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How to Grow Chives

Chives are a fantastic herb for any gardener to grow. Not only do they add a touch of beauty to your garden with their attractive purple blooms, but they also help deter pests, making them essential for any garden. Growing chives is a breeze because they require minimal maintenance, whether planted in pots on a sunny windowsill or directly in the garden.

Close-up of chives growing in a pot.

The low-down

Chives are a perennial herb from the Allium genus, which also includes garlic, onions, and leeks. They thrive in temperate climates, going dormant during winter and reemerging in early spring, and can be grown indoors year-round.

Key Characteristics

  • Stems: Slender, hollow, grass-like
  • Height: Up to 20 inches tall
  • Flowers: Edible, large purple, pink or white flowers
  • Blooms: late spring to summer.

Growing conditions

  • Soil: Moist, fertile, well-draining
  • Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade
  • Watering: Regular to maintain moist soil
  • Location: Growing in the ground or in pots.
  • Temperature: Hardy to USDA Zone 8.

Uses

  • Culinary Uses: Both leaves and flowers are edible.
  • Flavor: Mild onion
  • Companion Planting: Can deter pests when planted among vegetables.

Chive varieties

There are two main types of chives:

1. Common Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Common chives are the most familiar type, often used in cooking. They have slender, hollow leaves and produce small, purple flowers. This variety thrives in both gardens and pots.

Common chives are excellent for a variety of dishes, providing a mild onion flavor. They’re perfect for garnishes, soups, salads, and egg dishes.

2. Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum)

Garlic chives have a distinct garlic flavor and flat, broad leaves. They are also known as Chinese chives and are more cold hardy than common chives. This makes them an excellent choice for regions with colder climates.

Besides their flavorful leaves, garlic chives produce white flowers that can be used in cooking or left to attract beneficial insects. They’re fantastic in Asian dishes, stir-fries, and as a garnish.

When to plant chives

Chives can be planted when the soil is workable in late winter or early spring. They grow best in temperatures between 60-70°F but can handle cooler conditions down to 40°F.

Where to grow chives

Climate and hardiness

Chives are hardy in zones 3-10, meaning they can withstand a range of climates. In colder zones, chives will return each spring, ready to grow and be harvested. They can survive winter temperatures, making them a perennial favorite. It’s best to plant chives after the last frost to ensure they have a strong start.

Sunlight

Chives thrive in full sun but can tolerate some light shade. In hotter climates, offering them some shade with porous fabric can prevent them from getting too much sun. Make sure they get at least 6 hours of sunlight daily for optimum growth

Soil

Chives prefer well-drained, fertile soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Rich, loamy soil is ideal.

Mixing 4-6 inches of well-decomposed compost into the soil before planting can help improve it.

Containers

Chives are great for container gardening. Use pots with drainage holes and fill them with rich potting soil. Chives adapt well indoors too. They can be planted in small pots and kept on a sunny windowsill year-round.

Large chive plant growing in a container.

Growing chives (3 methods)

Chives can be started either from seeds or by planting divisions. Each method has its own steps and best practices to ensure healthy growth.

1. Start seeds indoors

If you live in a region with a short growing season or want to get a head start on your chive patch, starting seeds indoors is a great option.

  • Begin sowing chive seeds indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost date in your area.
  • Fill seed trays or pots with well-draining potting mix and sow the seeds about ¼ inch deep (they need darkness to germinate).
  • Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and seedlings should emerge within 2-3 weeks.

Move chives outside after the threat of frost has passed and when seedlings are at least 3-4 inches tall and have multiple leaves. Harden them off by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions over a week.

Tip

Seedlings need plenty of light. If natural light is insufficient, use a fluorescent or LED grow light. Maintain a temperature of around 60-70°F (15-21°C).

2. Sow seeds directly in the ground

If you live in a milder climate with a longer growing season, planting chive seeds directly in the ground is a simple and efficient option.

  • Wait until the soil has warmed up and the risk of frost has passed before sowing the seeds outdoors.
  • Prepare the planting area by removing any weeds and loosening the soil.
  • Sow the seeds about ¼ inch deep and lightly cover them with soil.
  • Keep the area consistently moist until the seeds germinate, which usually takes 2-3 weeks.

Planting directly in the ground eliminates the need for transplanting and allows the chives to establish themselves in their permanent location from the start.

However, keep in mind that when planting directly outdoors, the seeds may take longer to germinate, and the plants may mature slightly later compared to those started indoors.

3. Dividing existing plants

Chives can also be started by dividing existing plants. This method is faster than growing from seeds. It also rejuvenates older plants by preventing overcrowding.

Caring for your Chives

Chives are a hardy and low-maintenance herb, but they do require some basic care to thrive.

Watering Needs

Chive plants need consistent moisture to thrive. Water them regularly, keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged. Avoid letting the soil dry out completely.

If you’re growing chives in pots, check the soil more often, as pots can dry out faster than garden beds. Water in the early morning to allow the plants to dry out during the day, which helps prevent fungal problems.

Fertilizing

Chives don’t need much fertilizer if you start with rich, organic soil, but will benefit from a little extra nutrition from time to time. Use a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer (like 10-10-10) once or twice during the growing season.

Weed management

Keeping the area around your chives weed-free is crucial. Weeds compete for nutrients and moisture, so regular weeding helps your chives get the resources they need. A layer of mulch can suppress weed growth and also help retain soil moisture.

Recently harvest chive plant in a black pot.

Pruning and harvesting

Regular harvesting or pruning encourages fresh growth and prevents the plant from becoming too leggy.

To harvest chives, wait until the plants are established and at least 3-4 inches tall. Using sharp kitchen shears, cut the leaves from the base of the plant, starting with the outer ones leaving about 1-2 inches of growth above the soil to encourage regrowth.

Ideally, during the first year, you should harvest chives 3-4 times. In subsequent years, it’s good practice to cut them back monthly.

If your chives produce flower stalks, it’s best to snip these off at soil level to prevent seeding and to promote more leaf growth.

Troubleshooting common problems

Pest and disease management

Chives are relatively resistant to pests, but aphids and thrips can sometimes be an issue. Introduce natural predators like ladybugs or use insecticidal soap to control infestations.

To prevent fungal diseases, ensure good air circulation and avoid overhead watering.

Growing Issues

Yellowing Chives

  • Lack of Space: Ensure they’re not overcrowded by dividing every 3-4 years.
  • Watering Issues: Optimize watering; over or under-watering can lead to yellowing.

Growth Problems

  • Sunlight: Chives need plenty of sun, so find a sunny spot or use grow lights indoors.
  • Soil Conditions: Ensure fertile, well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0-7.0. Amend with compost if necessary.