Chives are hardy perennials that are attractive, tasty, and easy to grow. These wild, occasionally invasive herbs grow in lush grasslike clumps that rise from a cluster of small bulbs. The snipped leaves add a pleasing touch to soups, salads, and vegetable dishes, providing color and a mild onion or garlic flavor. In spring and summer, chives boast globelike flowers that are popular as edible garnishes. These beautiful lavender blooms are toxic to pets , so be mindful of growing them in flowerbeds.
|Chives, Common Chives
|Perennial, Herb, Herbaceous
|10-18 in. tall, 10-18 in. wide
|Acidic to Neutral (6.0 to 7.0)
|Zones 3-9 (USDA)
|North America, Europe, Asia
|toxic to dogs, toxic to cats, toxic to pets
Depending on the selection, chives grow 10 to 20 inches tall and have the same tidy appearance as ornamental liriope . In late spring and summer, lavender and white blooms will add fresh color to your garden. Use chives as a perennial edging or border plant in a flower bed or herb garden—Chives also grow well in containers.
Plant chives in full sun—chives will survive in partial shade, but the mounds will not be as full. Chives grow best in rich, well-drained soil with a pH that's slightly acidic to neutral. In these conditions, chives growing in clumps can be invasive if not divided every few years.
Harvest this herb to add to dishes at the end of the cooking process—heat often destroys their mild flavor. Chives are excellent in egg dishes, potatoes, sauces, and with vegetables. Garnish cold soups and salads, including garden, pasta, and potato salads, with the leaves and blooms of garlic chives.
Grow chives in a sunny location that receives at least six hours daily for best results. Chives will grow in partial shade but will not flower as heavily.
Chives grow best in moist, fertile, and well-draining soil rich in organic matter. Amend soil conditions by preparing the ground before planting.
Chives are relatively drought-tolerant but thrive in moist soil. Consistent watering throughout the year will produce the best results—especially during periods of extreme heat. Supplement your watering schedule by adding mulch around the chive bulbs, which grow close to the surface, to help the plant retain moisture.
Temperature and Humidity
Chives grow best in spring and fall. This cold-season crop will go dormant in the summer during extreme heat, and extreme cold will kill the foliage. Plant chives in containers in areas with fluctuating temperatures so you can move them indoors. Keep chives indoors until the threat of frost passes, and wait to plant seeds in the spring until the ground temperatures are between 60ºF and 70ºF.
Add a slow-release fertilizer to the ground before or during planting. Keep faded blooms pinched back to promote leaf growth. If you harvest often, fertilize plants every two weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted according to label directions. If the soil lacks nutrients, add a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer during late spring or early summer.
Types of Chives
Common chives (Allium schoenoprasum) have hollow leaves with a mild onion flavor that grows to 10 to 12 inches tall. The leaves disappear in the fall at first freeze and reappear in early spring. Soon after, the plants produce lavender flowers used to make rose-colored vinegar. In addition to the common chives, there are several varieties often grown in home gardens:
- Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum): These chives, also known as Chinese chives, grow about twice as large as common chives and feature flatter, broader leaves. Their white umbel of flowers, the flat or rounded flower cluster that springs from the same point, appears in mid-to-late summer when many other perennials have begun to fade. Garlic chives are evergreen in areas where winters are mild. If the flowers are left to go to seed, many seedlings will sprout next spring.
- Giant Siberian Chives ( Allium ledebourianum ): These chives have leaves that can reach up to two feet and flowers that reach as high as three feet. The blue-green leaves pair beautifully against the lavender ball-shaped flowers.
Siberian Garlic Chives (
): These chives, also known as Blue Chives, are native to western and central Siberia. It has rosy violet flowers and is grown for its ornamental appearance.
When harvesting chives, do not cut down the entire clump because it needs some leaves to ensure future growth, but harvest as required. In the Gulf South, it is essential to harvest often to encourage new growth. Rather than shearing the entire plant, select leaves from outside the clump and cut each one about half an inch above soil level. Cutting them higher may leave unsightly brown stubs. Remove spent blooms to prevent seeds from spreading throughout the garden and causing unwanted growth.
If you have more chives than you can use at the moment, chop fresh leaves and freeze them in water in ice cube trays. Infuse oils with fresh chives or preserve the herbs in butter and vinegar.
About every three to four years, divide the clumps in early spring or after flowering, as the bulbs can become too crowded. Division keeps chives healthy and helps create new plants. Here's how to propagate chives by division:
- Start by selecting a clump of chives large enough to divide. Use a garden spade or shovel to dig around the plant carefully without disturbing the roots.
- Remove excess dirt and gently separate the clumps. Use your hands to pull apart chives until the roots separate. Make sure to leave at least three to four bulbs in every section.
- Transplant bulbs to another place outdoors or in a container. When planting, ensure enough room for the roots to expand.
- Gently pack plants with moist, rich soil. Keep in full sunlight and well-watered as the roots establish.
How to Grow Chives From Seed
You can grow chives from seed, but it will take a year to produce a clump large enough to use. Sow seeds directly in the garden after the last frost—ideally, the ground temperatures should be between 60ºF and 70ºF. Depending on your region's climate, start seeds indoors in a seed-starting tray about two months before the last frost. Keep seeds in moist, rich soil under a garden lamp or in direct sunlight—transplant chives into containers about eight inches apart after seedlings reach three inches tall. Before moving chives outdoors, gradually expose the seedlings to colder temperatures for about a week. If starting with purchased plants or transplants, set them out in the garden in early spring for the quickest results—plant chives in the lower and Gulf South in the fall for a winter harvest.
Chives are winter-hardy perennials, so these plants only need pruning in most climates. Cut chives back to a few inches above the ground and apply a layer of mulch around the bulbs. Chopped leaves, straw, pine needles, or bulk are good options for mulch but wait until after the first frost to encourage the plant to go dormant. Remove the mulch in the spring to promote new growth.
Other options include transplanting the clump to an indoor container to continue growing chives throughout the winter. Water container plants more frequently to ensure it gets enough moisture. Add a light fertilizer monthly, but don't overfeed plants.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Chives are susceptible to pests and diseases if the growing environment and care requirements are unsuitable. Common pests include aphids, mealybugs, onion maggots, spider mites, and thrips. Aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites attack foliage, while onion maggots damage roots and bulbs. Thrips attack flower petals, leaves, and stems. Use an insecticidal soap or covering to prevent pests from spreading.
Some diseases include Botrytis blight, downy mildew, and powdery mildew. Blight rots the center of the plant and first appears as yellow or brown spots on the foliage. Remove the diseased foliage and provide adequate air circulation to prevent fungus from establishing. Downy and powdery mildew weaken the foliage and eventually spreads throughout the plant. Remove diseased areas if caught early, but prevention is the best way to protect against these problems.
Common Problems With Chives
Chives encounter pests that prevent these plants from thriving. Other issues include drooping plants, colorless leaves, and stunted growth. Providing adequate airflow, water, and soil nutrients will help prevent these problems, but there are still some common issues to know:
Leaves Turning Yellow
Depending on your plant's age, yellowing leaves signify older foliage or a lack of space. Overcrowding causes chives to have insufficient nutrients, eventually turning the foliage brown. Additionally, an imbalance in water—too much or too little—and sun exposure can cause yellowing foliage. Finally, a pest infestation of thrips can remove the nutrients necessary for chives to thrive.
There are several reasons why chives will continuously fall over. Overwatering depletes the soil of its nutrients, creating weak stems. Underwatering is also an issue, but not more so than overwatering since these plants are relatively drought-tolerant. Chives growing in colder temperatures or poor soil conditions will also fail to thrive.