Growing Chives – A Guide to Care & Harvesting

Chives are a member of the onion family. Growing chives is very straightforward and the plants require little care. They make a delicious accompaniment to potato salads and fish dishes. Their tight balls of purple flowers are loved by bees and humans alike. What’s more they can be eaten in salads along with the tangy leaves.

flower chives growing in a garden with a bee harvesting pollen.
Chives can be grown for their flowers as well as the delicious stalks.

Chives are a doddle to grow and take up very little space in the herb garden or vegetable patch. They make a great companion plant – their scent helps confuse pests such as the carrot root fly and they can even be grown in containers.


Varieties of Chives

There are two main types of chive that are commonly grown in herb gardens:

  • Common chives are the ones you are most likely to see growing. They grow to around 30cm tall and have a mild, onion flavour. They have masses of small, purple spherical flowers throughout the summer.
  • Chinese (garlic) chives grow slower than common chives. They have a subtle garlic flavour. Their flowers are white and less prolific than the common chive.

How to Grow Chives

Chives will grow in almost any soil, but ideally it should be well prepared and have organic matter such as well-rotted animal manure or homemade compost added before sowing. They are not fussy growers, and will thrive in full sun or partial shade. They can be grown from seed, from April onwards or planted in the soil. To grow from seed, scatter over a well-prepared bed and cover with a thin layer of soil. The seedlings will appear within 2 weeks; thin them to 10cm apart.

Once they have established, chives will form small bulbs beneath the ground. Like daffodils, these will multiply and can be divided and moved all around the garden over the years. Simply dig up the clump of bulbs in March or October and gently divide them, replanting the new, smaller clumps back into the soil. It is a great way of increasing the number of chives in your garden, and it helps them grow better too (giving them more space to grow).

Caring for Chives

Chives require almost no attention, except for a little water when conditions are very dry. In autumn they will die back but they’ll re-emerge in the spring having rested over the winter. Young plants should not be harvested until late summer of their fist year; this allows them to establish a good root system so they’ll produce more chives in the long term.

Harvesting Chives

Cut the required amount of chives with scissors as and when you please. Always leave 5cm of leaves to continue growing. They’ll grow back quickly and you’ll be able to re-cut them in just a few weeks.

Growing Chives in Containers

Chives will grow readily in containers and can be potted up as part of a herby container or on their own. Sow seeds as you would outside and keep the compost moist. Place the container as near to the kitchen door as possible so they’re within easy reach when you want to cook with them.

Growing chives in the garden is very rewarding. They grow happily without much attention, and provide a delicious tangy taste to potato and fish dishes, as well as salads. Chive flowers are very rarely available to buy commercially, so growing your own will enable you to sample the delicious-tasting blooms.

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