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How to Grow Chives: The Perfect Beginner’s Herb

  • Bob Styer
  • Herbs
A Healthy Crop Of Green Chives Growing In The Garden.

Welcome to our green-thumb beginner’s guide on how to grow chives from seed in your home herb garden!  To start, you only need to pick your favorite type of chives and get some seeds or live plants.  We’ll even guide you on how to harvest chives, store them fresh, or dry them.

What are Chives?

Chives are a culinary herb in the Allium family, which includes onions, garlic, leeks, and scallions.  They’re like “wanna-be” onions because they have tiny bulbs, thin hollow leaves, and a mild onion flavor.

We can say it’s good for us that chives aren’t quite onions.  Their mild flavor is perfect as a garnish or an addition to salads, dips, soups, potatoes, and meats.  They work well where regular onions could be too bold.

Plant these easy-to-grow herbs in early to mid-spring and fall since they like cooler weather with full sun.  The midsummer heat is not a good time to grow chives, and they don’t grow as well in warmer climates.

If allowed to self-seed, chives will spread fast.  This isn’t a problem because the plants are easy to dig up and move if they start taking over your garden.

Would you like to learn about other herbs? Check out our post “The Complete Guides to Growing Culinary Herbs” for links to those articles.

A field of chives grown from seeds blooming with purple flowers.
A field of chives in bloom

Types of Chives

All chives have edible flowers and leaves, and there are four common types:

1. Common Chives (Allium schoenoprasum).

The lavender flowers of this type make it a decorative plant as well as a mild onion-flavored herb.  The leaves on common chives are round and hollow, like onion leaves, and grow 12 inches tall.

2. Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum).

The flat leaves of this type have a distinct garlic flavor.  It also produces white flowers.

3. Siberian Chives (Allium ledebouranum).

The leaves on this type are broad and flat and range in color from blue to grayish-green.  The flowers bloom mid to late summer with mauve, rose, or pink colors.

These plants have a garlic-onion flavor and grow 12 – 24 inches tall and one foot wide.  The taste is bolder than common chives.

4. Siberian Garlic Chives (Allium nutans).

This type has a larger bulb than any other variety and produces pink flowers.  The leaves are flat and taste like garlic chives but have an accent of onion.  The leaves also have a bluish tint.

Preparing the Soil

Chive plants prefer full sun and fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 – 7.0.  Partial shade is OK as long as the plants get 6 – 8 hours of sun daily.

Before planting, mix compost six inches deep into the soil.  This improves the soil’s drainage and fertility.

We have two excellent articles to help you learn about soil and compost. Check out “Testing Garden Soil and How to Make Improvements” and “How to Make Compost at Home.”

Growing Chives from Seeds

To start seeds early, plant them in trays filled with potting mix four weeks before the last spring frost.  The plants should be well-grown before transplanting after the last frost.

Plant chives in the garden in the early spring. The best time is when the soil temperature reaches 60 – 70o F after the last frost.  Germination could take a few weeks.

Sow the seeds in the garden about 2 inches apart and ¼ inches deep.  After the seedlings come up, thin the plants 4 to 6 inches apart in all directions.

Unless you want more seeds, remove the edible flowers when they appear.

Chives Seed Packets to Help You Get Started

Gaea's Blessing Seeds - Chives Seeds (1000 Seeds) Non-GMO Seeds with Easy to Follow Planting Instructions - Open-Pollinated Heirloom 88% Germination Rate 1.5g (Single Packet)
Gaea's Blessing Seeds - Chives Seeds (1000 Seeds) Non-GMO Seeds with Easy to Follow Planting Instructions - Open-Pollinated Heirloom 88% Germination Rate 1.5g (Single Packet)
$4.99
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2024-07-18
Seed Needs, Garlic Chives Seeds - 400 Heirloom Seeds for Planting Allium tuberosum - Culinary Herb, Non-GMO & Untreated, Chinese Chives for Cooking (1 Pack)
Seed Needs, Garlic Chives Seeds - 400 Heirloom Seeds for Planting Allium tuberosum - Culinary Herb, Non-GMO & Untreated, Chinese Chives for Cooking (1 Pack)
$4.99
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2024-07-18
Seed Needs, Culinary Chives Seed Packet Collection (2 Individual Varieties of Chives Seeds for Planting) Non-GMO & Untreated - includes Garlic Chives & Common Chives
Seed Needs, Culinary Chives Seed Packet Collection (2 Individual Varieties of Chives Seeds for Planting) Non-GMO & Untreated - includes Garlic Chives & Common Chives
$4.99
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2024-07-18

Growing Chives by Root Division

If someone you know is already growing chives, ask for a few plants and transfer them to your garden.  The plants are easy to dig up and separate.  This is also the method when buying live plants from a garden center.

