Growing Chives

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growing onion chives with blooms in garden

When in bloom, onion chives are as beautiful as they are tasty.

In the Garden

Chives are members of the lily family grown for their leaves and flowers, which are equally popular in the garden and in the kitchen. Both onion and garlic chives are grown and used in a similar fashion. Some gardeners use onion and garlic chives as a perennial edging or border plant in a flower border or an herb garden. They also grow well in containers, both alone and in combination with other long-lived herbs such as rosemary.

Growing onion chives? You’re not alone. Many gardeners grow them for their leaves and rosy purple flowers, both of which boast a mild onion flavor. They grow well in the ground or any pot, even a small one, or the pockets of a strawberry jar.

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), also known as Chinese chives, are grown for their mildly garlic-flavored leaves and pretty white flowers. The leaves are flat, not hollow like those of onion chives (Allium schoenoprasum).

(Note: At this time, Bonnie only sells onion chives.)

Soil, Planting, and Care

Chive plant growing in a clump with purple blooms.

Chive plants grow in clumps. When the clumps get too large after a few years, they can be divided in early spring.

When growing chives, it’s best to plant them in full sun, but plants also grow in partial shade, especially in the South and Southwest. Set out plants in early spring in soil amended with plenty of compost or a good slow-release fertilizer, placing them 8 to 12 inches apart. For fast growth, plant in rich, well-drained soil. (Plants are tough enough to withstand poor soil, but just won’t grow fast.) They need little care other than watering until well-rooted. If you harvest often, fertilize every 3 or 4 weeks with a liquid plant food such as Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food, fish emulsion, or 20-20-20, diluted according to label directions. Although the flowers are nice, the plants produce more leaves if you pinch off the flower buds. After a few freezes make the leaves ugly, cut the plants back to the ground. They will come back in spring. After 3 or 4 years, each plant will have grown into a clump of smaller plants; divide them in early spring.

Troubleshooting

Watch for aphids, especially in spring. Spray with neem or insecticidal soap. Spray will bead up on the waxy leaves, so be sure it comes in contact with the pests, especially down in the crown of the plant. Garlic chives reseed generously if you let the seed mature; this can be a plus, but in the wrong place, you will find yourself pulling up lots of seedlings.

Harvest and Storage

Chives stalks being cut with scissors in the garden.

Clip chives to about a half inch above the soil level, leaving plenty to restore the plant. You can clip from the outer edge of the clump, or, if you need more chives at once, clip the whole clump, as shown here.

You can begin harvesting leaves as soon as they are big enough to clip and use. Cut from the outside of the clump, about 1/2 inch above soil level, always leaving plenty to restore energy to the plant. Although fresh is best, you can store extra for winter use by chopping and freezing the leaves, or you can also preserve them in herb butters, oils, and vinegars, where they blend well with parsley and tarragon.

Uses

Onion chive blossoms are beautiful, purple, and edible

The edible blooms of onion chives add color and oniony flavor when tossed into a salad or floated in soup.

Add to dishes at the very end of the cooking process, because their mild flavor is destroyed by heat. The purple flowers of onion chives, which are also edible, float beautifully in soup. In late summer, dig up a couple of plants, pot them, and move them to your windowsill for a nice winter source of fresh snips.

Download our How to Grow Herbs instructions. They are in .PDF format.

FAQs

The pot of chives that I bought looks like a tuft of grass. How big will they get?

There are two kinds of chives, those that taste like a mild onion and those that taste like garlic. Both prefer full sun and moist, well-drained soil. However, there is a difference in size. The onion chives reach about 12 inches tall with pink spherical flowers held near the tips of the tubular leaves in spring. Garlic chives have long, flat foliage about 12 inches tall, but the white clusters of flowers stand about 18 inches tall in late spring or early summer.

Where should I put my chives?

Onion chives are nice as a border or as a clump near the front edge of a bed. Garlic chives, because they are taller, can hold their own in the middle of a bed with shorter plants in front and taller ones behind. Most importantly, plant them where you can easily reach their flavorful foliage with a pair of kitchen shears!

Will my chives spread?

Neither onions chives nor garlic chives will spread, though the clump will get larger (like a bunching onion). However, garlic chives will reseed if the blooms are left on the plant long enough for seeds to mature and fall into the garden. Don’t want seedlings? Deadhead the flowers or, better still, cut them for a vase indoors. Don’t worry; they don’t smell like garlic. In fact, they’re fragrant!

It looks like there are a lot of little plants in my pot of chives. Can I divide them?

Yes! You might not want to divide them into individual plants, because some will die in the process. But you can easily make 2 or 3 clumps from the plants in the pot. This is particularly helpful if you are planting a border of chives around your herb or vegetable garden.

Will I be able to cut chives all year long?

If you live in a frost-free area, you will have chives year-round. Otherwise, chives will go dormant with the first freeze. You can cut a handful when a freeze is forecast, take them to the kitchen, and use kitchen shears to cut them into sections. Then put them in a freezer container. Use as needed during the months when there are no chives outdoors to pick.

I want to use my chives, but I also want them to look good in the garden. Can I have both?

