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Chives by Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D.


Chives have a mild onion flavor that makes them useful in any dish that calls for spring onions. The green stems of the chives can be chopped and used as garnish in soups and on other dishes. The bright purple florets can be used whole, such as floating in soup for added color. The individual florets will add a bit of flash to salads and other dishes.

Chives can be grown from either seeds or plugs of stems. In either case, chives are very heavy feeders, so it is important to plant them in a bed that has been well tilled and has had at least three inches of compost added to it.

The germination rates for chive seeds drop off sharply at over a year of age, so always use fresh seeds. Sow them thickly 1/4 inch deep after the danger of frost has passed. Then cover them up and water gently. The seeds take 10-14 days to germinate. Keep the soil moist but do not over water.

If you choose to plant chive plugs instead of seeds, plant the clumps at least 8 inches apart. Plant the chives so the crown is 1/2 inch under the soil. Wait at least two months after transplanting to cut chives from the clump.

Chives are hardy to zone 4 and seem to prefer to go through a period of dormancy. They may not grow well in a hot climate. Blossoms should be cut from the plants or the chives will spread quickly.

The blossom can be eaten, but has a more pungent flavor than the stems. Separate the florets and sprinkle lightly or your dish will taste only of onion.

When harvesting the chives, it is best to cut the stems off an inch above the crown. Cutting all the stems from a single clump allows that clump to regenerate with fresh stems. Clipping at the tips of the leaves will not stimulate fresh growth.

Chives stop growing vigorously after three or four cuttings. Having several clumps that can be clipped in turn will help extend the season. The chives will continue to grow after several clippings, just much more slowly.

One way to reinvigorate a stand is to divide the clumps into new plugs and replant them. Use a sharp spade to dig the plants up. Trim the roots to about an inch or two long. Trim the tops to an inch above the crown. Then cut the clump into plugs of about two inches square. Plant the new plugs so that the crown is under a half inch of soil. Treat normally.

If you fertilize your chives after each cutting, regrowth will occur faster. In addition, it is important to keep the bed weeded because chives will not compete with grass. You will end up with a fragrant lawn, not a garden.

If you follow these guidelines, you should be able to grow enough chives for you and your family. You should also have some to share. Happy gardening!


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