Make sure the plants have healthy roots and plant them deep enough to cover the bulb.

Every 3 – 4 years in springtime, divide the plants and move them 6 – 12 inches apart.  This will keep the plants healthy and productive.

Caring for Chives During the Growing Season

After chives mature they don’t need much care.  The main thing is to keep the soil moist to maximize production.

The small bulbs of chives grow close to the surface.  Because of this, add some mulch to the soil to hold moisture and keep the weeds down.

Avoid overfertilizing chives because it could affect their growth and flavor.  Adding compost or other organic matter to the soil provides enough fertility.  If the plants appear weak after a few harvests, add a light application of organic fertilizer.

As with many plants, exposure to sweltering midday sun can affect chives.  If that happens, set up partial shade with some gardening screens.

Growing Chives in Pots

Chives will do well even in small pots. Any pots should have drainage holes to prevent water buildup at the bottom of the pot.  Too much of this water could cause root rot.

Fill the pots with potting mix, but not potting soil.  If you plan to use potting soil, mix three parts of potting soil with one part of compost.  Also, add one part of perlite or vermiculite.  This mixture prevents the potting soil from getting too dense.

When growing chives indoors or outdoors, they should be in a sunny location to keep them happy.

Chives growing in pots should have a light shot of liquid organic fertilizer every 4 – 6 weeks.  That’s because drainage causes a loss of nutrients when growing plants in containers.  Please don’t fertilize the plants during winter.

For more information about growing plants in pots, see our article “Growing Vegetables in Containers.”

Pruning Chives

Chives don’t need pruning, but it does have benefits:

  • Chives have a rapid spread after self-seeding.  Remove the flower heads after they fade to control self-seeding.  Removing flower heads or whole flower stalks after they bloom is “deadheading.”
  • Pruning (harvesting) the leaves promotes new growth.  That new growth is the most flavorful.
  • It keeps the plants from overgrowing and getting woody.  Overgrown plants will also bend to the ground.
  • You can cut chives back to the ground anytime during the growing season since the leaves will grow back.  When the plant goes dormant in the late fall, cut back any remaining growth.

Flower buds are easy to remove by pinching them off.  Cut the stalks and leaves with sharp cutters or shears.  Cutting the plants to the ground is quick to do with a hedge trimmer.  Chives are forgiving if you make a mistake.

If you wait long enough and cut the flower stalks after the flowers fade, don’t throw them in the compost pile.  You’ll end up with chives seeds in your compost, and they’ll spread wherever you put the compost!

A bunch of fresh green chives grown from seeds on a white background.
These fresh chives are ready to chop, time to bake the potatoes!

How to Harvest Chives

Chives are ready to harvest about 30 days after transplanting or 60 days after seeding.  Cut the leaves about 1 – 2 inches from the ground.  The leaves will continue growing from the bulb.

When flowers appear, cut off the stalks at ground level when they finish blooming.  This will allow the plants to use their energy producing leaves.  To harvest seeds on some plants, let the flowers go all the way to seed.

How to Harvest Chive Seeds

Chive seeds are black, hard, and shaped like a half-moon.  And they’re about the size of sesame seeds.

The seeds form when the flowers die off around late summer.  They’ll look like black dots inside the drying flowers.

Since the seeds form in the flowers and not in pods, they fall out easily when they mature.  The seeds are ready to harvest if you disturb the plant and the seeds fall out.

Here’s how to gather them:

  • The easiest way to catch the seeds is in a bowl.  Shake the flower head with the bowl under it, and the seeds will fall right out.
  • Another method is to place a paper or plastic bag over the flower head.  Close the open end around the flower stalk, and cut off the stalk.  Shake the flower head inside the bag and collect the seeds.
  • Place the collected seeds on a tray or plate and remove large pieces of anything that isn’t a seed.  Gently blow away any small fragments of chaff.
  • Next, the seeds have to dry out.  Put them in a well-ventilated area for about a week or longer if they need more time.
  • Once the seeds are dry, store them in small envelopes or other containers and plant them within one year.  After one year, the seeds lose viability.

