How to Grow and Care for Garlic Chives

Learn the difference between garlic chives and common chives

Garlic chives blooming

Jenny Dettrick / Getty Images

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) look similar to common chives (Allium schoenoprasum) but taste more like—you guessed it—garlic. Its scientific name of Allium tuberosum notes the plant's oniony roots and the plant's place among the family Liliaceae. Native to southeastern Asia, other common names for garlic chives include Chinese chives and Chinese leek. This perennial, clump-forming herb is a member of the onion family. Unlike onions and other types of garlic, the fibrous bulbs of garlic chives are not edible. All parts of the plant emit a strong, oniony scent when cut or crushed, while the flower scent is akin to that of violets. Grown for its edible leaves and flowers, the gray-green leaves grow up to 12 inches long and flowers bloom on sturdy stems just above the foliage. Different from the hollow onion chive leaves, the leaves of garlic chives are flat and grow like grass. Attracting butterflies, the tiny, star-shaped, creamy white flowers bloom with striped tepals in loose clusters from late summer through fall. Some gardeners report that mature plants can reach up to 3 feet tall as they are very easy to grow and care for in areas as cool as USDA Zone 3 and as hot as Zone 9.

Botanical Name Allium tuberosum
Common Names  Garlic chives, Chinese chives, Chinese leek
Plant Type  Fibrous bulb, perennial, clump-forming herb
Mature Size  6 to 12 in. or 1 to 3 ft. tall; 2 ft. wide
Sun Exposure  Full sun to part shade
Soil Type  Rich, well-draining 
Soil pH  Neutral
Bloom Time  August to September
Flower Color  Creamy white
Hardiness Zones  3-9, USDA
Native Area  Southeastern Asia
Toxicity  Non-toxic, edible herb 

Garlic Chives Care

Sow seeds as soon as they are ripe in the fall or in a cold frame in springtime. Transplant or thin seedlings to 6 to 12 inches apart when they are 2 inches tall. Welcome garlic chives to herb gardens, vegetable gardens, cottage gardens, or naturalized areas. Pair with companion plants such as carrots, grapes, roses, and tomatoes to help deter pests like Japanese beetles, black spot on roses, scab on apples, and mildew on cucurbits. Let their attractive flowers mingle in container gardens, rock gardens, or the fronts of borders. This perennial will also make an effective, dense ground cover.

Light

Garlic chives prefer full sun but will also grow in part shade.

Soil

Give this plant average, dry to medium soil that is rich and well-draining and has a neutral pH of about 6.0.

Water

While the plants are drought-tolerant, they do thrive in moist soil. Water as needed.

Fertilizer

Feed garlic chives a slow-release fertilizer.

Harvesting

Harvest young leaves anytime and pick edible flowers shortly after they open. To harvest, cut leaves down to the soil line using scissors or kitchen shears. Fresh garlic chives have the most potent flavor, but leaves can also be preserved by chopping them up and drying them or storing them in a resealable bag in the fridge for up to a week.

Uses

Cook garlic chives just as one would traditional chives as they are known to be beneficial to the digestive system and to stimulate appetite and blood circulation. Add chives to herbal vinegars, salads, soups, soft cheeses, compound butters, or grilled meat. Crumble the flowers and add them to egg dishes or soups or use them in floral arrangements for a little whimsey.

Pruning

Deadhead flowers before they go to seed to prevent undesired spread. Clip stems either to the ground or with two inches to spare to encourage new growth. In the event of a long-term freeze, garlic chives may die back and grow again in spring.

Propagating Garlic Chives

Plants tend to spread aggressively by self-seeding and tuberous rootstocks. Propagate from seed or division. To prevent an invasion of garlic chives, be sure to pick (and eat) the flowers before they drop seeds. Divide bulb clumps in the spring every three years or so. While there are no serious pest or disease problems to consider, note that garlic chives can be known as an invasive weed. Easy to care for in USDA Zones 3 through 9, this type of allium is very rewarding to grow. If you are fond of this perennial herb, welcome it to your yard for its versatility, low maintenance care, and many uses in the garden and the kitchen.