Growing Chives

Watering chives

Chives can be a tricky plant to grow due to their tendency to go to seed and produce yellow sprigs.

In this guide, we’ll cover what you need to know to grow your own chives.

Planting chives seeds

If you are starting your chives from seed, the timing of your planting will be a bit different than if you are planting small chives seedlings.

Aim to plant the seeds with enough time for them to germinate, sprout and mature before you plant them outside.

For chives, germination is typically complete after two weeks. After that period, it’s just a matter of waiting until the chives plant is mature enough to transplant to its next location.

To plant the chives seeds, purchase some potting soil and fill a container or tray with the potting soil. It doesn’t have to be a deep container — even a shallow tray will be fine for chives seeds. 

You can purchase plastic pots or packs to plant them, or use something you have lying around your home, such as an egg carton.

Once the container is full of potting soil, poke a hole in the soil with your finger no deeper than the first joint in your finger. Then, place the chives seed in the hole and cover it up lightly with potting soil.

To initiate the seed’s growth, water the chive seed lightly.

Try to keep the soil in direct sunlight as much as possible. You can cover it with some clear plastic to keep the humidity high as well. 

Make sure to keep on watering the soil lightly whenever it dries out. The soil doesn’t need to be more than damp, but it does need to be moist consistently for the chives seed to germinate.

You’ll soon start seeing baby chives sprout emerging from the potting soil.

Transplanting chives seedlings

After the chives sprouted, you’ll want to let them grow a little bit to establish a root structure. If the seedling is planted with its own space to grow, you won’t need to transplant it until it grows its own root cube. 

However, if the chives seed was planted with other chives seeds in its own space, it should be planted earlier so that its roots aren’t in competition for limited space.

As long as the roots have room to grow, you’re fine to keep the chives in their container. 

If you notice that the chives seedling is drying up fast, this may be a sign that it’s time to plant it in a larger container. You can transplant chives however many times you’d like before planting them in their final destination.

To transplant chives, pinch the bottom of the container as you gently pull the sprout up. If the seedling is tiny, you can turn the pack upside down as you do this for each sprout so that the plant and its early root structure fall out into your hand. 

If the chives are rootbound, meaning that the roots are tightly wound together forming the shape of whatever container it was in, then you’ll want to gently rip the roots apart once before transplanting the chives into its next container.

After you have transplanted your chives, water them in and make sure it gets some sunlight for continual growth.

Planting chives outside

Whether you are growing your chives from seed, or you purchased a young chives plant from a local garden center or greenhouse, eventually you’ll want to plant it outside.

To plant your chives, gently squeeze the bottom of the container and pull the plant out of its pack.

Then, use a trowel or your hand to remove soil from where you’d like to plant it. 

If the soil is hard and packed down, consider using a tiller to break it up, or just push a shovel in the soil a few times to break up the clumps.

Best soil type for chives

You can check your chives plant’s tag for specific information regarding soil needs.

You may need to mix in some potting soil or other soil additives to get your soil to the ideal consistency.

When to plant chives outside

The chive plant is a hardy plant by nature, so it can be planted outside earlier than other plants. In fact, I was recently walking around the farm this month (early March) and saw chives emerging from the ground. These plants will undoubtedly survive the coming month or so of cold snaps before the spring weather sets in.

However, if you are planting your chives plant as a seedling that isn’t hardy yet you’ll want to be careful. Try acclimating the plant to colder temperatures before planting outside in the spring.

Where to plant chives

Once you have your chives, you’ll need some soil and a spot to plant them. If you’re going to be planting it directly outside from the pack you purchased it in, you have the option of planting the chives in the landscape, in a hanging basket, or in a pot. Chives will do great in any of these locations.

Sunlight requirements for chives

If your chives receive too little or too much sunlight exposure, they will likely still live, but may not grow as abundantly and could require more care.

Chives prefer a full day of sun, with a minimum of 6-8 hours of sunlight being preferable.

There are general sunlight requirements for all chives. For specific sunlight requirements for the variety of chives that you purchased, make sure to check the plant tag.

Best temperature and humidity for chives

Most areas have plenty of temperature swings, so an easy way to determine if your growing area will work for chives is to check your USDA growing zone.

As mentioned above, it will largely depend on how hardy the chives plant is. If it was overwintered, it can handle much colder temperatures.

Chives will grow well in most USDA growing zones, but the length of its season will vary depending on the region.

Watering chives

One of the most important factors in keeping your chives looking healthy is to diligently water the chives throughout the summer. 

For chives, you’ll know they need water when the top inch of soil is dried out. To check, you can stick your finger into the soil down to the first joint in your finger. If it’s moist, no need to water the chives plant. If it’s dry, you’ll want to water it in.

