Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) is an easy-to-grow, grass-like perennial herb in the same family as onion and garlic. It has a mild onion flavor that tastes great in salads or as a soup garnish. The attractive purple flowers also make it an interesting garden plant. Chives attracts bees and other pollinators at the same time it seems to repel other insects; it is sometimes planted among vegetables to discourage Japanese beetles and other damaging insects.
These cold-tolerant perennials are ideal for more temperature regions and are usually planted from nursery sets in early spring to give a generous harvest beginning in late spring. If planted from seeds, they will reach harvestable maturity in about two months.
|Botanical Name||Allium schoenoprasum|
|Common Name||Chives, common chives|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||10-15 in. tall, similar spread|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, light shade|
|Soil Type||Loamy, sandy|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic to neutral|
|Bloom Time||Early summer|
|Flower Color||Lilac purple|
|Hardiness Zones||3–9 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Asia, North America|
|Toxicity||Toxic to dogs, cats|
How to Plant Chives
Chives are a common garden herb grown for the table, but they also make a good ornamental plant for rock gardens or borders. They also grow well in pots and can be overwintered indoors or positioned on a windowsill year-round to allow for continual harvest.
Chives like plenty of sun, well-drained soil, and decent moisture. It's a good idea to dig in 4 to 6 inches of well-decomposed compost to the soil before planting. Because of their clump-forming habit, chives can become easily overcrowded, so dividing the clumps regularly will help to ensure growth remains vigorous.
In warm climates, they may remain evergreen year-round; in cold climates, they will die back to ground level each fall, returning as perennials in the spring. Chives are shallow-rooted plants; carefully consider what you grow around them and watch out for weeds springing up, as these can out-compete the chives if you aren't careful.
Gardeners growing chives as edible herbs may cut back the flowers to prevent the plants from going to seed. If you choose to enjoy the blooms (which are also edible), be aware that the plants will self-seed very freely, leaving you with many volunteers. This is not a seriously invasive plant, however.
Chives have no serious pest or disease problems, but root-rot can be an issue for clumps growing in dense, poorly drained soil.
Chives thrive in a full sun location Although they tolerate light shade, the flower display will be less impressive in shady locations.
To produce the best harvest, you'll want to plant chives in soil that is well-draining, rich. and moist—the same conditions under which onions thrive.
Chives are a drought-tolerant species once established. That doesn't mean you should neglect to water them during hot, dry weather. To achieve an impressive harvest, make sure chives are kept consistently moist throughout the growing season.
If you aren't always able to keep on top of watering duties, you could consider mulching. Because chives bulbs are located close to the surface of the soil, this can help to conserve soil moisture.
Temperature and Humidity
A cool-season herb, chives produce their best harvest in the spring and fall. Extreme summer heat can sometimes result in chives going dormant during the middle of the summer. Extreme cold can also kill off the foliage, and this is why pot-grown chives are often overwintered indoors.
Chives don't need a lot of nutrients to survive, so frequent fertilization isn't necessary. But it's a good idea to give chives a single top-dressing with a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer in late spring or early summer.
In addition to common chives (Allium schoenoprasum) there are three other related Allium species commonly grown as garden chives:
- Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), also referred to as Chinese chives, are similar in appearance to common chives, but they have a light garlic flavor. Garlic chives 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.
- Giant Siberian chives (Allium ledebourianum) have a richer taste than other chive varieties, with a strong onion-garlic flavor. It is a taller plant, with large rose-violet flowers.
- Siberian garlic chives (Allium nutans) have a distinctive onion-garlic flavor. They have erect blue-green foliage and pink flowers that bloom in midsummer.
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 early spring temperatures are cold, sowing them in a tray on a sunny windowsill is preferable, six to eight weeks before the last frost.
Make sure you sow them close to the surface and that they aren't spaced too close together. If you have germinated seedlings indoors to transplant outdoors, make sure you harden them off first with increasingly long visits outdoors over a period of about 10 days.
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 improves the productiveness and health of the plants and prevents them from becoming overly congested.
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.
Chives are usually ready to harvest within a couple of months of seed germination, or about 30 days after nursery seedlings are planted. 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. New plants should be harvested four or five times in their first year. Mature plants should be harvested monthly.
Chives are best used fresh or when frozen immediately after picking. They lose their flavor if they are dried for storage. 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.