As summer nears, salads will be the perfect warm-weather meal both at lunch or dinner, and if you like a mild oniony taste, the ideal ingredient for your summer salad is chives. Also, ideal as a soup garnish, chives are a perennial herb that is grass-like in appearance forming small bulbs at the roots, and very easy to grow. Foliage tapers and is hollow and cylindrical in shape, with a soft texture.
Botanically known as the Allium schoenoprasum and is found in the same family as garlic and onion, the Liliaceae. Apart from the mild flavor, it can add to your cuisine, chives also make a lovely garden plant. They grow to about eighteen inches in height.
Chive blooms are an attractive purple and will attract pollinators to your garden like bees while repelling other less desirable insects. It is often planted as a companion plant to repel insects such as the Japanese beetle or similar from damaging garden vegetables. Chives are cold-tolerant and great for temperate climates. Generally planted at the beginning of spring from nursery sets, they can be grown from seeds, in which case they will be ready for harvest after two months.
This herb is principally grown for the table, although it makes a lovely border plant in gardens or a colorful addition in rock gardens. They can be grown indoors in pots and positioned on a windowsill permitting you to benefit from a year-round harvest. They love plentiful sun, good moisture, and a well-draining soil bed. Chive’s companion plants include carrots and tomatoes.
Before you plant, amend the soil bed with approximately six inches of compost for a fertile growing medium. Chives grow in clumps, so regular division will avoid overcrowding. In warmer climates, they will most probably remain evergreen year-round while in colder climates they die back to the ground each autumn and reawaken to return in the springtime.
Chives have shallow root systems, so take care to prevent weeds as they will compete for soil nutrients. If you are growing chives for eating, you might cut blooms back before the plants go to seed. Flowers are also edible. Chives self-seed very effectively even though they are not considered invasive.
Growing Chives from Seed
You can sow chive seeds in your outdoor garden in the early spring. Expect to see them germinate within a few weeks. The seeds themselves will germinate slowly, but seedlings, by contrast, develop rapidly. To sow, wait for the temperatures to measure between 65° and 75° Fahrenheit. If you live in an area with a cold spring climate, start your seeds indoors in a seed starter tray approximately six to eight weeks before the final projected frost for your area.
Seeds should be planted close to the soil surface with ample space, approximately seven inches, between them as they tend to crowd. Seed starter trays should be kept on a sunny windowsill until they are ready for transplant. When you do decide to transplant seedlings outside, make sure to harden them off first with increasing time outside for at least ten days before transplanting. If you decide to cultivate them in rows, space plants five inches apart, with rows nine inches apart.
Caring for Your Chives
For good produce, plant your chive crop in rich, fertile well-draining soil. The soil must be able to retain moisture. Chives like soil bed conditions that are identical to conditions when growing onions. Soil pH should measure between 6 and 7 for a good harvest.
Chives love full sunlight exposure. They can tolerate some partial shade, but blooms will suffer in shaded positions.
Water and Humidity
Once your chives crop is established, your herbs will have a certain resistance to drought. Nonetheless, they will need to be watered during dry, hot weather. The soil bed needs to be kept consistently moist throughout the growing season. If keeping the soil bed moist is a challenge, try mulching to conserve soil moisture. This is necessary as the root systems sit just beneath the surface and can easily dry out.
Chives are best harvested in the spring and autumn as they are a cool-weather herb. In the extreme heat of summer, chives may go dormant in mid-summer. Extreme cold is also a problem as it may kill the foliage. Chives cultivated outside in containers are usually wintered indoors.
Feeding isn’t that important as chives do not require a large number of nutrients to thrive. Frequent fertilization will not be required. Do fertilize once heavily in the springtime by top-dressing. Fertilizer should be nitrogen-heavy.
If you don’t want chives to become invasive in your garden bed, prune off flowers once blooming is finished to prevent seeds from scattering everywhere.
Once seeds have germinated, it generally takes two months for chives to be ready for harvest. If you have transplanted nursery seedlings, a month should suffice. When harvesting, cut your chives right down to their base. This will stimulate new growth or regrowth. Harvesting can take place at any time, but older plants and leaves will be tougher in texture and have less flavor.
Newer chive plants will need to be harvested four to six times in the first year of life. In the case of mature chive plants, harvest once monthly. Chives are best used and consumed fresh. They will lose flavor if dried for storage, so it is better to freeze them. If you plan on eating the blooms, harvest them immediately after they have opened fully for the best taste.
Division is the simplest way to propagate chives due to their clumping growth method. Even if you have no intention of creating new plants or enlarging your crop, you will need to practice division on the plants that you do have, approximately every two years. This will keep your crop robust and healthy and prevent any overcrowding in your garden bed.
Pests, Diseases, and Problems
These plants basically resist most insects and diseases, although there are a few. Pests that can affect chives include:
- Allium Leaf Miner
- Onion maggots
Diseases that can strike chives include:
- Allium White Rot
A serious soil-borne fungal disease, there are no effective remedies, and it can render soil unstable for as long as two decades.
- Onion Downy Mildew
Pale spots will appear on leaves with fuzzy grey growth on foliage surfaces. Leaves turn pale and then yellow.
- Pink Root
Roots turn transparent and appear water-soaked. It is often lethal. Consider planting a resistant variety.
- Allium ledebourianumAlso called Giant Siberian chives, these chives have a strong taste, grow taller than normal chives, and have very large blooms that are rose violet in color.
- Allium nutans these feature a flavor that appears to be a mix of garlic and onion. These chives feature large pink blooms.
- Alliumtuberosum also known as Chinese or Garlic chives and boast a light garlicky flavor