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Herb Garden
Published September 6, 2023 by Nicole Burke

How to Grow Your Own Organic Chives from Seed

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Grow Your Own Fresh, Organic Chives

One of my first introductions to kitchen gardening was a pot of garlic chives on our front stoop when my kids were all preschoolers and toddlers. I couldn’t keep one room in my house clean for more than five minutes, but I could step outside and harvest chives and suddenly feel like Martha Stewart. It whetted my appetite for growing my own fresh food in a simple way, and it only took one terra cotta pot.

Chives are a fantastic plant to grow if you too want to try your hand at gardening, especially if you haven’t yet had much success. These little plants are so forgiving of poor conditions, and with just a bit of tending, you’ll be able to cut way more fresh chives than you could ever think of using. 

chives in bloom

Onion Chives vs Garlic Chives

There are two types of chives herbs: garlic chives and onion chives, also called common chives.

Garlic chives

Garlic chives have flat leaves, kind of like skinny blades of grass, and plants can grow to be about 20 inches tall. Their flowers, each one a dainty white star, cluster on little flower heads.

Onion chives/Common chives

These have thin, hollow leaves instead of blades and can grow 10 to 15 inches tall. It's onion chives that produce those stunning purple blossoms in the spring that you see peeking out of harvest baskets (though flowers can also be white, pink, or red).

garlic chives vs onion chives comparison pictures

As you might expect, onion chives taste more like onions, while garlic chives have a strong garlic flavor. The flowers of both types are edible and extremely attractive to pollinators.

By the way, neither onion chives nor garlic chives are the same thing as green onions, AKA scallions, which are much thicker and change from green tops to crunchy white bottoms (chives are green throughout). They're all in the onion family, but chives have a milder flavor than green onions.

green onions vs chives pic

Are Chives Perennial Plants?

Chives are cold-hardy perennial plants that will return from their roots each year. They're known for being a cool season plant, but they can really hang in there in hot and cold climates. If you live in garden hardiness zones 9 and 10, your chives will likely grow year round (as long as they stay well watered in the hottest months). In a colder climate, chives will die back after a heavy frost or snow and then return in the spring. They're typically one of the first plants to pop up after winter.

In addition to returning from their roots each year, chives can also spread via dropped seeds and underground bulbs. You might want to harvest blooms before they dry out to control where future chives plants spring up in your garden. It takes chives a couple of seasons to really begin spreading out, but when they do, you can simply divide each plant using a hori hori or small shovel. Now you've got free plants you can replant around your garden.

It's not hard to see how you can have chive plants producing year after year for you, is it?

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Where to Grow Chives

Chives are small plants that need about the circumference of a tea cup to grow in the garden. I love to plant chives in the corners of my raised beds and around the edges of my container gardens. It's not because my family needs so many chives leaves. (Seriously, a plant or two will likely supply more than enough.) It's because chives are excellent natural pest deterrents.

I call chives "pest interrupters" because their oniony or garlicky smell repels bad-news-bugs like aphids, Japanese beetles, caterpillars, and other things that like to eat your greens. Honestly, it's a great idea to tuck some chives into any empty patches of your garden for no other reason than this one.

If you don't have raised beds, chives do really well in containers. Your container only needs to be 6 inches deep, but it must have a drainage hole at the bottom so that chives don't sit in water—no herbs enjoy that. You can grow potted chives on a porch, on a balcony, even indoors in a sunny windowsill or under grow lights.

Chives will grow in partial shade, though they prefer full sun. If you experience really hot summers, see if you can give your chives some afternoon shade.

chives plant

How to Source Chives Plants

Chives are fairly easy to grow from seed. You can either start chives seeds indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost in the spring or sow seeds directly in the garden once your soil is workable.

If you don't want to deal with starting your own seeds, you can always plant chives by rooted clumps or starter plants in the spring. Buying little chives plants from your local nursery is a worthwhile investment. Not only will you be able to harvest sooner, your plants should come back year after year. 

If you live in a warmer climate, you could plant chives in the fall, as well. Just make sure they have a good 6 to 8 weeks to get established before your first anticipated frost.

Do you dream of walking through your own kitchen garden with baskets full of delicious food you grew yourself? 

Leaves, Roots & Fruit teaches you the step by step to grow as a gardener—first with leaves, then with roots, and finally with fruit. 

Simple Steps to Grow Chives from Seed

You can start chives seeds indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before your final frost date in the spring. If you're new to starting seeds indoors, check out our recommended list of supplies. You could also sow seeds directly in the garden once your soil is workable.

Here are the steps to grow chives from seed:

Step one: Prepare the soil

If you're planting outdoors, clear the planting area of debris and add some fresh compost.

If you're starting seeds indoors, make sure to moisten your seed starting mix in a bowl so that it's ready to be a good medium for the seeds. Fill up your seed starting tray with the moistened mix. (You can start chives in the same plug tray as other perennial herbs since they all have similar germination times.)

how to grow chives from seed

Step two: Sow seeds

Chives seeds are pretty small and difficult to see next to soil. Do your best to sow only one per planting area/cell. My trick is to lick my index finger and use the tip to pick up just one seed at a time.

