Learn About Chives

How to Sow

Chives may be grown from seed sown early indoors and transplanted outside after frost or sown directly in the garden.

Sowing Seed Indoors:

  • Sow chives seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before the average last frost date in spring using a seed starting kit.
  • Sow seeds ¼  inch deep in seed starting formula
  • Keep the soil moist at 70 degrees F
  • Seedlings will emerge in 7-14 days
  • As soon as the seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill, or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
  • Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
  • Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning.  This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.

Sowing Directly in the Garden:

  • Direct sow in average soil in full sun after all danger of frost. In frost free areas sow from fall to early spring.
  • Remove weeds and work organic matter into the top 6-8 inches of soil; then level and smooth. 
  • Sow seeds evenly and cover with ¼ inches of fine soil. 
  • Firm the soil lightly and keep evenly moist. 
  • Seedlings will emerge in 7-14 days.
  • Thin to 3 inches apart when seedlings are 1-2 inches tall.

Planting in the Garden:

  • Select a location in full sun where water drains quickly after a rainfall.
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
  • Dig a hole for each plant large enough to amply accommodate the root ball. 
  • Carefully remove the plant from its pot and gently loosen the root ball, if tight, with your hands to encourage good root development. 
  • Place the top of the root ball even with the level of the surrounding soil. Fill with soil to the top of the root ball. Press soil down firmly with your hand leaving a slight depression around the plant to hold water. 
  • Use the plant tag as a location marker. 
  • Water thoroughly, so that a puddle forms in the saucer you have created. This settles the plants in, drives out air pockets and results in good root-to-soil contact.
  • Do not allow plants to dry out, but never let the soil stay wet. 

How to Grow

  • Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating. 
  • Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. For herbs, an organic mulch of aged bark or shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time.  Always keep mulches off a plant's stems to prevent possible rot.
  • Keep plants well-watered during the growing season, especially during dry spells. Plants need about 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season. It's best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated. 
  • Cut leaves to the ground after blooming to encourage the production of fresh new leaves.
  • For garlic chives, pinch off spent flowers in fall to prevent rampant self-sowing.
  • Divide clumps every 3 to 4 years to keep them vigorous.
  • Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.

Growing tips

  • Harvest the leaves by clipping them back to 1 inch above the ground; new leaves will emerge.
  • Add fresh leaves to salads, soups, cream cheese, butter, or sandwiches.
  • Sprinkle the florets on salads.
  • The leaves and flowers also make flavorful vinegars. Try adding the pink-lavender blooms to white vinegar—they will give it a light onion flavor and a beautiful pink color.
  • After garlic chives plants flower, the attractive seed heads may be harvested and used in herbal wreaths and arrangements.
  • Include garlic chives in perennial borders, herb gardens, vegetable and containers, indoors and out.

Common Pests and Problems

Common Disease Problems

Botrytis Blight: This causes the older leaves and the center of the plant to rot. It can start with a yellowish brown irregular spots on the leaves or water soaked spots on the stems. The fungus turns a fuzzy gray and emits a cloud of spores when touched. Burpee Recommends: Remove infected plants and plant debris to avoid the spread of the disease and make sure plants have good air circulation. Keep organic mulches away from the plants as spores can live in the organic matter. Use pea gravel as mulches they will help decrease humidity around the plants.

Damping Off: This is one of the most common problems when starting plants from seed. The seedling emerges and appears healthy; then it suddenly wilts and dies for no obvious reason. Damping off is caused by a fungus that is active when there is abundant moisture and soils and air temperatures are above 68 degrees F. Typically, this indicates that the soil is too wet or contains high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. Burpee Recommends: Keep seedlings moist but do not overwater; avoid over-fertilizing your seedlings; thin out seedlings to avoid overcrowding; make sure the plants are getting good air circulation; if you plant in containers, thoroughly wash them in soapy water and rinse in a ten per cent bleach solution after use.

Downy Mildew: Pale spots appear on the leaves with a gray-purple fuzzy growth. The leaves turn pale green then yellow and the tips collapse. Burpee Recommends: Be sure to plant in well-drained soil. And avoid overcrowding plants. Rotate crops with other members of the onion family and do not plant in the same area for at least four years. Remove and destroy plant debris. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Pink Root Rot: A fungus that attacks roots causing them to turn a light pink, then red and eventually purple-brown and causing them to shrivel. Infected plants show signs of nutrient deficiencies and drought because the roots cannot take up water and nutrients. Plants are stunted. The disease lives in the soil for several years and thrives in warm temperatures. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with other members of the onion family.

Powdery mildew: This is a fungus disease causes a white powdery look on the foliage. This disease weakens plants as it inhibits their ability to make carbohydrates for themselves using sunlight. Burpee Recommends: You can remove infected plant areas, increase air circulation, and try to reduce the humidity in the room. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Common Pest and Cultural Problems

Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps who feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.

Mealybugs: Mealy bugs are 1/8 to ¼ inch long flat wingless insects that secrete a white powder that forms a waxy shell that protects them. They form cottony looking masses on stems, branches and leaves. They suck the juices from leaves and stems and cause weak growth. They also attract ants with the honeydew they excrete, and the honeydew can grow a black sooty mold on it as well. Burpee Recommends: Wash infected plant parts under the faucet and try to rub the bugs off. They may also be controlled by predator insects such as lacewings, ladybugs and parasitic wasps. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pesticide recommendations.

Onion Maggot: This insect causes stunted or wilted seedlings and damaged roots and bulbs. The adult is a greyish colored fly which lays its eggs around the base of the plant. The maggots bore into the roots. Burpee Recommends: Remove all bulbs at the end of the season and remove all volunteer wild onion plants. Floating row covers can prevent the females from laying eggs. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls.

Spider mites: These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper. They may be red, black, brown or yellow. They suck on the plant juices removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which cause white dots on the foliage. There is often webbing visible on the plant. They cause the foliage to turn yellow and become dry and stippled. They multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions. Burpee Recomends: They may be able to be controlled with a forceful spray every other day. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for miticide recommendations.

Thrips: Thrips are tiny needle-thin insects that are black or straw colored. They suck the juices of plants and attack flower petals, leaves and stems. The plant will have a stippling, discolored flecking or silvering of the leaf surface. Thrips can spread many diseases from plant to plant. Burpee Recommends: Many thrips may be repelled by sheets of aluminum foil spread between rows of plants. Remove weeds from the bed and remove debris from the bed after frost. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls.

FAQ

Can I plant chives indoors in containers? Yes, chives are ideal for indoor growing and container growing. Use a commercial potting mix rather than garden soil.

How to I know when I can harvest? Chives may be harvested any time once plants are established, usually about 80-90 days after plants sprout or are transplanted in the garden.

What’s the difference between common chives and garlic chives? The plants are different species of the same genus. Garlic chives have broader leaves and a stronger flavor, midway between garlic and onions.

Can I use chives dried? Chives lose their flavor when dried. To save them for winter use try freezing them.

Can I use chives as companion plants? Yes, chives can help improve the flavor of tomatoes when planted as companions. They can help prevent black spot disease when planted at the base of rose plants and they can repel borers from fruit trees. They can improve the flavor of carrots and repel cucumber beetles and Japanese beetles.

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