How to Grow Chives

An Easy to Grow, Interesting, and Edible Herb

Lilac flowers on chive plants

Jasenka Arbanas / Getty Images

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are easy-to-grow, grass-like herbs that, with their mild onion flavor, taste great in a salad or as a soup garnish. Their attractive flowers also add interest in a garden and are attractive to pollinators, like bees.

The flowers are most commonly a lilac color, but they also come in whites, pinks and reds.

These cold-tolerant perennials are ideal for more temperature regions and can be planted in early spring to give a generous harvest in the summer months.

Some growers keep this in an herb garden and cut back the flowers before they have the chance to seed.

If you want to enjoy the blooms (which are edible too), be aware that the seeds scatter easily and it can spread across your garden quickly. Thankfully, if this happens, it isn't an invasive species that is difficult to dig up and move out.

Chives aren't just grown in herb gardens. Some enthusiasts use them ornamentally for contrasting interest to mounding plants in rock gardens or borders. They grow well in pots and can be overwintered indoors, or positioned on a windowsill year-round to allow you to harvest from continually.

If you live in a warm enough climate, your chives could remain evergreen even if they do stay outdoors all year round.

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), also referred to as Chinese chives, are similar in appearance to the common chive. Unsurprisingly, their leaves have a light garlic flavor. They tend to be slightly taller, have flatter and greener leaves, and their flowers are always white. Plus, they aren't as tolerant of the cold.

Botanical Name Allium schoenoprasum
Common Name Chives, common chives
Plant Type Herbaceous, perennial
Mature Size 10-15 in. tall
Sun Exposure Full sun, light shade
Soil Type Loamy, sandy
Soil pH Slightly acidic to neutral
Bloom Time Early summer
Flower Color Usually lilac, but also red, pink, white
Hardiness Zones 3 - 9, USDA
Native Area Europe, Asia, North America

Plant Care

Low-maintenance chives need little attention once they're established if they're grown in optimal conditions.

They like plenty of sun, well-drained soil, and decent moisture. They grow well in the ground, but can also thrive in pots positioned on a sunny windowsill.

Because of their clump-forming habit, chives can become easily overcrowded, so dividing the clumps as necessary will help to ensure growth is vigorous.

Chives are shallow-rooted plants. You should carefully consider what you grow around them and watch out for weeds springing up as these can out-compete your chives if you aren't careful.

Light

Chives thrive in a full sun position. Although they tolerate light shade, they may not produce such an impressive display of flowers.

Soil

To produce the best chive harvest, you'll want to plant them in soil that is well-draining, rich. and moist. Although they appreciate moisture, if the soil is water-logged and poorly drained, root rot is common.

Water

Chives are a drought-tolerant species once established. That doesn't mean that during the hot and dry season, you should neglect to water them. To achieve an impressive harvest, ensuring they're kept consistently moist throughout the growing season is recommended.

If you aren't always able to keep on top of watering, you could consider mulching. Because chives bulbs are located close to the surface of the soil, this can help to conserve moisture.

Temperature and Humidity

A cool-season herb, chives produce their best harvest in the spring and fall. The extreme summer heat can sometimes result in them going dormant. Extreme cold can also kill off the foliage, and this is why pot-grown chives are often overwintered indoors.

Fertilizer

Chives don't need a lot of nutrients to survive, so regular fertilization doesn't need to be a major consideration.

Propagating Chives

Chives are easy to propagate by division. Even if you don't need to make new plants, it's still recommended to divide clumps every few years.

This will help to maximize their productiveness and health and prevent them becoming overly congested.

Pruning

If you don't want chives popping up all over your garden, it's a good idea to deadhead the flowers immediately after they have finished blooming. This will prevent the seeds from spreading.

How to Grow Chives From Seed

Chive seeds sown outdoors in the spring usually germinate within a few weeks. Ideally, you want temperatures to be around 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperatures are colder than this, sowing them in a tray on a sunny windowsill will be preferable.

Make sure you sow them close to the surface and that they aren't spaced too close together.

If you have germinated seedlings indoors and plan to transplant them outdoors, make sure you harden them off first.

Chives are usually ready to harvest within a couple of months of germination. It's a good idea for aesthetics, and to encourage healthy regrowth, to cut the leaves right down to the base.

You can harvest at any time, but be aware that old growth can be tougher and not quite as flavorsome.

If you want to consume the flowers, pick them immediately after they have fully opened as this is when they'll have the best taste.