How to grow chives

One of the easiest herbs to grow, chives are a popular culinary herb used in many different cuisines around the world. Suitable for all climates and an excellent companion herb, culinary ingredient and garden plant, chives are both practical and delicious.

What you need to know about chives

Name: chives, garden chives, common chives, onion chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Height: 20–30cm

Foliage: perennial with long, hollow, cylindrical leaves.

Climate: all climates.

Soil: plant in a soil enriched with compost and decomposed manure, or try growing in pots in a premium organic potting mix.

Position: full sun, but can be grown indoors or in part shade.

Flowering and fruiting: purple pompom-like flowers are produced on flowering stems in late spring and summer.

Feeding: apply blood and bone or dynamic lifter in autumn and spring.

Watering: although tolerant of short dry periods, regular watering is best. Mulch to improve soil moisture.

hand holding a bunch of chive stems

Appearance and characteristics of chives

Chives are clump-forming perennials with narrow, hollow, cylindrical foliage that has a pleasing mild onion-like flavour. Typically, the leaves are used in cooking and the purple pompom-like flowers are used in salads, although the entire plant is edible.

Uses for chives

Aside from the obvious culinary purposes, chives can also be grown as a wonderful edging plant, especially in vegetable gardens and orchards. With pest-repelling qualities as well as attracting pollinators, chives are a popular companion herb, especially under apple trees or planted alongside tomatoes.

How to grow chives

  1. Chives can be grown from seed sown in spring, summer or autumn. Evergreen in tropical climates, chives die down in winter in cold and warm temperate climates before re-emerging again in spring.


  2. Sow seed directly in the garden or start in punnets. Seedlings will establish in the garden easily, rapidly growing into a clump around 30 × 30cm.


  3. Chives should be harvestedfrom the outside in. Never take more than around a third of the plant at a time, and give plants time to establish before harvesting.


  4. Also popular in pots, chives are an easy-to-grow, versatile herb that will tolerate most conditions, but they are most flavoursome when grown in an enriched soil with adequate moisture.

     

Caring for chives

Chives are very easy to grow—regular water and seasonal fertiliser is all that’s required, especially if you have planted your chives in an improved soil or premium potting mix and mulched to reduce weed competition.

Although chives are tolerant of frost, wait until all likelihood of frost has passed before planting or sowing chives in the garden in spring.

Being a low-maintenance plant, chives only need watering once or twice a week, more often in dry conditions. Apply blood and bone in spring and autumn. An application of seaweed solution will also help to improve the overall health and vigour of your chives.

Pruning chives

Harvest your chives as needed; no further pruning is required. Remove the flower stems to improve flavour and to keep your chives productive. You can add the flowers to salads.

Diseases and pests

Protect your plants from snails and slugs when they’re young, using pet-friendly snail pellets or traps. As plants mature, they will be relatively pest free—in fact, chives can be used to make an organic spray to repel aphids.

How to propagate chives

Chives can be propagated by seed or division.

  1. Divide plants in early spring once they’re actively growing. This should be done every 3–4 years to keep plants productive and to prevent overcrowding.

  2. Simply dig up the entire clump and cut it in half or quarters, depending on the size of the clump, using a sharp knife or spade.

  3. If you would like to propagate chives from seed, leave them to flower and set seed in autumn.

  4. Remove the dry flowerheads as soon as they brown, but before their seed is released.

  5. Leave to dry indoors for a few days before placing in a paper bag and shaking vigorously. Seed will be released from the flowerheads.

  6. Dry the seed on paper towel for a week or two before storing in a clearly marked envelope, ready for sowing next spring.

 

If you like this then try

Shallots: a culinary onion with a mild sweet flavour.

Flat leaf parsley: another staple herb of the garden that’s used in the same cuisine as chives.

Chilli: spice up your kitchen with the addition of homegrown fresh or dried chilli.

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