Chives are members of the lily family grown for their leaves and flowers, which are equally popular in the garden and in the kitchen. Both onion and garlic chives are grown and used in a similar fashion. Some gardeners use onion and garlic chives as a perennial edging or border plant in a flower border or an herb garden. They also grow well in containers, both alone and in combination with other long-lived herbs such as rosemary.
Growing onion chives? You’re not alone. Many gardeners grow them for their leaves and rosy purple flowers, both of which boast a mild onion flavour. They grow well in the ground or any pot, even a small one, or the pockets of a strawberry jar. Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), also known as Chinese chives, are grown for their mildly garlic-flavoured leaves and pretty white flowers. The leaves are flat, not hollow like those of onion chives (Allium schoenoprasum).
Soil, Planting, and Care
When growing chives, it’s best to plant them in full sun, but plants also grow in partial shade, especially in the South and Southwest. Set out plants in early spring in soil amended with plenty of compost or a good continuous-release fertilizer, placing them 8 to 12 inches apart. For fast growth, plant in rich, well-drained soil. (Plants are tough enough to withstand poor soil, but just won’t grow fast.) They need little care other than watering until well-rooted. If you harvest often, fertilize every couple of weeks with Miracle-Gro® LiquaFeed® Tomato, Fruits & Vegetables Plant Food (follow label directions) or fish emulsion. Although the flowers are nice, the plants produce more leaves if you pinch off the flower buds. After a few freezes make the leaves ugly, cut the plants back to the ground. They will come back in spring. After 3 or 4 years, each plant will have grown into a clump of smaller plants; divide them in early spring.
Watch for aphids, especially in spring. Spray with neem or insecticidal soap. Spray will bead up on the waxy leaves, so be sure it comes in contact with the pests, especially down in the crown of the plant. Garlic chives reseed generously if you let the seed mature; this can be a plus, but in the wrong place, you will find yourself pulling up lots of seedlings.
Harvest and Storage
You can begin harvesting leaves as soon as they are big enough to clip and use. Cut from the outside of the clump, about 1/2 inch above soil level, always leaving plenty to restore energy to the plant. Although fresh is best, you can store extra for winter use by chopping and freezing the leaves, or you can also preserve them in herb butters, oils, and vinegars, where they blend well with parsley and tarragon.
Add to dishes at the very end of the cooking process, because their mild flavor is destroyed by heat. The purple flowers of onion chives, which are also edible, float beautifully in soup. In late summer, dig up a couple of plants, pot them, and move them to your windowsill for a nice winter source of fresh snips.