Days to germination: 14 to 20 days
Days to harvest: End of first season
Light requirements: Full sun or light shade
Water requirements: Regular watering
Soil: Fertile and well-drained
Container: Excellent in containers
Chives are closely related to the onion, and are grown for their greens rather than a bulb. Some chives will produce a small onion bulb but they are still usually grown for their green tops. They have the same flavor as onion, but lighter and more subtle.
For a different taste, you can try garlic chives. They grow the same as traditional chives but has more of a garlic flavor than an onion flavor.
They do eventually flower if you let them, and the purple “pom-pom” blossom is very pretty in its own right. Purple is the most common color, but some chive varieties have white or pink blossoms. The flowers are edible, though not as flavorful as the greens.
As long as you don’t dig up the bulbs, your chives will continue to come back each spring as a perennial.
Chives are used for their taste rather than as a nutritional value. Even so, there is a lot of vitamin C and A in chive leaves. They are also a good source of iron and calcium.
Starting from Seed
Chives are often started from seed, and they usually germinate quite well though they can take a while. Or you can purchase small bulbs, which will grow faster than seeds.
If you are planting your seeds (or bulbs) right into the garden, wait until all threat of frost is passed. Chive seeds need warmer weather in order to germinate and sprout. For an earlier planting, start your seeds indoors about 5 weeks before the frost date and plant as seedlings about a week after your last frost.
Regardless of how you are starting your plants, they should be around 6 inches apart in the garden in groups of 3 or 4. If you are sowing seed directly out, you can start them closer than that and thin out later. The thinnings can be used for a quick and early chive “harvest”.
Plant chives in a sunny location but they can grow just fine with a little shade if necessary. Dig up the area a bit to loosen the soil, and mix in a bit of compost. Add some bone meal to the soil to add calcium (helpful but not strictly necessary).
If you are growing onions as well, you should plant your chives away from them. Some onion pests are attracted to chives so you should separate them (see Pests section for more).
Chives grow easily without much maintenance but you do need to keep their immediate growing area free of weeds. Keep them well watered, particularly when the weather is hot.
Though the flowers are quite pretty, you should pinch out the budding stems as they emerge to keep your plant producing their leaves. Once it flowers and goes to seed, chive’s growth will slow right down.
If you are not immediately harvesting your chives, you should still keep the leaves trimmed down once they reach 6 or 7 inches high. Taller leaves will start to lose their characteristic taste.
Chives are just ideal for container growing, and they will do quite well indoors as well as out. Most chives won’t get any taller than 12 inches, though garlic chives are closer to 18 inches in height. You can grow 4 or 5 plants in a 12-inch pot easily.
Potted chives will need frequent watering, usually every 3 or 4 days depending on the weather if they are kept outside.
If you don’t let your plants flower, you can keep your chives growing all through the winter as long as you have a sunny window for them.
Pests and Diseases
As mentioned above, some onion pests like chives. In particular you should watch out for the onion fly. Onion flies look very similar to the common housefly, and they lay their eggs on onion leaves. They will readily do so with your chives as well if they are nearby. Their larvae are small white worms that will chew through your chives, usually around the base near the bulb. Treat with pesticides when you see the flies, but don’t harvest for several days afterwards and wash the leaves well before using.
Onion flies will seldom come to your chives unless there are true onions nearby.
There aren’t many diseases that bother chives. Rust can sometimes be an issue, but not that often. It’s a fungus that shows up as rusty patches on the leaves, and can spread enough to kill the plant. A little fungicide may help, but you should cut the leaves back enough to remove all the rust spots as well.
Harvesting and Storage
The tops of chives will grow a lot like green onions, with no branches. So when it comes time to harvest some, you just snip off a few inches from the ends with a pair of sharp scissors. You can cut them down to about 2 inches above the ground and they will continue to grow. It’s a lot like mowing the grass. Just take the tops and the bottoms keep going.
Though they are easy to harvest, you should let them grow through their first summer so that the roots are strong enough to re-grow the plant after you clipped the tops. If you do want to harvest a bit of chives, only take a small amount off the top during that first year.
Once the hard frosts of winter arrive, your chive plants will die back for the winter. Take your last harvest of leaves right before the frost but don’t cut back too severely. The plants still have to survive the winter.
As for storage, chives are a bit different than other herbs that you would store dried. Drying chives is not a good idea as they lose their flavor almost immediately that way. Its more common to freeze your chives instead. A popular technique is to chop chives, and use an ice cube tray to freeze them in individual portions for later thawing.