A low-maintenance perennial herb, chives are mainly grown for their leaves, which add a mild oniony flavour to a wide range of savoury dishes. They make an attractive edging for herb beds and borders, and grow well in containers, in sun or light shade. Their pink pompom flowers are also edible, adding colour to salads.
Jobs to do now
- Remove leaves as they die back
Month by month
In early spring, sow a few seeds thinly in small pots or modular trays filled with seed compost. Cover with a thin layer of vermiculite, then water gently. Place in a heated propagator or cover with a clear plastic bag and place somewhere warm to germinate. Once the tiny grass-like seedlings appear, remove from the propagator or uncover, then place in a warm bright location to grow on.
If you don’t have the time or space to grow from seed, simply buy potted plants from supermarkets or garden centres. Large plants can often be divided into several smaller clumps when planted out.
Transplant young seed-raised plants outdoors once they’re about 10cm (4in) tall. Potted plants bought in supermarkets or garden centres can be planted straight outside from spring onwards.
Chives prefer moisture-retentive, well-drained soil and a sunny or partially shaded spot. They can also be grown in large pots of soil-based compost, either on their own or in a mixed herb display.
Chives are incredibly easy to maintain. Just keep them well watered, especially during long dry spells in summer. Snip off any faded leaves and spent flowers.
Rejuvenate large clumps every few years by lifting and dividing into several smaller clumps in spring. With plants in containers, either move large clumps into a slightly larger pot every few years or divide in a similar way to plants in the ground.
Chives grow to about 30cm (1ft) tall. They die back naturally in late autumn, and re-sprout in spring.
Look for colonies of greenfly on the soft shoot tips of plants or on leaves. They suck sap and excrete sticky honeydew, encouraging the growth of black sooty moulds.
Use your finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies or use biological control in the greenhouse.
This is a fungal disease causing bright yellow spots on the leaves. It is often worse in long, wet spells.
Mild attacks of rust won’t harm the plant, but serious infections may cause leaves to shrivel and affect yield. There is no control for rust once you have the infection. Make sure you don’t crowd plants, as this increases humidity and increases the likelihood of infection. Dispose of any badly affected plant material, and don’t grow garlic, leeks or onions in the same spot for three years.
You can harvest chives from early summer until they start to die back in autumn.
Cut the leaves as required with scissors, snipping close to the base – the more often they’re harvested, the more new leaves will be produced.
To keep chives productive, remove faded flowers or use the edible blooms when young to brighten salads.
Chives are best used fresh. The leaves can also be frozen – chop them finely, pack into an ice-cube tray and top up with water, then freeze. Pop out cubes whenever you need them.
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