Overwintering Chives

  • Trim the plants so only a few inches are above ground.
  • After the first hard frost, add 3 – 6 inches of mulch to protect the dormant plants.  The mulch can be straw, chopped leaves, grass clippings, pine needles, or bark.
  • Remove the mulch in the spring to make it easier for the new sprouts.

Storing Fresh Chives

Rinse fresh chives with cold water before storing them.  Here are some storage methods:

Storing Chives in the Fridge

  • After rinsing the chives, wrap them in paper towels while they’re still wet.
  • Put the roll in a gallon Ziploc bag.  You can bend the chives in the bag but don’t fold them in half.  That could bruise the leaves.
  • Store the chives in the crisper drawer for up to two weeks.

Freezing Fresh Chives

After rinsing the chives, pat them dry or use a salad spinner.  Excess water can cause the pieces to stick together when freezing herbs.

  • Chop the chives into uniform pieces.
  • Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the pieces on the paper in a single layer.  Try to keep the pieces separate from each other.
  • Put the tray in the freezer.  It should take about an hour for the pieces to freeze.
  • Once the pieces freeze, put them in freezer bags or containers and return them to the freezer.
  • Freezing the pieces on the tray first will keep them separated when put in bags or containers.

Another method for freezing chives is by using ice cube trays:

  • Chop the chives into uniform pieces.
  • Put the pieces into ice cube trays.
  • Top off the cells with water or olive oil.  Please don’t overfill the cells so that they’ll spill.
  • Freeze the chives in the ice cube trays.
  • Once the cubes freeze, remove them and put them in freezer bags.  When it comes time to use the chives for cooking, drop the cubes right into the cooking food.

How to Dry Chives for Long-Term Storage

Rinse the chives in cold water and pat them dry or dry them in a salad spinner.  Excess moisture can cause mold or mildew when air-drying herbs.  It can also cause them to cook when drying with heat or microwaves.

Air Drying Chives

  • Tie bunches of chives together with twine.
  • Hang the bunches in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight.
  • The chives should be dry in about three weeks.

How to Dry Chives in the Microwave

  • Place a single layer of chopped chives between two paper towels.
  • Microwave for 30 seconds and remove any pieces that have dried.
  • Continue microwaving at 10-second intervals until all the pieces are dry.

Drying Chives in the Oven

  • Chop the leaves into small pieces.
  • Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the chopped chives in a single layer on the paper.  The pieces shouldn’t be touching.
  • Set the oven for the lowest possible temperature, which can vary depending on the oven model.
  • Place the baking sheet in the oven for 1 – 2 hours until the chives are crumbly.
  • Check the chives at times to ensure they don’t scorch or turn brown.

How to Dry Chives in a Dehydrator

  • Line the dehydrator racks with parchment paper.
  • Chop the chives into small pieces and place the pieces in a single layer on the parchment paper.
  • Set the dehydrator to 90 – 95o F and the timer to one hour.  Remove the chives when they reach crumbliness.

Store dried chives in airtight containers for up to three years.  Storing dried herbs that way doesn’t let them spoil.  They “go bad” because they lose most or all their flavor after a few years.  Dried herbs that have lost flavor aren’t harmful.

Chives Companion Plants

Chives are Alliums, which makes them a member of the onion family.  That makes them compatible with the same plants as onions.

  • Protect cole crops from cabbage moths, worms, loopers, and diamondback moths.  Chives also improve the flavor.
  • Chives improve the flavor and growth of carrots and repel aphids, mites, and carrot flies.
  • They repel cutworms and borers from beets.
  • Repel tomato hornworms and cucumber beetles.
  • Repel pests from strawberries, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, and rhubarb.  Chives also seem to enhance their growth and flavor.
  • Chives grows well with basil, lemon balm, lemon thyme, and dill.
  • Garlic chives deter Japanese beetles, cabbage worms, aphids, and slugs.
  • Chives will compete for nutrients with beans, peas, spinach, and asparagus.

Find more information about companion plants with our Companion Planting Chart.

