Chive is an easy to grow, low-maintenance perennial herb. It is mainly grown for its mild onion flavoured grass-like leaves, but also produces gorgeous pink pompom edible flowers that are a favourite amongst the pollinators. Chives work well as edging for beds and borders, and also grow well in containers in full sun or light shade.
For the best results sow chives in a pot – a tray works too, to start off the seedlings. Fill a pot with peat-free seed compost, water it and then thinly sow the seeds on top. Cover the seeds lightly with compost or vermiculite and press down slightly to make sure that the seeds have good contact with the soil. Water again carefully and put a plastic dome or cling film on top, and make sure that it has air holes for ventilation! Keep the soil evenly moist until the seeds germinate, because if they dry out they will most likely not germinate at all. Having said that, be careful not to overwater.
Chives will ideally need 20-25°C to germinate well and should appear within 3 weeks. Once the tiny grass-like seedlings appear, remove the plastic and place in a somewhat cooler but bright location to grow on.
There’s no need to thin the seedlings out unless the pot is very crowded. When they are about 5cm high, transplant into 15-20 cm pots using peat-free multi-purpose compost. Grow them on in cooler conditions.
You can keep the pot in your Sprout mini-greenhouse or put it outside in early summer after the last frost. To acclimatise the plants to outdoor conditions, lift them outside in a sheltered, lightly shaded spot during the day, and put them back in at night. Gradually increase the time outside. Do this for about two weeks before leaving them out all the time, either in the pot or plant them in the ground.
When growing in pots, it’s important to keep on feeding the plants throughout the growing season and remember to keep them well watered. Chives are perennial plants that die in winter and regrow in spring, so don’t throw them away when they look dead in the winter! Pot grown chives will need dividing every couple of years – simply lift and divide the crowded plant and repot into individual pots. Chives growing in the ground can also become congested so may need to be divided after a few years.
Harvest as required from early summer until they start to die back in autumn, by snipping the leaves from the base of the plant – this will encourage it to grow more leaves. You can also pick the flowers for cut flower arrangements, or snip just the flower head off for eating. To keep the plant productive throughout the season it’s best to snip off faded flowers.
Greenflies can sometimes be a problem on new shoots, and are best treated by being removed using your finger and thumb to squash them. Leek rust, which is a fungal disease, can cause bright yellow spots on the leaves and has no cure. Mild attacks won’t hurt the plant much but more serious infections can affect the yield and spread. The best way to prevent rust is to make sure you don’t crowd plants and that there is good airflow around them. Very wet weather increases the risk, so keeping the pot in your Harvst mini-greenhouse at such times can reduce the risk.
Although Chives are best used fresh, they can be frozen by chopping them finely and packing them into ice cubes with a bit of water or olive oil. Simply pop the cubes out whenever you need them.
The botanical name of Chive is Alliumschoenoprasum and it is an excellent plant for our precious pollinators!