Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are an easy herb to grow as a houseplant or in a garden. Although the chive is a close relative to garlic, leeks, shallots, and onions, chives possess a far milder flavor. Once native only to Europe, this perennial herb now grows worldwide. When found in the wild, chives prefer mild climates and a rocky terrain.
The delicate flavor of the chive is best suited to soups, salads, eggs and dressings where it can be added as a last-minute garnish. Serve immediately after sprinkling the herb over your dish. Allowing chives to cook or become too hot causes the herb to wilt. You can use chives for herb butters, white sauces and noodles, too.
The ideal way to get chives started is by propagation. However, you can begin by using seeds. Start the seeds in unused egg cartons or small planting containers filled with good, organic potting soil. Chives need rich soil to thrive. Place the seed just below the surface of the soil and cover. Water the soil and leave the containers in a dark area. Make sure the soil temperature remains between 60 to 75 degrees. You can plant chive seeds indoors any time during the year.
Once the seeds sprout, continue growing them in the egg cartons or small containers until they reach about three inches in height. At that time, move the chives to individual, larger containers. If the threat of frost has passed, you can move the chives outdoors and plant in your garden.
Propagating chives allows you to divide large clumps of mature chives into smaller ones. If you live in a colder, northern climate, propagate in the early spring. Southern gardeners and those in warmer climates can propagate in late summer.
Use a spade to break the clumps into groups of five to six bulbs. Take care not to disturb the root system as this can damage the plants. Transplant the new clumps into the garden, containers or share with a friend.
When harvesting chives, cut the green portion of the plant no shorter than two inches about the ground. When the chive blooms, you can also harvest the flowers and buds by pinching them off. Unless you want chives spreading far and wide in your garden, pluck the flowers before they turn brown and go to seed.
Unlike other herbs, chives flourish in good soil, with full sunlight, whether they are kept in a planter or garden. Be sure to water frequently and not let the soil become too dry. Chives kept in containers thrive best in moist soil; be careful not to let it become soggy.
Allow outdoor chives to endure several rounds of freezing before bringing them inside for the winter. The freezing causes a period of dormancy which is vital to your plant's health.