Chives are hardy and vigorous perennial herbs. Ornamental and savory, the lush clumps of dark green leaves and bountiful blossoms suit the perennial border as well as the herb or vegetable garden. The flowers also attract beneficial insects that feast on pests and pollinate crops.
Types of Chives
Common chives (Allium schoenoprasum) can grow to about a foot tall. They have narrow, hollow green leaves and spherical pink or purple flowers. The leaves are used in sauces and salads to lend a delicate onion flavor. Separate flower heads and toss them with greens for colorful and zesty salad. Concoct a colorful and tasty herb vinegar by adding whole chive blossoms to white vinegar.
Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), sometimes called oriental chives, taste like a blend of garlic and chives. They're useful for spicing soups, salads, sauces, and meat dishes. Garlic chives have flat leaves, and white blossoms that appear in the summer. Although the seed heads make a nice addition to dried wreaths, be sure to pick them before the seeds fall, because garlic chives can be invasive.
You can start plants from seed, purchase a plant or two, or ask a neighbor for a division from their chive plants. To starting chives from seed, plant in the garden in mid- to late spring. Choose a sunny spot with rich, well-drained soil, and sow seeds in clusters 1 to 1-1/2 feet apart. Keep soil evenly moist until seedlings are up and growing vigorously. If you start with purchased seedlings or divisions, plant them 1-1/2 feet apart.
Chives are hardy and need little care. If your soil is moderately fertile, a light mulching with compost in the spring will provide sufficient nutrients. Encourage deep rooting with infrequent but deep watering. Remove blossoms when theyve passed their peak. If you harvest frequently and heavily, in addition to compost, fertilize in spring with an organic 5-10-5 fertilizer as directed on the product label. Divide plants every 3 to 4 years in the spring to keep them healthy.
To spice winter fare, pot small clumps of chives in the fall to grow indoors under lights or in a very bright window.
You can begin harvesting about 6 weeks after planting seeds, or as soon as established plants resume growth in the spring. Cut outer leaves right back to the base. Use them fresh or frozen; they do not retain their flavor well when dried.
Photography by Suzann DeJohn/National Gardening Association