These seeds are so small that they don't really need to be buried. They only need good soil contact to ensure germination, so just use your fingers to lightly pat each seed into the soil.

Step three: water

If you're planting outdoors, make sure to water gently so that you don't displace these tiny seeds.

If you're starting seeds indoors, I recommend watering from the bottom of your plug tray. Make sure to turn on your grow lights for 14 to 16 hours a day as soon as you see signs of growth.

Chives seeds can take a few weeks to germinate, and you'll want to keep your soil moist during this time.

chives growing from seed

Chives Plant Care

3 Tips to Keep Chives Growing

Avoid planting this herb outdoors during the heat of summer. The best time to plant chives is in the spring or fall. Once chives plants are established in the garden, they barely require any care at all.

Follow these tips to keep your chives around for the long haul.

Give Chives 6+ Hours of Sun

Make sure your chives are getting full sun if you want them to flower. Chives will continue to grow with just 4 to 6 hours of sunlight a day; they'll just grow slower and probably won't spend energy on flowering.

chives plant care

Start with Good Soil

Grow your chives in well-draining soil. If you're growing them in a pot or container, I like to mix potting soil with some coarse sand and compost. (You could use vermiculite instead of sand if that's what you have on hand.) The sand helps with drainage, and the compost adds a little nutritional boost.

If you set your chives up with nutrient-rich soil from the beginning, they won't really need to be fertilized. Just add some fresh compost or a pinch of worm castings every quarter or so, and they'll be good.

Water Consistently

Water chives when the top two inches of soil feel dry. They'll tolerate some drought, but it's best to be consistent with your watering. Potted chives will dry out much faster than chives growing in a larger container or raised bed.

chives in raised garden bed

What Are Good Chives Companion Plants?

Ask not what other plants can do for chives—ask what chives can do for your garden. I think that's how it goes, right?

Chives are a fantastic companion plant for just about whatever you want to grow in your kitchen garden or herb garden. Not only do they protect your carrots, kale, lettuce, tomatoes, etc., from pests, they also attract lots of pollinators right when your warm season plants need to be pollinated.

Chives also grow really well alongside perennial herbs from the mint family—think rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, and lavender—because they have similar growing preferences. I like to grow chives and tons of herbs in this DIY rolling planter.

chives growing in herb container garden

How to Harvest Chives

Chives are ready to be harvested about 60 days after planting from seed if you started new chives plants. If you buy a mature plant from the store, you can begin harvesting a few leaves at a time immediately. Just give transplants several weeks to adjust before harvesting heavily from them.

Once your plants are established, treat them like any other cut-and-come-again herb. In other words, harvest the leaves, give the plant time to regrow, and then return to harvest more leaves. Cut from each plant at least monthly to keep it healthy and encourage it to be productive.

Use a clean pair of scissors or snips to cut the plants just 1 to 2 inches above the soil. I like to grab several stems at once like I'm gathering hair for a ponytail. New growth will spring from the center of the plant, not the tips; again, that's why a good cutting back can keep your plant healthy through the growing season.

how to harvest chives

How to Harvest Chive Blossoms

Onion chives typically blossom in the spring, while garlic chives flower a bit later in the summer. You can leave some flowers for the pollinators, but again, remove them before they dry and scatter their seeds if you don't like volunteer plants.

Chive blossoms grow on much sturdier stems than the rest of the plant, and they're at their peak of flavor right after they've opened. To harvest, cut the stems all the way down at their base, just like you would a cut flower. Speaking of cut flowers, if you're not interested in eating your chive blossoms (remember, they're 100 percent edible), you can enjoy them indoors in a water-filled vase.

how to harvest chive blossoms

How to Enjoy Chives

Chives are at their most flavorful when they're freshly harvested, so take only as much as you need at a time. Toss chopped stems into salads or onto soups, stews, omelettes, casseroles, baked potatoes—really anything savory that needs just a tad more flavor. If you've harvested a lot of stems, you could make your own chive butter to melt over your favorite protein or smear over bread.

If you have extra stems, wrap them in a damp paper towel and put them into a container or jar in the fridge. You can also store chives in the freezer if you won't be able to use them in the next couple weeks. I don't recommend drying chives because they lose their flavor.

Chive blossoms are where you can get really creative since they're not something you're likely to have tasted unless you've grown and harvested your own. You can enjoy the entire blossom whole or you can break it apart and use the pieces as a garnish (the flower stems are probably a little too rigid for your liking). Onion chives have a really vibrant onion flavor. I like to make my own chive blossom vinegar with them to use as a salad dressing.

chives fresh from the herb garden

Time to Tuck Some Chives Around Your Garden

Whether you're growing a single pot of chives on your front porch or adding chives to the corners of your raised beds, I hope you find quick success with these gorgeous little plants.

Thanks for helping me bring back the kitchen garden one easy-to-grow plant at a time!

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How to Grow Your Own Organic Chives from Seed