How to Grow Chives: Your Complete Guide

Written by Em Casalena
Published: March 9, 2023
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Allium schoenoprasum, popularly known as chives, is a perennial plant that resembles grass and is notoriously easy to grow. This herb belongs to the same family as onions and garlic. It tastes wonderful as a soup garnish or in salads because of its mild onion-like flavor. It is also an intriguing garden plant and floral garnish due to the lovely edible purple blossoms. And the uses don’t end there; Chives are sometimes grown amid vegetables to deter beetles and other destructive insects since chives tend to attract bees and other pollinators while repelling other unwanted insects.

These hardy perennials are best suited for more temperate climates and are often planted from nursery sets or seed packets in the early spring to provide a bountiful crop starting in the late spring. They will take around one to two months to reach harvestable maturity if they are grown from seeds.

In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about chives and how to start growing your very own.

The Botanical Name and History of Chives

Chives are classified as Allium schoenoprasum. It is a member of the Amaryllidaceae plant family, known for producing plants that have edible parts such as leaves and flowers. Chives are closely related to other alliums such as leeks, scallions, garlic, shallots, onions, and more. Chives are also known as Chinese leeks or oriental garlic.

While evidence of their use by the Chinese dates back to 5,000 years ago, chives have been grown in Europe since the Middle Ages. The Romans thought chives could effectively soothe a sore throat or a sunburn. They also thought eating chives would cause a diuretic effect and raise blood pressure. Chives have also been utilized in fortune-telling by Romanian travelers, and it was thought that hanging dried chives around a home helped fend against illness and evil.

Chives are now grown for their culinary uses as well as for aesthetic worth; the violet blooms of chives are often dried and used to create decorative dry bouquets. They are also renowned for their therapeutic and nourishing qualities. The therapeutic benefits of chives are comparable to those of garlic, although they are lesser; this is likely the major factor in the herb’s limited usage as a remedy or medicine. Since they contain a variety of organisulplide substances, including allyl sulfides and alkyl sulfoxides, chives have a positive impact on the circulatory system by decreasing blood pressure.

There are only three main varieties or types of chives. The common chive is what is primarily grown in gardens and cultivated for culinary use. Two other varieties of chives include garlic chives and Siberian chives.

Garlic chives resemble regular chives in appearance, but they taste very mildly like garlic. Garlic chives often grow significantly higher, have flatter and greener leaves, and always produce white blooms. They also don’t tolerate the cold as well. 

The flavor of Siberian garlic chives is distinctly onion-garlic. They feature upright blue-green leaves and midsummer pink blossoms. Compared to other chive varieties, they have a deeper flavor.

Stack of raw chives.

Chives (pictured) have been grown and harvested as food for thousands of years.

©Heitor Pergher/

Climate and Hardiness Zone Requirements for Chives

In USDA hardiness zones three through nine, chives are hardy perennials. As it dips below freezing, they enter a latent state throughout the winter and continue to grow healthily in temperatures as low as 40 degrees F. They can also be transplanted back outside or replanted in the spring after spending the winter indoors in pots. 

Chives can be scorched by excessive heat and sunlight. They are known for not tolerating heat very well. Thus, you should provide shade for your chives in the afternoon if you live in a consistently hot area.

When to Grow Chives

Chives do best when planted from seed starting in early spring. You might be able to wait until later in spring if you live in a not-so-hot climate. However, you will have better luck starting your chives in April or May.

How to Grow Chives From Seeds

Chive seeds planted outside in the spring often sprout in a couple of weeks. Temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees F are ideal for seed-starting. Six to eight weeks before the last frost, if early spring temperatures are chilly, it is advisable to plant them in a tray on a sunny windowsill.

Ensure sure your chives are not too closely planted together and are sown close to the surface. Be sure to harden off indoor seedlings before transplanting them outside by taking them outside for gradually longer periods of time over the course of roughly a week and a half.

Chives can easily be propagated via division once they have matured. It is nevertheless advised to divide clumps every few years even if you don’t need to grow new plants. This increases the plants’ health and productivity and keeps them from being too crowded where they have been planted.

How to Care for Chives

Although they are usually grown as a culinary herb for a wide range of dishes, chives also make attractive decorative plants for rock gardens or borders. Their purple blooms are surprisingly pretty. Just as well, they thrive in containers, where they can be sat year-round on a windowsill to produce yields continuously or be overwintered inside.

Chives prefer a lot of light, soil that drains well, and moderate precipitation. Before planting, it’s a good idea to add approximately six inches of well-decomposed compost to the soil. The clump-forming nature of chives makes them susceptible to overcrowding; because of this, splitting the clumps every three to four years will help in keeping up the healthy development of your herbs.

