Photo: Ralph Anderson
Chives are hardy perennials that are attractive, tasty, and easy to grow. These rugged 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 both color and a mild onion or garlic flavor. In spring and summer, chives boast globelike flowers that are popular as edible garnishes.
Growing Chives In the Landscape
Use chives as a perennial edging or border plant in a flower bed or herb garden. 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. Chives also grow well in containers.
Chives Planting and Care
Plant chives in full sun; plants will survive in partial shade, but the mounds will not be as full.
For quickest results, start with purchased plants or transplants and set them out in the garden in early spring. In the lower and Gulf South, plant chives in fall for a winter harvest.
You can also 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. When seedlings are about 3 inches tall, thin them to 8 inches apart.
Chives like rich, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil 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. About every three to four years, divide the clumps in early spring or after flowering, as the bulbs can become too crowded.
Chives Species and Selections
Common chives (Allium schoenoprasum) have hollow leaves with a mild onion flavor. Plants grow 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 that can be used to make a rose-colored vinegar. The selection Profusion has long-lasting edible flowers that do not form seeds.
Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are also called Chinese chives. They grow about twice as large as common chives and feature flatter, wider leaves. Garlic chives have a mild garlic flavor and are popular in Asian cooking. They are also appreciated in flower beds, where they grow to 20 inches tall when in bloom. 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 the next spring.
Harvesting, Storing, and Using Chives
Harvest chives as you need them. In the Gulf South, it is especially important to harvest often to encourage new growth. Rather than shearing the entire plant, select leaves from the outside of the clump and cut each one about 1/2 inch above soil level. Cutting them higher may leave unsightly brown stubs.
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 butters and vinegars.
Add chives to dishes at the end of the cooking process, as their mild flavor can be destroyed by heat. 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.
When harvesting chives, do not cut down the entire clump because the plant needs some of its leaves to ensure future growth.