Be careful that you don’t overwater the chives. A chives plant can be susceptible to diseases if it gets too much water. 

If you planted the chives in a container, make sure that it has holes in the bottom for excess water to escape. Otherwise, the water can collect at the bottom of the container and cause root rot, or other diseases.

Fertilizing chives

Another important factor for plant health is keeping your chives fed with nutrition.

If the chives are planted in the ground, you can lessen the amount of fertilizer it’ll need by building up the soil with compostable material in the year(s) leading up to your planting. Otherwise, you’ll want to fertilize the chives throughout the summer. 

A good rule of thumb for fertilizing chives is to give the plant a water-soluble fertilizer every third watering. This rule helps to account for the change in temperature and weather throughout the season. For example, in May you won’t be watering your chives plant as much as in the heat of the summer in August. So feeding the plant every third watering helps to provide chives with what it needs throughout the season, no matter the weather conditions.

It’s also recommended to plant the chives with a slow-release form of fertilizer to feed the plant slowly throughout the summer. You can add this in with your potting soil in a pot.

Growing chives in a hanging basket

If you’re growing chives in a hanging basket, you’ll want to make sure you don’t overfill the basket with plants. Plants will generally fill in the space you give them, so if the hanging basket isn’t packed full when you first plant it, that’s great.

The more chives you plant in your hanging basket, the more you’ll need to water the hanging plants. In general, if you have more plants competing for water and soil, it’ll take more maintenance to keep the hanging basket looking beautiful.

If you’re watering your chives in a hanging basket, you can check if it needs water by lifting the basket from beneath. If the basket is noticeably light, it could use some water. 

You’ll know you overwatered your chives in a hanging basket if water comes dripping or streaming out the bottom of the basket where the holes are.

Growing chives in a pot

As mentioned above, be careful you don’t plant too many chives in a flower pot.

The answer for how to care for chives grown in a pot will vary according to the size of the pot. In general, ensure it has plenty of room to grow and has adequate sunlight exposure where the pot is placed.

Chives that are planted in a container, whether it’s a pot or a hanging basket, will need to be watered more than chives grown in the landscape since they won’t be able to pull natural water from the ground.

Growing chives in the landscape

Choosing chives for your flower beds or other landscaping is a great choice. They make for great borders and can help add beauty to your yard.

Since you’re planting them in a permanent spot, you’ll want to be extra careful when planting chives in the ground outside. Make sure that there’s little chance of frost and that the chives are in a spot that matches their sunlight needs.

If you do have a late frost, and your chives are already in the ground, you can cover them overnight with a bucket or sheet to protect them in most cases.

Chives blooms

While chives produce some pretty purple blooms, this is not preferable if you are looking to harvest the plants.

Chive sprigs with a bloom on their end will get stiff and hard, making them not easily usable for cooking. Chives sprigs are better when they are soft and flexible, which you’ll get from non-flowering chives shoots.

Pruning chives

Cutting back or pruning your chives can be healthy for the plant. You shouldn’t need to do this more than a few times throughout the summer. It can be good to do this if the plant is overgrowing its area or overpowering another plant in a container.

Common diseases for chives

A chive is more susceptible to common diseases, such as downy mildew or root rot when it isn’t cared for properly. That being said, even chives that are given the correct care can fall victim to some diseases.

Some common chives diseases include:

  • Botrytis Blight
  • Damping Off
  • Downy Mildew

Consult with your local garden center if you notice that your chives have a disease.

Overwintering chives

Chives are a perennial in most climates, so they will come back up in the spring.

Pest control for chives

Typically, natural predators are enough to take care of bugs and pests that eat at your chives. For example, ladybugs will eat aphids and can help control them.

However, in some cases, you will need to take extra measures to kill off plant pests. Again, consult with your local garden center for a specific solution to your pests.

Companion plants for chives

There are many other plants that grow great with chives. These are what we would call “companion plants.” This means that if they are planted together they will generally complement each other with their colors and growing styles.

Many other herb plants will do great as a chives companion plant.

When looking for companion plants for your chives, look for plants that have similar growing needs. This is an easy way to find plants that grow well. For example, if two plants love the sun, require similar fertilizer needs and one is taller while the other is a spreader, they will probably be great companion plants in a pot or hanging basket.

Varieties of chives

There are many varieties of chives. In general, their growing needs will be consistent across these varieties, but it’s always best to check the plant’s tag to make sure there aren’t specific instructions for your variety of chives.

Some common types of varieties are:

  • Common chives
  • Garlic chives
  • Giant Siberian chives
  • Siberian Garlic chives

Propagating chives

To multiply your chives plants, you can pull the plant apart at its “roots.”

You’ll notice that their roots will remind you of onion plants. You can often use a shovel to split a chives plant into 2 or 3 parts that can be grown as independent plants.