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How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Chives

Chives growing in the garden

Chives are a hardy cool-weather perennial, a relative of the onion. The tips of chive leaves have a mild onion flavor. Adds chives to salads and as a garnish for many cooked dishes.

Chives have slender, round, hollow grass-like leaves 6 to 10 inches long. Globe-like pinkish-purple flowers shoot up in spring on stalks to 12 inches tall or more. Leaves rise from small scallion-like bulbs that grow in clumps.

Once established, chives will grow for many years.  Chives will easily grow in a container indoors. Garlic chives—with a subtle garlic flavor—grow just like chives; unlike chives, they have flat not round leaves and white not pink flowers.

Where to Plant Chives

  • Best location: Plant chives in full sun or partial shade.
  • Soil preparation: Grow chives in well-drained, sandy-loam, a soil rich in organic matter. Prepare planting beds in advance with aged compost. Chives prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Avoid planting in wet soil that can encourage stem and bulb diseases.
Garlic chives growing in a raised bed
Garlic chives growing in a raised bed

When to Plant Chives

  • Seed starting indoors: Sow seeds indoors from late winter until early summer; sow seeds in flats Seeds need darkness to germinate. Cover seed trays or pots with a piece of newspaper or cardboard to aid germination. Seeds should germinate in about 14 days at 70°F.  After germination, as seedlings begin to grow, remove the covering and place the seedlings under a fluorescent light or in a bright window. Let them grow on until they are 4 to 6 inches tall and ready for transplanting.
  • Transplanting to the garden: Transplant seedlings into the garden from late spring to late summer.
  • Outdoor planting time: Chives are a hardy plant. Sow chives in the garden or set out divisions as early as 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in spring. The seed will germinate in 2 to 3 weeks at 60°F.

How to Plant Chives

  • Planting depth: Sow seed ¼ to ½ inch deep. Seeds require darkness to germinate; cover the seed with a light planting mix.
  • Spacing: Space clumps or rows of chives 8 to 12 inches apart; plants will fill in overtime. To plant divisions, use a spade or shovel to divide existing clumps, trim back leaves to 1 inch above the ground and replant the divisions covering the bulblets with soil.
  • How much to plant: Grow 4 clumps of chives for cooking and kitchen use; grow 6 clumps for preserving.

Chives Companion Plants

  • Companion planting: Chives are said to improve the flavor of carrots, celery, tomatoes, cress, mint, and grapes. Chives are said to inhibit the growth of beans and peas. Chives deter Japanese beetles and are said to deter black spots on roses, scabs on apples, and mildew on cucumbers

Watering and Feeding Chives

  • Watering: Chives require moderate regular water to become established; established plants will survive in dry soil. The tips of leaves of plants that dry out will turn brown and papery.
  • Feeding: Side dress chives with aged compost at midseason.

Chives Care and Maintenance

  • Care: Divide chive clumps every 2 to 3 years to prevent overcrowding. See Propagation below for directions. Protect chives from direct sun in hot climates with shade cloth. Deadhead plants regularly to avoid plants going to seed.
  • Mulching: Mulch around chives with aged compost or commercial organic planting mix.
Chives growing in a container on an urban terrace
Chives growing in a container on an urban terrace

Container Growing Chives

  • Container growing: Chives will grow easily in containers as an annual. Plant chives in a container 6 inches or deeper. Plant several containers to rotate harvest.
  • Winter growing: Clumps can be dug up and potted before the first frost and grown indoors in a sunny window over the winter, but first put the clumps in a paper bag and put them in the refrigerator for four weeks to simulate winter dormancy; a dormant period is required to send out new leaves.

Chives Pests and Diseases

  • Pests: Chives are generally pest-free. Onion thrips may attack chives growing in a commercial onion-producing region, but thrips are unlikely to bother plants that are regularly watered.
  • Diseases: Chives commonly have no serious disease problems, however, in high humidity if plants are crowded fungal diseases can develop.

How to Harvest Chives

  • When to harvest: Harvest fresh green leaves continuously from early spring to fall, but don’t start harvest until plants are at least 6 inches tall about 5 weeks after planting. Established plants a year old or more can withstand regular harvest.
  • How to harvest: Cut leaves with garden scissors or a sharp knife. Cut the outer leaves first. Harvest from the base of leaves to avoid plants with cut tops. Leave about 2 inches of leaf blade above the soil in order for the leaves to regrow. Always leave some top growth on the clumps to preserve the strength of the bulbs. Stop harvest 3 weeks before the first frost date to allow plants to flower and the clump to expand. Garlic chives can be pulled roots and all.

