They are close cousins to garlic, onions and leeks. Chives have slender, bright green foliage that stays attractive throughout the summer, as well as tufted lavender or white flowers that appear in early summer. All parts of the chive plants are edible, including the flowers and they add a subtle, delicate onion flavor to any dish. Chive plants always look amazing in the early spring, but they can start to look a little sad once summer rolls around and their blooms start to fade. To encourage new leaf growth throughout the season, it’s important to pinch back the spent blooms or better yet, pick the blooms earlier and enjoy them as a really fun edible garnish on your meals.
How To Grow Chives?
Unlike onions, chives are perennials and will come back year after year. When cared for properly, you can expect them to live for 10 to 20 years, at least. Starting chives from seed or bulbs is quite easy, though rooted clumps is the easiest of all. Chives are found all over the world in many different climates and grow very well here in the US in growing zones 3 to 9. In cold areas, the plant will die back in winter and will put forth bright green shoots in early spring. Reaching heights between 12 and 24 inches, individual plants are low growing and compact, usually no more than 12 inches wide.
1. Location and Soil
Chives prefer full sun and rich, well-draining soil. However, they are tough and can tolerate as little as 4 hours of sunlight, as well as less than ideal soil. Just keep in mind that root rot is possible if soil is especially poor draining. Chives grow well in containers both indoors and outside. You can even grow them vertically in wall hanging planters as long as you keep them well watered.
Chives can be grown easily from seed or from small plants purchased from a local nursery. Plant starters are a great way to get your garden established quickly. Add a handful of organic compost into the planting hole and plant in spring or early summer.
Before transplanting, water your plants well to help the roots stay together and prevent damage when transplanted. Dig holes large enough to contain the entire root system comfortably and to set the crown about 1/2-inches below the soil surface. Water the hole thoroughly and then let the water drain. Add compost and space plants about 8 to 12 inches apart.
If you grew your chive seedlings in soil blocks, place the block into the hole and gently firm the soil around the seedling. If your seedlings are in containers, carefully remove the root ball from the container, place it into the hole and lightly firm the soil. Water well to remove air pockets. Mulch to conserve moisture and keep the weeds down.
If you prefer growing it from seed, you should know that chives will take a year to produce a clump large enough for harvesting. You can start seeds early under lights and then transplant into the garden in spring. Sow seeds 6-8 weeks before your last spring frost date or sow outside as soon as the ground can be worked. It will take 10-20 days for the seeds to germinate. Chives grow in clumps, so there is no need for thinning. Harden-off your seedlings to allow them to adjust to being outside and transplant into the garden after all danger of frost has passed.
3. Companion Plants
The strong scent of chives is essential to it’s ability to repel many insects and pests from your urban garden, as suggested by Mosquito Authority. Because of this useful quality, chives are a great companion for planting in and around many other plants that many be found in your urban garden, such as fruit trees, carrots, cucumbers, basil, parsley, strawberries and tomatoes. Avoid planting next to beans and peas, as they do not grow well together.
Chives are also beneficial to your garden in general, as their bright purple flowers are great at attracting bees and other pollinators.
Water whenever the soil feels dry. You can check by sticking your finger into the soil up to the first or second knuckle. When the top few inches are dry to the touch, it’s time to water.
To harvest, simply snip the leaves or nip the flower head off. The plant will recover as long as you don’t cut back further than 2 inches from the ground. It’s important to never harvest the entire clump of leaves at once. Chives needs some full leaves to be able to draw energy from the sun and ensure future growth. You can harvest your plant at any point in time from when they first come up in the spring until the fall. Harvesting leaves in the early morning is preferred, before the heat from the sun dehydrates the leaves. It’s important to note that chives actually really love to be harvested and will do much better throughout the season if you harvest and use them regularly.
6. Using Chives
Commonly found in fish and potato recipes and a staple in soups, chives are also a great condiment seasoning. The flowers too are lovely in salads or as a garnish. The leaves are most flavorful when used fresh, though they can be frozen in plastic containers or bags and used straight from the freezer.