Products to Protect Against Insect Pests

BioLogic Scanmask Beneficial Nematodes, Steinernema feltiae Sf Nematodes for Natural Insect Pest Control (25 Million)
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Ultra Fine Garden Mesh Netting, FARAER Plant Covers 8'x24' Garden Netting for Protect Vegetable Plants Fruits Flowers Crops Greenhouse Row Cover Protection Mesh Net Patio Gazebo Screen Barrier Net
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Faicuk Yellow Dual-Sided Sticky Fly Traps for Plant Insect Like Aphids, Fungus Gnats, Leaf Miners and White Flies (30 Pack)
Faicuk Yellow Dual-Sided Sticky Fly Traps for Plant Insect Like Aphids, Fungus Gnats, Leaf Miners and White Flies (30 Pack)
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Chives Pests

Chives are effective at repelling pests but can have a few problems.  Black aphids or pests that like to attack the onion family are the most significant issues.  Here are the details:

Black Aphids

These pests appear in late fall to early winter.  Remove aphids with a strong blast of water.  A more permanent solution is to spray them with neem oil or organic insecticidal soap.

Onion Maggots

These tiny worms are the larvae of the onion fly.  The gray adult flies can lay several hundred white, elongated eggs around the bases of the plants.  The adult insects live for 2 – 4 weeks.

The maggots are white, about ½ inch long, and bore into the bulbs.  To survive winter, the maggots burrow into the ground and enter their pupal stage.  The maggots bore into the bulbs and cause the plants to wilt and have stunted growth.

Here are some ways to defend against onion maggots:

Thrips, Onion Thrips

These tiny flying insects and their nymphs like to suck out plant cells.  Their damage causes the plants to become distorted and discolored.

The leaves will become scarred and even have a silvery appearance.  Thrips are a double threat because they can also spread damaging viruses to plants.

These pests are hard to see since they’re thin and only 1/50 to 1/25 inch long.  The adults are black, brown, or yellow.  They tend to hop or fly away when disturbed.

Thrips lay their eggs in plant tissue, and the eggs hatch in 3 – 5 days.  The adults die after a month, but combined, they can lay up to 15 generations of eggs in one season.

The nymphs will feed for 1 – 3 weeks and then rest before molting into adult flies.

Nymphs have undeveloped wings and look like smaller adults.  They also tend to be lighter colors like yellow or .light green.

Here are some ways to fight these pests:

Do you need more information about controlling pests? See our article “Top Natural Pest Control Methods You Can Use Now.”

Chives Diseases

To help prevent the spread of plant diseases, disinfect hand tools.  Mix one tablespoon of bleach with ½ cup of alcohol and ¼ cup of water.  Rub this mixture on the hand tools before and after harvest.

Chives rarely have trouble with diseases, but there are a few types that can appear:

Oomycetes

This fungal disease causes the roots to turn pink and darken to purple.  It attacks plants through the root tips and can live in soil as deep as 18 inches.

Other symptoms include:

  • The roots eventually look watery and transparent.
  • Plants will have shriveled bulbs and stunted growth.

Here are some steps to help prevent this disease:

  • Don’t grow plants from the onion family in the same location every year.  Rotate them with other crops.
  • Mix neem cake with the soil to protect against fungi and other damaging organisms.

Damping Off

This is a fungal disease that usually affects seeds and seedlings for indoor plants.  The conditions that encourage damping off include:

  • Overwatering on overcast days.  The lack of sun doesn’t allow the soil to dry out enough.
  • Crowded growing conditions.  This causes restricted airflow.
  • High humidity.
  • Contaminated water or tools.

Affected seeds will appear water-logged, soft, and rotting.  The seeds rarely germinate, but any that sprout produce infected plants.

Damping off causes the roots to rot, and the plants will have stunted growth, turn yellow, and die.  Treatment includes:

Downy Mildew

This fungus causes pale spots or patches on the leaves.  It can also appear as a fuzzy grayish-purple growth on the leaves.  Wet leaves and cool temperatures encourage the growth of this fungus.

Treatment and prevention methods include:

  • Rotate the ground to other crops for 3 – 4 years.  Don’t plant crops from the onion family (alliums) in that ground during that time.
  • The soil should be well-draining.
  • Avoid overcrowding the plants.
  • Spray the plants with neem oil.  This is one of the most effective defenses against plant fungi.  For more information, see our article “How to Save Your Plants With Neem Oil and Neem Cake.”
  • Pull up and destroy any affected plants.

Final Thoughts

“Keep calm and chive on.”
Bob Marley, in an interview with Lester Bangs, 1974.

Last update on 2024-07-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Bob Styer

As a child, I hated gardening. That was mainly because Dad expected us to work in the garden every so often even though we thought play was more important. Over the years, though, I've developed a real appreciation for growing things. Whether you're growing plants for food or to enjoy their beauty, gardening can make your life better. Seize the moment!

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