 Chives in the Kitchen

  • Chives have a mild green onion flavor and aroma. Use chives in any recipe that calls for raw green onions. The flavor of chives is more delicate than onions.
  • Use chives fresh or dried to add flavor. Snip leaves into salads, soups, and egg dishes; put chives on scrambled eggs or on grilled cheese sandwiches. Add cut chives to vegetables and pasta salads. Sprinkle chopped chives over fish and other entrees to add flavor. Use chives to garnish onion and potato soups. Chives will add an oniony flavor to vinegar, herb butter, and cream cheese spreads.
  • Whole flowers can be added to salads and omelets. They are onions flavored. Steep flowers in white vinegar; they will impart their rose color and light onions flavor to the vinegar.
  • Add chives at the very last moment when cooking soups, stews, and sautés otherwise the flavor will be lost.
  • Culinary companions include basil, dill, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
  • Garlic chives have a subtle garlic flavor; use them as a salt substitute in soups and stews and with chicken, pork, and lamb dishes. The leaves of garlic chives are flat and the flowers are white.
Chives harvested cut-and-come-again
Chives harvested cut-and-come-again

 Preserving and Storing Chives

  • Refrigeration: Refrigerate chives in a sealed plastic bag for up to 7 days. Wrap the base of a bunch in a wet paper towel placed in a plastic bag and lightly twist the top then store in the refrigerator drawer. Wash leaves before storing.
  • Freezing: Chopped leaves can be frozen. Snip fresh leaves into pieces and freeze them in freezer containers or plastic bags.
  • Drying; Leaves can be dried on a screen set in a warm spot out of the sun with plenty of air circulation.
  • Storing: Store dried leaves in an airtight container.

Chives Propagation

  • Grow chives from seed or divisions; divisions are small bulbs separated from root clumps.
  • Seed: Chives are easy to grow from seed; seeds require no special treatment; sow directly in the garden in early spring or start indoors and transplant out in spring or early summer
  • Division: To divide chive clumps, trim the tops to about 2 inches long and the roots to about 3 inches long. Pull or cut the clump into sections of 4 to 6 bulbs each. Replant divisions 8 to 12 inches apart. Divide older clumps in early spring every 3 years.

 Chives Varieties to Grow

  • Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are also called Chinese chives or gow choy. Garlic chives clumps are slightly larger than chives with flat leaves and white flowers. It has a mild garlic flavor.

Get to Know Chives

  • Botanical name and family: Allium schoenoprasum (chives); tuberosum, (garlic chives); both are members of the onion family–Amaryllidaceae.
  • Europe
  • Type of plant: Chives are a herbaceous perennial.
  • Growing season: Chives will grow in air temperatures from 40° to 85°F—spring through summer; plant chives in autumn or winter in mild-winter regions.
  • Growing zones: Chives grow best in Zones 3 to 11. Chives are evergreen in mild-winter regions, but die back and go dormant in cold-winter regions.
  • Hardiness: Garlic chives are a hardy cool-weather perennial. Mature plants can tolerate cold to -35°
  • Plant form and size: Chives from 1 to 2-foot clumps of thin, grass-like leaves (if left unclipped).
  • Flowers: Chives have large globe-shaped purple-pink flowers. Garlic chives have white flowers. Flowers first appear as small bulblike buds among the round green leaves; the buds open into spherical clusters of flowers that resemble the heads of clover blossoms.
  • Bloom time: Chives bloom mid-spring to early summer.
  • Leaves: The leaves of chives are deep green, round, and hollow; the leaves of garlic chives are flat and grasslike.

Also of interest:

How to Grow Basil

How to Grow Rosemary

How to Grow Sage

How to Grow Oregano

How to Grow Mint

More tips at How to Start a Herb Garden and Growing Herbs for Cooking.

Comments

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  1. I’ve yet to get chive seeds to germinate unless I top the seed flat (or seeds sown outdoors) with a piece of cardboard.

    • Chives will grow under a bird feeder; however, the birds may drop on the chives, and dropped sunflowers may germinate and grow.

  2. When starting from seeds in doors, do the chive seedlings need to be thinned? How many seedlings would you include in a clump?

    • Use a cell pack and sow two or three seeds in each cell; this will allow you to easily transplant the seedlings to the garden. If you are not transplanting seedlings to the garden but growing in a container, you can lightly sprinkle seed across the potting mix; this will form a clump. Chives naturally spread to create clumps over time; a clump can be as large or small as you allow it to be.

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