home gardens. They grow about 12 inches high and 12 inches wide in round clumps. They have purple or pink flowers that bloom in May and June and have tubular, hollow leaves with a mild onion flavor.
- Garlic Chives are are also known as Oriental garlic and Chinese leek. Their strong garlic flavor makes them popular in Chinese and Japanese cooking. They have broad, flat leaves and grow 18 to 24 inches tall and 12 inches wide. The white flowers bloom in August and September and are lovely in a bouquet. The buds and freshly opened flowers are edible. Therefore, remove and use the flowers because they have a tendency to self-sow aggressively if allowed to go to seed.
- Giant Siberian chives grow 24 inches tall in clumps that are 10 to 12 inches wide. They have tubular foliage, and 2-inch globe-shaped purple flowers making this a highly ornamental plant. In fact, you may often find it sold in the ornamental perennials section at the garden center rather than in the herb section. Some people feel that they have a richer taste than common chives.
- Siberian Garlic Chives – also known as blue chives – grow 20 inches tall by about 12 inches wide. They have blue-green flattened leaves and pink flowers that bloom in late summer. They are also used as an ornamental plant in home gardens. They provide a garlic flavor in cooking.
Chives are one of the easiest herbs to grow. They grow best outdoors in a full sun location, but they can tolerate partial shade. They need well-drained soil and prefer a soil pH of 6-7 that is rich in organic matter. Hardy in USDA zones 3 to 10, they are perennial in all but the coldest regions. They are one of the first perennial herbs to “green up” in early spring.
Plant them in a dedicated herb garden or the vegetable garden, and even in the flower garden! They grow well in a container garden, and they can also be grown indoors on a sunny windowsill, provided they get 6 hours of sunlight per day.
If you choose to grow from seed, keep in mind that seedlings can take 2 to 3 weeks to sprout and it may be two years before your plant is a harvestable size. We recommend buying chive plants from your local nursery – or the grocery store! – and transplanting them into your garden. Or get a root division from a fellow gardener.
Growing from Seed
Start seeds indoors in early spring, about 8 weeks before the last frost date in your area. This gives them a head start before being transplanted in the garden.
Use a good potting mix or seed starting mix and put 3 to 5 of the tiny black seeds in each pot. You can also sow seeds in a tray.
Cover with about ¼ inch of soil and mist gently with water from a spray bottle. You can cover your pots or tray with plastic wrap to help hold the moisture in. It is crucial that the soil does not dry out. Keep your pots and trays warm. A warming mat will provide gentle bottom heat.
When growing from seed in the garden, sow seeds when soil temperatures reach 65°F. That’s late spring for most of the United States. Cover the seeds with ¼ inch of soil and keep the seed bed moist until the seedlings sprout, about 2 to 3 weeks. When they are two inches tall, thin to 4” apart.
Growing from Root Divisions
The quickest and easiest way to propagate is by division. Gently dig up a mature clump and, with a sharp spade or garden knife, cut through the roots and bulbs to make smaller plants about 3 to 4 inches in diameter. You don’t need to be precise; they are very forgiving and actually benefit from division every 3 years.
Space plants 6 to 12 inches apart, and plant chives as deep as they were before you dug them up. You can amend the soil with a little compost before planting, but they aren’t very picky, as long as the soil is well-draining and has a little organic matter, they will do fine.
Water deeply immediately after planting and keep the soil moist until they are established, about 2 to 3 weeks. Give your new plants a month or two to repair their root systems before you harvest.
Many vegetables benefit from being grown near chives. Tomatoes, strawberries, parsnips, carrots, beets, broccoli, and grapes may have increased yields and better resistance to diseases and insect pests. I particularly like to grow them next to my tomatoes, so I have a constant supply of both on hand. Grow chives with other herbs that require the same growing conditions – mint and parsley; tarragon, cilantro, and basil all like full sun and moist, well-drained soil.
However, they are not good companions for beans, asparagus, spinach, and peas. Plant these vegetables in another part of the garden, away from chives.
If you’ve planted chives in a full sun location and in healthy soil, there is not much more you need to do. They truly care for themselves. In periods of drought, they may need water, but that’s all.
Do They Grow Back After Cutting?
You can cut or harvest all through the growing season and they will continue to send up new leaves. Cut all the way down to the base of the plant – about 1 to 2 inches above the soil line. An application of liquid fertilizer – like Miracle Gro – can encourage your plant to keep sending up new foliage.
Should You Let Them Flower?
If you let it flower, it might reduce leaf production as the plant is putting energy into flowering. Chive flower stalks are hard and woody and inedible. Allowing them to flower and go to seed could also create hundreds of plants throughout your garden in just a few short seasons.
However, chive flowers attract pollinators, are pretty to look at, and newly opened flowers are a delicious addition to salads (they can be eaten). Therefore, depending on how you plan to use your them, letting them flower is often a matter of personal choice.
Pests and Diseases
Pests and diseases are of no concern when it comes to growing chives. Pests don’t bother them and chives are often used to deter pests when planted around other plants. Root rot may be a problem if the soil is very wet and doesn’t drain well.
Harvesting and Storing
You can harvest at any time during the growing season. As with most herbs, its flavor is at its peak in the morning, so that’s the best time of day to harvest. Use scissors, and cut leaves all the way down to the base of the plant. New leaves will grow, and these tender leaves are the tastiest. Buds and flowers are also edible, and those can be harvested too. Harvest flowers when they are freshly opened. Use chives right away when their flavor is at its peak, but they can be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp paper towel inside a plastic bag for about one week.
Chives do not dry well. If you want to store them, the best way is to chop them, then freeze them with a little water in an ice cube tray. Thaw and drain before use.
Chives are delicate and are best eaten raw and as fresh as possible – that’s when they have their best flavor. Snip them with scissors rather than cutting them with a knife. Nutritionally, they provide vitamin A, folic acid, potassium, and iron.
- Top a baked potato with sour cream and chives – a classic!
- Add a few snips to scrambled eggs and other egg dishes just before serving
- Top your favorite potato salad with freshly chopped chives
- Add chive flowers to vinegar and let steep for a few weeks to make an oniony salad dressing
- Make a chive-flavored butter
- Use them on fish, in salads, and in homemade breads and biscuits