What are chives? They're a member of the allium family, making them a relative of garlic and onions, and their light, fresh, oniony flavor is proof of their place in that pungent, flavorful family. Aside from being delicious, they're also pretty, attractive to pollinators, and very easy to grow.
Where to Plant Chives
Grow chives in full sun in average to rich, well-drained soil. While they are fairly adaptable to a range of conditions, chives grow best in evenly moist, slightly alkaline soil. This isn't a plant that stands up well to drought-like conditions, so they'll need additional water during dry spells.
Chives can also be grown in containers, which gives you a bit of flexibility, since you can move a container into a spot where it gets a bit more shade, so that during the hottest part of the day, the plants won't get too dry.
And because they grow so well in containers, chives also do well when grown indoors, either on a sunny windowsill or under grow lights. This way, you can have fresh chives all year long.
Chives are a perennial herb that grows well in Zones 3 through 9.
How to Grow Chives
Chives can be grown from seed or transplants in spring. If you're starting chives from seed (which is fairly easy to do!) you'll want to start them either indoors under lights six to eight weeks before your last spring frost if you live in a cold climate, or by sowing them directly into the garden as soon as the soil is workable.
If you start chive seeds indoors, you'll have to harden them off, and then plant them out in the garden after your last spring frost date.
Chives spread fairly quickly and can be easily divided in early spring, so if you know someone with chives in their garden they would probably be happy to dig up a piece for you, and that's an easy way to get some chive plants for your garden without having to start seeds or shop for transplants.
After 3-5 years, the crown of the plant can become overgrown and should be divided. You'll know it's time to do that when the center of the clump starts looking bare.
The pretty purple blooms of chives are also edible, in addition to being a magnet for bees and other pollinators. They're delicious sprinkled onto salads and vegetable dishes, or you can use whole chive blossoms to make chive blossom vinegar.
If you leave the flowers, they'll eventually fade and start to form seeds, becoming kind of papery looking. To keep the garden looking tidy, remove and compost the flower stalks, which will also help direct energy toward the leaves and prevent the plant from spreading all over by seed. If you would like to grow seeds, leave the strongest-looking flower stalks on the plant and harvest seeds when the blossoms become papery.
If the plant starts to look ragged in summer, trim all leaves back to 2 to 3 inches for a flush of new growth, and you'll get to enjoy chives all the way up until freezing temperatures arrive.
Types of Chives for Your Garden
There are two basic types of chives you might want to plant in your garden. Both are members of the allium family but have slightly different appearances and taste.
- Common chives are the type most people think of: thin, oniony leaves and small purple flowers. They bloom in late spring or early summer and do spread reliably in the garden but tend to be fairly well-behaved.
- Garlic chives have a garlic/onion flavor and wider, darker green leaves. They also bloom in late summer and have white blossoms. They can be a bit aggressive and reseed heavily, so if you don't want garlic chives everywhere, it's a good idea to remove the flower heads before they set seed.
Growing Chives for Flavor and Beauty
Whether you grow chives for their oniony leaves or their mild, tasty flowers, this is a plant that goes above and beyond being a simple edible. Its flowers make it equally at home in a mixed bed or border, and it will attract bees and butterflies as well. And as easy as it is to grow, it's definitely worth adding at least one clump of chives to your garden.