Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are in the onion family. They form clumps of tiny
Chives Allium schoenoprasum
Garlic chives Allium tuberosum
The mild onion-flavoured leaves are used raw, finely chopped and scattered over salads, soups, fish dishes, eggs, baked potatoes and more. The flowers are edible too and can be used in a similar way to the leaves. The nectar-rich flowers also attract bees and other pollinating insects, so leave plenty for them to enjoy too.
Month by Month
Most chive seeds and plants offered for sale are Allium schoenoprasum, but you may find a few cultivars with finer or larger leaves, slightly different flavours, or white or pink flowers, as well as several related species, including:
- Garlic chives or oriental/Chinese chives (Allium tuberosum) – these form larger clumps of taller leaves (up to 50cm/20in) that are flat rather than cylindrical and have a mild garlic flavour. The clusters of starry white flowers are also edible.
- Siberian garlic chives or blue chives (Allium nutans) – these have flat leaves up to 60cm (2ft) tall, with a mild garlic flavour and edible bluish-mauve flowers.
A wide range of herbs, including chives, are grown in all the RHS gardens, so do visit them for more herbal inspiration and growing tips.
What and where to buy
You can buy chive seeds from most gardening retailers, and potted plants are cheap and widely available too, from garden centres, online retailers and supermarkets.
Garlic chives are also widely available, as seeds or plants. To track down other species and varieties, try herb nurseries and online suppliers.
Preparing the Ground
Choose a planting site in sun or light shade with fertile, moisture-retentive, well-drained soil. Chives take up little space, so only need about 15–30cm (6–12 in) per plant, depending on the size of the clump you will be planting.
Weed the ground thoroughly before planting and add garden compost to heavy soil to improve drainage.
Chives can also be grown in large containers (30cm/12in wide or more) of soil-based compost in a warm, sunny or lightly shaded position.
Chives can be grown from seed in spring, but it’s much easier to just buy young plants in spring and summer. These are cheap and easy to plant, and should settle in quickly.
In early spring, sow 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.
Transplant your young chives outside once they’re 10cm (4in) tall – see Planting, below. You should be able to start harvesting leaves from mid-summer onwards.
Alternatively, keep young plants indoors on a bright kitchen windowsill, so you’ll always have fresh chives to hand.
Sow seeds in spring into prepared ground (see above) or large containers filled with multi-purpose compost.
The quickest and easiest way to get chives started in your garden is to buy potted plants from garden centres, online plant suppliers or supermarkets. They can be planted outside from spring onwards. Large plants can often be pulled apart into several smaller clumps for planting out.
You can also transplant young seed-raised plants outdoors once they’re about 10cm (4in) tall. Take care to acclimatise them to outdoor conditions first by hardening off for a couple of weeks.
Space clumps of chives at least 15cm (6in) apart. They can be planted into prepared soil (see above) or containers that are at least 30cm (12in) wide.
Chives fit well into a mix herb display and look great as an edible edging to borders. Make sure they’re in a handy spot near the kitchen, so you can pick them easily whenever needed.
Chives are incredibly easy to maintain. Simply harvest leaves regularly to encourage more, water in dry spells and snip off faded leaves and spent flowers.
Water newly planted chives and young plants regularly for at least their first summer.
For plenty of lush, succulent leaves, make sure chives don’t go short of water in warm, dry weather. Plants in containers can dry out quickly, so water them regularly throughout the growing season.
Lay a thick layer of mulch, such as garden compost, around clumps of chives to help hold moisture in the soil and stop it drying out in hot weather.
Weed thoroughly before sowing or planting chives, then keep the area free of weeds on an ongoing basis, so chives don’t have to compete for water or light.
Dense weeds can also reduce air circulation, which can allow fungal diseases such as leek rust to spread.
You can easily make new plants from an established clump of chives by dividing it into several smaller clumps in spring. Replant these straight away (see Planting, above). This should be done every few years to stop clumps getting overcrowded and keep them healthy and growing strongly.
With plants in containers, either move large clumps into a slightly bigger pot every few years or divide in a similar way to plants in the ground.
Chives produce small pinky-mauve pompom flowerheads in late spring and summer, which look decorative and are edible too. The nectar-rich flowers are also great for pollinating insects, especially bees.
After flowering, to keep chives looking neat, remove the faded heads, cutting and removing the tough, inedible flower stalks right at the base. Alternatively, once the flowers fade, cut the whole clump down to 5cm (2in) from the base, to stimulate a fresh new flush of young, tasty foliage that you can start picking in a few weeks.
Flowering hinders new leaf production, so if harvesting the leaves is your priority, then you can remove all the flower buds to prevent flowering.
To harvest the mild, onion-flavoured leaves, simply snip with scissors just above the base whenever required. Remove any faded leaves at the same time.
Harvest in the morning if possible, when the leaves are lush and juicy. In hot weather, put the leaves straight into water or a plastic bag, to keep them from wilting. The more often chives are harvested, the more new leaves they will produce.
You can also harvest the edible mauve flowerheads, which appear in late spring and summer. Pick when young, removing the stiff, inedible stems at the base too. Then scatter the tiny individual flowers into salads and other dishes, for extra colour and a mild onion flavour.
Use chive leaves raw, as they lose their flavour if cooked. Simply chop the leaves finely and scatter generously over all kinds of cold or cooked dishes, from salads, potato salads and cream cheese to omelettes, soups and pastas.
Chives are best used freshly picked, or you can stand them in a glass of water to keep them at their best for a day or so. They can also be kept in a plastic bag in the fridge for a few days.
The leaves can be frozen too – chop them finely, pack into an ice-cube tray and top up with water, then freeze. Defrost and use whenever needed, although they will have less flavour than fresh leaves.
Chives are usually healthy and robust plants that live for many years. Few pests or diseases trouble them, although do look out for aphids and leek rust.
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