The chive plant, Allium schoenoprasum, is a member of the onion family (Alliaceae). Pretty lavender flowers, a clump-forming habit, and cold hardiness make this an appealing garden perennial. Its grass-like hollow leaves have a mild onion flavor and are widely used fresh in salads and dips. The small puffs of flowers generally begin to bloom in late May or June. These are edible, and can be used in salads as well as in flower arrangements.
Chives thrive in full sun and well drained soil rich in organic matter with a pH of 6.0-7.0. They tolerate light shade, but 6-8 hours of direct light is best.
The easiest and most successful means of propagating chives is planting rooted clumps in spring, after frost danger has passed. Established plants usually need to be divided every 3-4 years. Division is best done in spring. Space plants 6-12 inches apart. Replant new clumps in soil enriched with organic matter, such as fine compost. Chives can also be started from seed.
When rain is infrequent, water deeply to make sure the soil does not dry out around the root zone. A light mulch of ground-up leaves, compost, or grass clippings will help retain moisture.
Over-fertilizing can be detrimental to chives. Like many herbs, slower, more compact growth leads to stronger flavors and healthier plants. A soil rich in organic matter should provide sufficient nutrients. However, if the plant begins to weaken from continuous harvesting each year, a very light application of a 5-10-5 fertilizer may be needed once each spring to boost the plant's vigor. Use a liquid fertilizer at one half the label-recommended strength every 4-6 weeks for chive plants grown outdoors in containers or indoors in a sunny window.
Chives can be grown easily indoors in a bright, sunny location. Pots must have holes in the bottom for drainage, and soil should be well drained, not heavy. Use a good houseplant potting mix. During winter, when light is poor, the plant will not grow much, and may even die back a bit, but should rally with the return of brighter sun in spring. Do not fertilize during winter.
Harvest chives by snipping leaves from the base of the plant. Cut flower stalks off at the soil line once they finish blooming. This will prevent the plant from forming seed and keep it more productive. Chives are most flavorful when used fresh. Extra chives can be frozen by chopping up prewashed leaves into small pieces and freezing them in plastic containers. It is not necessary to thaw pieces out before using.
Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, also known as Chinese chives, is a variety of chives known for its garlic flavor. This variety has flat leaves and fragrant white flowers which bloom later in the season, usually July and August. It may be used just as regular chives are: as a fresh or dried culinary herb, as an ornamental in the garden or in containers, and in cut flower arrangements.
Revised by Jill MacKenzie and reviewed by Shirley Mah Kooyman 2007