Herbs

Chives: Possibly the World’s Easiest Herb!

Photo: easakrupa.com

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are perhaps the easiest herb of all to grow, at least in temperate to cold climates. They’re tough, very cold hardy (hardiness zones 2 to 9) and are true perennials, coming back faithfully for decades. Plus, they’ll grow under almost any condition: sun or shade (sun is best, though) and just about any soil, from dry to moist, clay to sand and alkaline to acid. In addition, they’re very attractive, with a long-lasting flowers offering nearly a month’s bloom in spring, and that makes it an excellent choice for edible landscaping. 

What Chives Don’t Like…

Pot of chives
Chives may look cute in a pot indoors, but they’re not going to be happy there. Photo: http://www.amazon.co.uk

Is constant warmth. They prefer a cold or at least cool winter. And that’s a problem, because garden centers and supermarkets often offer pots of chives in the fall for indoor growing over the winter, but when you bring them home, they rarely do more than sulk and look unhappy. That’s because chives would normally go dormant in the fall, under the influence of cold nights, then reawaken in spring to grow again. Moving from a hot greenhouse to a warm windowsill for the winter just doesn’t cut it.

Therefore, if you insist on cultivating chives indoors over the winter, make sure they undergo at least a good frost or two. So just put the pot on the balcony or terrace for now until the leaves have all dropped from the trees. and only then bring them inside. The pot of chives will then react as if it had been through winter and begin a new season of growth right away.

If there is no frost where you live, trying sticking your potted chives in the fridge for a week: that will convince them the time has come to put up new growth.

Of course, you still need to give your chives a bright, sunny spot to grow in (indoors, it needs full sun) and regular watering over the winter, but otherwise, once they’ve gone through a short winter, you’ll find them no more difficult to grow indoors than outdoors, although growth will be sparser and blooms rare indoors.

But still, what your chives would really like is to spend the winter outdoors, whether in a pot or in the ground. Yes, out in the cold! That’s always the best way to grow them. 

Fun Facts About Chives

Even if you’ve been growing chives for years, there are probably lots of things you don’t know about this fascinating plant, such as…

  1. The tubular, hollow leaves are edible, of course … but so are the flowers! They can be pulled part and used as a garnish in soups, salads, etc.
  2. The flower stems resemble leaves, but are tough and thus rarely used in cooking. Still, you can use them as flavoring in soups and stews, then remove them before serving.
  3. Chives are a true health food, rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, C, E, and K and containing such minerals as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. They also provide antioxidants, carbohydrates, fiber and protein, but very little fat.
  4. Strangely enough, while the crushed or injured leaves of chives smell of onion, the flowers smell … like violets!
Botanical drawing of chives
There is a small bulb at the base of the plant, but it’s very discrete.
  1. Chives are a bulbous plant, but the bulbs are very small and rarely seen, tightly packed together underground at the base of the plant.
  2. The word chives is plural, because the dense clumps it forms are actually composed of numerous individual plants. However, the singular chive is used if you refer to just one specimen.
  3. Chives are by far the most widely distributed Allium in the world, the only onion relative found in both the Old and the New World (North America, Europe Asia, and North Africa), from high mountains to the seashore. They’re only absent from the hottest regions and from the extreme North where permafrost reigns.
  4. Chives have been cultivated in China for at least 5,000 years.
  5. The plant can reach between 4 and 24 inches (10 and 60 cm) in height, depending on the growing conditions. It’s at its shortest in dry, hot areas in full sun and its tallest in cool climates in shade.
  6. Chives are so cold hardy that they can overwinter in a pot on a patio or balcony even in hardiness zone 3.
  7. Bunches of dried chives, fixed above doors and windows, were once believed to ward off evil spirits.
  8. Chives are propagated by dividing clumps of established plants and by seed. They self-sow readily in the garden if you don’t deadhead them and can thus be a bit invasive.
  9. The botanical epithet schoenoprasum comes from the Greek skhoínos (rush) and práson (leek) and therefore means “rush leek”. Indeed, chives were called rush leeks during the Middle Ages. As for chives, the name comes from the Old French cive, meaning onion, from the Latin word for onion, cepa.
Bee on chives
Honeybee visiting chives flowers. Photo: http://www.keepingbackyardbees.com
  1. Chives are popular with bees and other pollinators and can help attract them to the garden.
  2. Chives are claimed to repel unwanted animals and insects from the garden due to their high sulfur content, but studies have so far failed to confirm that belief. They seem to protect themselves, as few pests attack them, but offer little to no protection to neighboring plants.
  3. Chives are toxic to most mammals, including cats, dogs and horses as well as many birds, but, obviously, not to humans. Fortunately, they are only slightly poisonous, but still, they shouldn’t be fed to pets. 

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Chives: the ideal herb for the novice gardener!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “Chives: Possibly the World’s Easiest Herb!

  1. Well, now I know! Our chives are starting to take off, now! Why? Our weather temps finally started to drop! ❤️🦋🌀🙏☀️💦🌱

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