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Knowledge to Grow by Karen Weiland - Chives

Chives are a member of the lily family and are grown for the many uses of their leaves and flowers. Both onion and garlic chives are grown and used similarly. The hollow, round leaves of onion chives, as the name implies, gives an onion flavor when added to foods. The leaves of garlic chives differ in that they are flat and add a garlic flavor to foods. Garlic chives are sometimes also called Chinese chives.

Plant chives in rich, well- drained soil and a sunny location. They like plenty of compost or a good slow-release fertilizer at planting time. They will not need much care other than water until their roots have established. If you harvest often, apply a liquid fertilize every three to four weeks. Onion chives produce purple globe flowers and the garlic chives will have many small white flowers. By keeping the flowers snipped, the plant will produce more leaves. Cut the plants back to the ground after a few freezes have occurred in late fall.

Chives grow in clumps and can be divided in the spring. Garlic chives will reseed themselves generously, and I mean generously! They produce such pretty flowers, but in those flowers are many seeds. If you are going to grow them, place them in an area so they can take off without obtaining a weed status. That happened to me. I had to dig up all the “stray” plants. Of course, if you snip the flowers off you will not have that problem.

Neem or insecticidal soap can be used to rid the plant of aphids. Spray thoroughly, getting down into the crown of the clump. Watch for aphids during the growing season, but especially in the spring. 

Avoid harvesting the leaves on a newly planted chive until the second year. This gives the roots a chance to become well established. After the leaves are about 6” tall, they may be harvested by cutting them off about 1” above the soil line. Although fresh is preferred, you can store some for winter use by chopping them into ½” lengths and placing them into ice cube molds with some water. Freeze them, then defrost an ice cube or two when you need them. You can also preserve them in herb butters, oils and vinegars.

Add the chopped leaves to food at the very end of the cooking process as their mild flavor is destroyed by heat. The purple flowers of onion chives are also edible and look pretty floating in soup. I find the flavor of garlic chives to be a bit stronger than onion chives.

As always, Happy Gardening!

The Purdue University Cooperative Extension service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.