Chives can be year-round evergreens in warm regions, but in cold climates, they will die down to the soil each fall and then come back as perennials in the spring. As chives have shallow roots, you should be careful about what you plant around them and keep an eye out for weeds that could emerge since, if you’re not careful, they could outcompete the chives. These are quite delicate herbs!

In order to keep their chives plants from going to seed, gardeners who are cultivating them as culinary herbs often prune the blossoms. If you decide to eat the edible blossoms, be warned that the plants will self-seed a lot, so the chances of your chives growing back are very high. Despite being so ready to seed, this plant is not extremely invasive in most climates. While root rot can be a concern for clumps growing in compact or poorly drained soil, chives don’t have any significant insect or disease issues to worry about. This is really a great start herb for newbie gardeners!

Soil and Fertilizer Requirements for Chives

Although chives don’t care what type of soil they are planted in, if they are in a heavy, poorly drained area, they could be more susceptible to root rot. Chives should be planted in rich, wet, well-draining soil, similar to the conditions that onions and other alliums like for optimum growth. Their ideal soil is rich, well-draining, and has a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. You can check the pH balance of your soil by using a probe meter.

As chives don’t require a lot of nutrients to survive, fertilizer is not really required. But in late spring or early summer, it’s a good idea to give your chives a single top-dressing with a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer. While this is typically all they require, you can also try side-dressing with a little bit of good compost or vermiculite once per season. If your chives have been growing together in the same pot for a number of years, replenish the nutrients once a month by adding a diluted liquid fertilizer such as compost tea or a fish emulsion. Another effective alternative is to work in organic, high-nitrogen granular fertilizers once or twice a year.

A person harvesting Allium schoenoprasum or chives from a box garden with scissors.

Chives (pictured) do best in damp soil that drains well.


Water Requirements for Chives

Once established, chives are a plant that can withstand drought pretty well. However, this does not imply that you should forgo providing them with water during hot, dry weather spells. Keep your chives continuously wet throughout the growing season to provide a stunning yield. For the best chance of a steady, healthy production, keep the roots wet and offer regular watering. Chives grow best when deeply watered, but they won’t stand being kept in wet roots for very long. After the soil has dried about an inch down, give them a good watering. During heat waves, you might need to check on your chives more often to keep them from drying out. A moisture gauge is a useful tool to have if you have trouble striking the perfect balance. If you often struggle to remember to water your plants (we’re all guilty of that, right?), you might want to think about mulching. Chive bulbs and roots are close to the soil’s surface, so damp mulch can aid in maintaining soil moisture that is closest to the roots.

Temperature and Humidity Requirements for Chives

Chives are a cool-season plant, and spring and fall are when they yield the most crop. In certain cases, intense summer heat can cause chives to go dormant in the middle of the season. Since extremely cold temperatures can also kill off the foliage, chives planted in pots are often overwintered indoors. Chives can grow in a pretty broad range of temperatures, but they thrive in the 40 to 80 degrees F range. Anything above 80 degrees F will stimulate flowering, and too much heat can make them dormant until the weather cools in the fall.

Chives don’t require much in the way of humidity. In general, chives tend to thrive around 40% humidity. This is the average level found inside most homes, making chives an excellent kitchen plant or potted plant to grow indoors.

Sunlight Requirements for Chives

Chives enjoy being planted in a place with access to direct sunlight. While they can take some mild shade, shaded sites will result in a less stunning flower show. Although they do best with six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day, chives can still thrive for up to four hours in partial shade. Sunlight and heat in excess can cause severe leaf burn in chives, so be careful where you place them.

Chives are stupidly easy to grow from seed. And due to their fast-growing nature, you’ll only have to wait about a month to start harvesting your tasty herbs. It really doesn’t get much easier than that! As springtime rapidly approaches, it might just be worth picking up a pack of chive seeds to start growing your very own herb garden.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Monyakova

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About the Author

Em Casalena is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on plants, gardening, and sustainability. Em has been writing and researching about plants for nearly a decade and is a proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor. Em is a resident of Arizona and enjoys learning about eco-conscious living, thrifting at local shops, and caring for their Siamese cat Vladimir.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What type of sunlight exposure do chives need?

Chives do best in full sun exposure.

When should chives be planted?

The best time to plant chives is after the danger of frost has passed in spring. The exact time depends on your hardiness zone.

Can chives grow back after cutting?

Yes. After harvesting the entirety of your chives, they will grow back next year.

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