A relative of onion, chives are known for their beautiful flowers and landscaping potential, their mild, onion-esque flavor, and their ability to repel pests. Whether you use your chives in butter, olive oil, or any sauce, know they’re as low-maintenance as they are delicious and versatile.
type of perennial: herb
Common chives (onion chives), Garlic chives, Giant Siberian chives.
WHERE CHIVES THRIVE
Chives can live virtually anywhere in the United States but often die off in extreme cold. In moderate climates it grows as an evergreen.
Optimal shade & sun
Chives love full sun but will grow in partial shade.
Adaptability to climate extremes
This herb is one of the earliest to sprout in the cool of spring but it also grows in hot, dry extremes as long as you keep the soil moist and rich.
Chives are a hardy, resilient plant perfect for beginner gardeners. While it can grow anywhere the plant does best in a moist environment.
PREP YOUR SOIL
Optimal type of soil
It does best in loamy, sandy soil that is heavily composted and drains well
Start chives indoors, planting seeds 1/4th inch deep. Transplant into your garden 2-8 inches apart after they reach a minimum of 3 inches in height. You can also plant seedlings or bulbs directly into your garden. Consider planting 1 to 2 seeds per inch. Thin 2-3 plants per 8 inches.
Best time of year to plant
Aim to plant chives four to six weeks before the last frost. Given its overall hardiness you don’t have to worry too much if you're a little off.
Since it repels many common garden pests, including cabbage worms, aphids, carrot flies, and even apple scab, chives partner well with parsley, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, apples, celery, and other crops susceptible to these pests. There are no bad companions when planting chives so spread them around your garden to add beautiful color and natural insect control!
Chives have hollow shoots that grow to about one foot tall. Mature plants should be divided in the late summer every 3-4 years. If you have a hard time finding room for your multiplying chives, give clumps to your neighbors or friends!
Water new plants frequently to keep the soil moist. Once plants are established they require less water as their flavor increases with water stress. If they become too bitter, consider giving them a good soak once a week.
Mixing leaves and grass is an ideal mulching material for weed suppression and for adding nutrients back into the soil. Make sure that the leaves are shredded or else they mat together and restrict rainwater from seeping into the soil. You can shred leaves by raking them into a pile and letting they dry out completely. Have the kids (or energetic adults) play and jump on the dried leaves to break them up into small pieces. You can also run leaves over with the lawn mower a few times to shred them. Also be careful when mulching with fresh cut and very green grass. When laid more than 1/2 inch thick it begins to decompose and get very hot, so hot it will likely kill your plants!
Incorporate compost into your soil before planting chives. Chives thrive in soil rich with organic matter and will likely require no additional fertilizer for years to come. Chives grown in sandy soil will need a boost at the beginning of each growing season. Mix in a 5-10-5 fertilizer each spring into the first 3 inches of soil around your plants. Avoid adding nitrogen heavy fertilizers—as with many other herbs, too much nitrogen can zap your chives of their already-mild flavor.
Chives do not compete well for space and nutrients. For vigorous plants, place 2 inches of mulch around your plants at the beginning of spring to help suppress weeds and give chives a head start. Avoid burying your chives with mulch, leave a 2 inch ring around each plant.
While chives are great at deterring many garden pests, onion thrips occasionally pose a threat. Keep your chives well-watered to avoid them. Thrips like to feed in large groups but are easily blasted off plants with water. For large infestations consider using an organic insecticidal soap.
Allium rust, a fungal disease that causes bright orange spots on plants foliage, can be a problem in wet and humid climates. Your best defense against allium rust is to water the soil around your plants, avoiding the shoots, and give them good circulation by spacing out your plantings.
Particular growing challenges
Newly planted chives must be kept weed-free to survive. Other than that chives are an easy addition to a garden.
Wait to harvest chives until the plant is 6 inches tall. Then, you can clip up to 1 inch above the soil line 3-4 times per year. For the best flavor, harvest chives before they flower. Chives typically flower in May and June and you can harvest the blossoms and use them to flavor meals or use as a garnish.
Refrigerate chives in plastic bags or containers for short-term use, or cut and freeze them in ice cubes with a little water.
Hang bundles of chives in a dark, dry place, but note that chives’ mild flavor does not preserve as well as some other herbs.