Everything You Need to Know About Growing Chives

updated Aug 12, 2022
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(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

So, you might not consider yourself much of a home gardener, but you love to cook, and you go crazy over seasonally fresh flavor. This is where growing culinary herbs comes into play. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to show you how easy it is to grow your own herbs, whether you’re limited by time, space, money, or that highly coveted green thumb.

Let’s start this series with chives. They are one of the first herbs to pop up in the spring garden, they are in season (and blooming!) right now, and they are pretty much the easiest herb to grow. Learn everything you need to know about how to plant, cultivate, harvest and preserve chives. I’m talking low-maintenance, high-yield, and serious versatility.

Why Should I Grow Chives?

I tell my non-gardening friends that chives are the “gateway herb.” Because they are so easy to grow, chives build up a new gardener’s confidence, allowing for further exploration with growing other culinary herbs. Since they are perennials, they grow back each spring, and they are one of the first to arrive on the scene during the cooler season.

Chives (allium schoenoprasum) have a light onion flavor, and their hollow, green leaves grace our summer salads, soups, omelets, and almost anything else that needs a hint of garlic or an herbaceous punch. They are a classic match for potato salad, but they are versatile enough to work with almost any cuisine.

Did I mention the entire plant is edible? The leaves, blossoms, and even bulbs, to a lesser extent, all find uses in the kitchen. Pollinators are also attracted to chives’ vibrant, purple blossoms.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

How to Plant Chives

  • Where: I plant my chives throughout my landscaping, so you’ll find chives along the walkway, within my wildflowers, and alongside my tomatoes and carrots. Chives also grow well in container gardens and thrive indoors on a sunny windowsill.
  • When: Set chive seedlings into your backyard garden or container garden, once the ground temperature hits at least 65°F. If you’re planting chives from seed, start them indoors, optimally, so they will have a head start on the growing season, once you’re ready to set them in the ground. Aim to sow the seeds indoors four to six weeks before the last projected frost and transplant them, when the seedlings are about two inches tall.

How to Cultivate Chives

  • Soil: Plant chives in fertile, well-drained soil. Integrate a little organic fertilizer or healthy compost into the soil and avoid over-fertilizing throughout the season, so you’ll obtain the best flavor.
  • Sun: Chives thrive in full sun, but they will grow almost anywhere. If you are growing chives indoors, place them in a south-facing window or a spot that receives at least six hours of sunshine.
  • Water: Keep the soil moist. Chives grow best when watered frequently, as long as there is proper soil drainage.
  • Spacing: Chives grow about 12 inches tall and spread about 12 inches across. When planting chives near each other, keep the bulbs at least six inches apart. Every three or four years, divide the bulbs, so that they keep proliferating.
  • Companion Planting: Plant chives alongside carrots, tomatoes, mustard greens, or cabbage. Chives actually repel carrot flies, aphids, and cabbage worms. This spring, I planted chives near my apple tree, since chives are known to prevent apple scab. Talk about putting your garden to work for you!

How to Harvest Chives

  • Leaves: Using garden shears, clip chive leaves, cutting one to two inches above the soil. Clip leaves from the outer portion of the plant first, making sure not to clip all of the plant at once. If you make a mistake and cut back all of the plant, no worries. It will grow back the following year. Wait to harvest your chives when the plant is at least six inches tall.
  • Blossoms: Clip the flower at the base of its stem. The stem is edible but is often tougher and “woodier” in taste than its leaves. Chives flower between May and June, and the blossoms are tasty in salads and in chive blossom vinegar.
(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

How to Preserve Chives

Since the entire plant is edible, there are many exciting ways to preserve your chive harvest. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss various preservation techniques beyond the usual freezing and dehydrating.

Chives are the workhorse of my kitchen. I use them almost daily, and I find such satisfaction clipping a few leaves and tossing them in my omelet or atop my vegetable stir-fry at lunch. I’ve been growing them for years, and even when I forget about tending them, they still keep faithfully producing.

How do your chives perform? Do you grow them in the garden or in pots? What tips do you have to share?