Onion & Garlic Chives – Growing Guide

There are two types of chives – onion chives (or common chives) and Chinese chives (or garlic chives).

Onion chives have hollow leaves. They taste like very mild onions. Starting in the second year of their growth, they will produce small, purple globe flowers, which can also be eaten. Pull them apart and sprinkle them across any dish that benefits from the light onion flavor, as an edible garnish.


Onion Chives

Garlic chives have flat leaves, bent in the middle at a 45 degree angle. Starting in the second year of their growth, they produce white flowers in the fall, also in a bunch at the top of a stem, but not so much in a globe shape. Garlic chives have a mild garlic flavor.

Like the rest of the allium (onion) family, both types of chives prefer the cool weather of spring to begin growing in. They are perennial in many parts of the United States, being hardy to zone 3. In some places, however, they may have difficulty surviving hot summers. Be sure to mulch them well no matter where you’re growing them.

They also need rich, light soil that is moist but well-drained, like other alliums.

Gardeners can raise chives either from seed, or from cuttings or bunches from established plants.

flowers of onion chives

Chives are slow to germinate when started from seed, but they will grow quickly once they’re up. If you start your chives from seed, sow them in a flat in early spring, indoors or in a greenhouse. Don’t sow them too thickly. Keep the seeds moist until they germinate and are growing well.

Transplant them into the garden in late spring. Don’t try to transplant them one at a time. That would be much too tedious. Simply separate the chives in the flat into groups of 6-10 seedlings each, and then plant them as a group. They’ll grow quickly into a thick bunch. They look wonderful as a border plant for a garden bed.

Chives will reseed once they start producing flowers. Plus they’ll naturally divide and created larger bunches. They can become a bit weedy, but they’re easy to pull out if this happens. And then you’ll always have plenty to share with others. If you’d rather avoid this happening, just remove the flowers before they set seed. They can make themselves useful in the kitchen.

Chives also have a habit of deterring or confusing some garden pests, including carrot root fly. Plant them in a border around your carrot bed or where you’re growing parsnips. Or plant them in random bunches throughout your garden plot to ward off pests.

White flowers of Chinese/garlic chives.

White flowers of Chinese/garlic chives.

Garlic chives are sometimes used as a salt substitute because of their light and savory flavor.

Harvest regularly. The plant will respond favorably. Just don’t cut back too hard or harvest all the leaves at once or the plant may have a hard time recovering.

Use chives fresh, or freeze them. They’re far inferior when they’re dried.

If you live in zones 3 or 4, it may be wise to dig some chives in late fall, pot them up and bring them indoors, just in case you have a particularly cold winter that ends up killing your chives.

They can also be grown on a sunny, south-facing windowsill through the winter, and provide you with small harvests from time to time. However, they do like the chill period they would usually get during a winter, so put them in the refrigerator for 4 or 5 weeks at some point during the winter.

Check out the growing guides for others in the allium family:

Scallions & Bunching onions
Elephant Garlic

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2 Responses to Onion & Garlic Chives – Growing Guide

  1. Lynn April 22, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

    Can you eat the bulbs of garlic chives?

    • Anni May 31, 2017 at 8:51 pm #

      Yes! 🙂

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