Yes, if you cut them properly. Don’t just cut the top 2 to 3 inches of a leaf. Cut an entire leaf all the way to within a half inch of the base of the plant. This prevents having a brown-edged, chopped-off leaf. In addition, this encourages the plant to grow new leaves.

14 thoughts on “Growing Chives

  1. I purchased a chive plant several months ago and now it is so big it is starting to crowd some of the plants in my garden. I am considering splitting it but it is currently very hot here (southern California as summer is approaching). I am a little confused though because it seems to have two types of leaves, which I think were there when I bought it. One is a large clump of those typically used for cooking, but there is also a huge clump of leaves that somewhat resemble the spinach I just took out. Should I wait until fall to split them? And how would they be split with both types of leaves?

    • Hello Amber,
      You can divide the clumps carefully in early Spring and Fall. It sounds like you may have two different plants growing. You are welcomed to send in a picture to the Ask an Expert site if you would like. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  2. I live in Arizona and have had the same onion chive for about 5 years now. Once summer starts it turns light brown and shrivels up. It looks completely dead but once it’s fall again leaves start growing and it comes back to life. I can not give it any water for 4 months yet it still manages to live somehow. It’s fairly useful and I like using the fresh chives when I cook. For the last 2 years though the leaves have become flat and not quite as tasty. Is there anything I can do to make the leaves like before or should I get a new chive? I like having to do nothing to take care of this one but it might be a bit too old now.

    • You may consider a new chive plant, Aiya. I have had a couple for 4 or 5 years and they get larger every year – They are watered during the summer months. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  3. I have just planted some herbs and tomatoe plants I bought at Lowe’s this last weekend. All were Bonnie plants. There is a tomatoe plant, Sage, Cayanne Pepper, rosemary, sweet basil and onion chives. I watched to video about how to plant them by removing the bottom of the container they came in. I followed the instruction to give them a heavy watering the first time to help settle the soil. I used Miracle grow potting soil. And i bought Miracle grow All Purpose Plant Food. All is good so far.

    What I have no clue of is how much and how often to water them. And I am wondering if this plant food is the right fertilizer to use?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated. I live in Torrance, California.

    • Hello Brian,

      Once established most vegetables and herbs will grow well with about an inch of water per week. This is a general rule of thumb and wil depend on soil types and temperatures. If the plant are in the ground, encourage deep roots by watering deeply but infrequently. This usually means watering every 3 – 4 days if nature does not do it for you. Containers are watered more frequently since they will dry out quicker. As the temperature rises in the summer, more water may be needed. Sounds like you are off to a great start. Plants respond well to liquid fertilizers, just follow the directions on your fertilizer for amounts and frequency.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  4. My chives have been in the ground for, perhaps, five years and have changed from looking like, well, chives to having broader, flatter leaves. Additionally, they are significantly less tasty; I don’t even bother cooking with them anymore. I did divide the clumps two years ago, hoping that this would help, but there has been no change or improvement. Is more dividing required? Does this sound normal , or have I evolved some sort of monster plant? I really miss my chives! Thanks.

    • Hi Jessica,
      I have not heard of chives developing different leaves over time. If you would like, you can take a picture and download it to our Ask An Expert site so we can get a better look.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

    • Ours have done the same thing! We were waiting to see if they would flower again to verify what they are, they still smell like chives…

  5. Very sweet story you shared with us, Valery. I’m brand new to gardening and have admittedly sent a few herbs to the grave earlier this year with my lack of knowledge for proper techniques. However, I can definitely say that chives are among the easiest plants to grow (I live in a 7 region)! Even when I thought they were goners after getting hit with a heavy thunderstorm, new leaves started popping up soon after to replace the dead ones. They’re very easy to maintain. :)

  6. I started growing chives about 3 months ago and for some reason they are slumped over and unhealthy looking. I am wondering when the chives will get thick and tall. Is it something I am doing or does it just take time?

    • Hi Beth,
      If you did everything else correctly (removed the bottom of the Bonnie pot upon planting, regular water, full sun) It may be that you received a plant with an abundance of chives planted closely together. I’ve had this happen in my own garden and successfully dug up the chives, split the group into two parts (carefully separating the root balls apart) and replanting as two plants about one foot apart. Depending on how many clumps you have together, you may be able to split more than two sections. Give it a diluted fertilizer feeding such as Bonnie Vegetable and Herb Plant Food and watch to see if it does better within 2-3 weeks. Happy growing, Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  7. About 25 years ago on a trip to Disney World I found a pretty chive plant. I don’t remember the exhibt anymore. I purchased the plant for my Mom. That plant, transplanted once just after purchase, is still thriving. My Mom passed away two years ago. And now I am the owner of the plant. I want to put it in a new and larger pot. It sure needs it. I’m so afraid after all this time that it will die. Is there any special treatment for such an old plant?
    Thank You,
    Valery

    • Hi Valery,

      That sounds like an amazing plant and a living tribute to your mother! If your chives are still in a pot, they should be easy to move to a little larger container. Just gently untangle the outer roots, tickling them apart, and replant in a new pot an inch or two in diameter larger. Be sure to use a good fresh potting mix. Happy growing!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

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