Home gardeners are growing chives (Allium schoenoprasum) for their gentle flavor, bright green leaves and attractive purple flowers. And they look great in the garden, too!
The cool-season, compact plants produce grass-like, hollow leaves that add a mild onion flavor to potatoes, salads, soups and egg dishes. In spring, their showy flowers are popular in salads or as an edible garnish. This standout herb does well in containers both indoors and out.
A member of the Allium family, chives are closely related to onion, leek, scallion and garlic. They are rich in vitamin C, potassium and folic acid, and have been used medicinally to promote good digestion and lower blood pressure.
Plants grow to 1-1/2 feet tall and self-sow readily. They are considered a perennial in zones 3-9 and are a great companion plant that helps deter pests too! If you’re looking to grow chives in your garden, this article explains everything you’ll need to know!
Botanical Name: Allium schoenoprasum
Common Name: Chives, common chives
Plant Type: Herbaceous, perennial
Hardiness Zones: 3- 9 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type: Loamy, sandy, well-draining
Soil pH: 6.0 – 7.0 (Slightly acidic to neutral)
Maturity: 60 to 75 days
Height: 6 to 18 inches
Spacing: 4 to 6 inches apart
Bloom Time: Early summer
Flower Color: Lilac purple
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Harvesting Chives
- A great choice for mild onion flavor, especially for small or short-season gardens
- Easy to start from seed inside and out
- Plant in full sun with compost-rich soil
- Use fresh or dried
- Occasional aphid infestations
Chive Plant Care
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) is perennial herb that is easy to grow and maintain with beautiful purple edible flowers. They are a member of the onion family and have a mild onion flavor. Chives are often used as an edible garnish or in salads, soups, and sauces.
They are cool-season perennials that can survive cold temperatures, and should be planted in the spring and harvested by early summer.
Be careful when you plant this herb, because it will take over your garden if you let the flowers fully bloom and spread their seeds. But if it does spread to other parts of your garden, this plant is easy to dig up and move.
Chives are not only delicious, but also make excellent companion plants because they help deter pests. They are an ideal companion for carrots, celery, lettuce, peas, and tomatoes.
Chives grow best in full sun conditions, but they will also tolerate light shade. However, this may reduce flowering.
Plant chives in well-drained soil rich in organic matter for the best harvest. The soil should be neutral to slightly acid, and moisture-retentive.
Even though chives are drought-tolerant, they must be consistently watered throughout the growing season in order to produce high yields. When watering, thoroughly moisten the soil.
The small bulbs of chives grow near the soil’s surface; therefore, mulch should be used to conserve moisture and suppress weeds.
Temperature and Humidity
Chives, a cool-season herb, produce their best harvest in the spring and fall. In some cases, intense summer heat can cause chives to go dormant in the middle of the season.
Extreme cold can also kill the foliage, which is why chives grown in containers are typically overwintered indoors.
Chives don’t require a lot of nutrients to thrive, so they don’t need to be fertilized very often. If your soil is not already nutrient-dense, however, you should consider applying a nitrogen-rich fertilizer as a top dressing in late spring or early summer in order to maximize yield.
If you cut back chives after they bloom, the plant will get a fresh start and grow new leaves. When the flowers begin to fade, cut the chives in half to remove the spent flowers. Removing flowers after they bloom will also make sure that the seeds don’t spread throughout your garden.
Types of Chives to Grow
There are two main species of chives that are commonly grown in home gardens. Let’s take a look at them in more detail:
Common chives are made up of clumps of small, thin bulbs that grow thin, tubular, blue-green leaves that are about 10 to 15 inches tall.
Depending on the variety, the flowers, which are both edible and flavorful, can be white, pink, purple, or red although they’re most commonly purple. They grow in zones 3–9 (USDA)
Garlic chives (also known as Chinese chives) resemble common chives, but their leaves are flatter, greener, and grow to a height of approximately 20 inches.
As the name suggests, the leaves taste a little bit like garlic although the bulbs are more intense). The flowers are larger and less densely clustered than those of the common chive and are white in color.
Garlic chives are not as cold hardy as common chives and are best grown in zones 4 to 9.
How to Plant and Grow Chives
Each spring, work organic compost into your garden plot to prepare soil for planting. Chives do best in full sun, ample water and rich, sandy soil. The plant will tolerate frost but not prolonged freezing temperatures. They are frequently grown as annuals in climates with winter temperatures below 32˚F.
How to Plant Chives
It’s simple to grow chives from seed or divisions. Seeds can be started indoors a few weeks before the average date of the last frost and then planted outside after the danger of frost has passed, or they can be planted directly into the soil when its warm.
Plant chive seeds directly in the ground or propagate from divisions. Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep in early spring, and about 2 inches apart. Then cover them with a thing layer of soil.
Seed germinates best at 70˚F with germination usually occurring in 14 days. Once the seedlings emerge, thin the plant so that they’re spaced between 4 to 6 inches apart in all directions.
When propagating, space the clumps 12-20 inches apart. Chive plants are not thinned after the seedling stage, but left to grow in bunches. Divide every three years to keep clumps vigorous. A light feeding of organic liquid fertilizer early in the spring will promote plant vigor.
Tip: Practice organic weed control. Chives do not compete well with other plants — weed diligently.
Harvesting and Storage
Most culinary herbs are best picked early in the morning just as the dew evaporates. Harvest chives as soon as the spears are a few inches long. Snipping out entire spears to 2 inches above the ground will encourage new growth.
Do not wash the cuttings or aromatic oils will be lost (see our article Harvesting & Preserving Herbs to learn more). Chives are best fresh or frozen but can also be dried. To dry, tie them in small bunches upside down in a dark well ventilated room (watch How to Dry Herbs — video).
Seed Saving Instructions
Plants will flower and form seedheads. When these heads begin to dry, clip off and allow to dry further in a well protected area. There are many seeds in each flower.
Note: It may take 2 seasons before the seed is produced.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases for Chives
Chives are susceptible to infestations of aphids. If found, take the following common sense, least-toxic approach to pest control:
- Pinch or prune off heavily infested leaves or other plant parts.
- Commercially available beneficial insects, like ladybugs, are important natural predators of the pest.
- Apply food-grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE) for lasting protection. Containing NO toxic poisons, DE works by scoring an insect’s outer layer as it crawls over the fine powder.
- A short-lived natural pesticide, Safer® Soap works fast on heavy infestations.
- Do not over fertilize – aphids like plants with high nitrogen levels and soft new growth.
Other Herb Growing Guides from Planet Natural:
Eric Vinje founded Planet Natural with his father Wayne in 1991, originally running it as a grasshopper bait mail-order business out of a garage.
Eric is now retired, but is still a renowned gardener known for his expertise in composting, organic gardening and pest control, utilizing pesticide-free options, such as beneficial insects.
Eric believes when you do something good for the environment, the effects will benefit generations to come.