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Gardening 101: Chives

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Gardening 101: Chives

January 22, 2018

Chives, Allium schoenoprasum: “Windowsill Herb”

Why wouldn’t you grow chives? The herb tastes divine, repels bad insects, attracts bees, and grows in shade. Did I mention that chives are perennials, coming back year after year in the garden? They also are happy to grow indoors on a windowsill. Bonus: Chives respond well to neglect.

This garden workhorse has been cultivated by humans for more than 5,000 years and grows in wild varieties in both the east and west. Our forefathers (and fore-doctors, chefs, and gardeners) valued Allium schoenoprasum for its medicinal properties, its flavor in fish, egg, and soup dishes, and its ability to fight off maleficent insects, mildew, and fungal infections in the garden.

Photograph by Marla Aufmuth for Gardenista.
Above: Photograph by Marla Aufmuth for Gardenista.

The French use chives as a crucial component of the classic fines herbes–a blend of fresh herbs used to season egg dishes, sauces, and butter.

Photograph courtesy of Kurtwood Farms. For more, see Outbuilding of the Week: A Cookhouse at Kurtwood Farms on Vashon Island.
Above: Photograph courtesy of Kurtwood Farms. For more, see Outbuilding of the Week: A Cookhouse at Kurtwood Farms on Vashon Island.

Cheat Sheet

  • Perennial herb; chives are hardy in growing zones 3-10.
  • Deer-resistant.
  • Bees find the purple flowers irresistible.
Photograph by Marie Viljoen.
Above: Photograph by Marie Viljoen.

Keep It Alive

  • Full to partial sun.
  • Once established, chives adapt to moist or dry conditions.
  • Chives grow wonderfully outdoors or in containers; divide established plants after they re-appear in the spring.
Chives are happy to grow indoors on a windowsill.  Photograph by Erin Boyle.
Above: Chives are happy to grow indoors on a windowsill.  Photograph by Erin Boyle.

Plant in clumps throughout your vegetable or flower bed. You can distribute some in a windowsill planter, too, as chives grow well in partial shade and in containers.

Chives thrive on London gardener Isabelle Palmer&#8\2\17;s balcony. For more, see Isabelle Palmer&#8\2\17;s London Balcony Garden. Photograph by Jonathan Gooch.
Above: Chives thrive on London gardener Isabelle Palmer’s balcony. For more, see Isabelle Palmer’s London Balcony Garden. Photograph by Jonathan Gooch.

Chives establish quickest from a division, but you can also grow from seed. Harvest frequently, and if you notice a lackluster appearance, chop to about an inch from the base to give the plant a fresh start.

 Find a pretty, clear bottle and steep the spiky purple flowers in vinegar. You&#8\2\17;ll be left with a lavender-colored brew that tastes mildly of onions. Photograph by Erin Boyle.
Above: Find a pretty, clear bottle and steep the spiky purple flowers in vinegar. You’ll be left with a lavender-colored brew that tastes mildly of onions. Photograph by Erin Boyle.

In the spring, simply wait for chives to come up, divide the plants to make more, and water as you please. For an extra dash of chive power, hang a bouquet of dried chives for protection. The purple flowers last very well dried, and are an excellent cut flower in vases or bouquets.

N.B.: For more, see all our stories about Edibles in our Garden Design 101 guides. And If you’re planning a spring herb garden, see more tips:

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for chives with our Chives: A Field Guide.

Interested in other edible plants for your garden? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various edible plants (including flowers, herbs and vegetables) with our Edible Plants: A Field Guide.

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