Chives: Possibly the World’s Easiest Herb!

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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!

Chives Like It Cold!

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Chives are among the easiest herbs to grow … outdoors in temperate climates. It needs a bit of special treatment to do well indoors, though. Photo: Captain-tucker, Wikimedia Commons

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) is perhaps the easiest herb of all to grow, at least in temperate to cold climates. It’s tough, very cold hardy (zone 2) and a true perennial, coming back faithfully for many years. Plus it will grow in sun or shade (sun is best, though) and tolerates dry situations as well as damp ones and just about any soil, from clay to sand and from alcaline to acid. In addition, it’s very attractive, with a long-lasting flowers for nearly a month in early summer, and that makes it an excellent ornamental. The leaves are edible, of course … but the flowers too.

Indoors It Needs a Cold Treatment

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Pale and struggling, this overcrowded pot of supermarket chives didn’t get its cold treatment. Photo: tesco.com

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 require a cold winter in order to really thrive. If you insist on cultivating it indoors over the winter, make sure undergoes at least a good frost or two before you bring it inside. It will then react as if it had been through winter and begin a new season of growth right away.

Of course, you still need to give it a bright, sunny spot to grow in (indoors, it needs full sun) and regular watering over the winter, but otherwise, once it’s gone through its short winter, you’ll find it no more difficult to grow indoors than it was outdoors, although blooms are sparse to absent indoors.

If there is no frost where you live, trying sticking your potted chives in the fridge for a week: that will convince it the time has come to put up new growth.20170930B tesco.com

Common Herbs With Weedy Ways

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Don’t let weedy herbs run amok in your garden! Illustration: confessionsofacomposter .blogspot.com

Who doesn’t enjoy fresh herbs, those aromatic plants that add such punch to our meals? Or treat our sniffles or upset stomaches? And they’re never fresher than when we grow them ourselves. That’s why herbs are presently so popular: everyone wants to try them. And most people find them easy to grow… at first. But many herbs have a major downside: they’re moderately to highly invasive and can quickly switch from being useful plants to becoming out-and-out garden thugs.

Two Categories of Weedy Herbs

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Borage is an easy-to-grow annual herb… perhaps too easy to grow, as it can self-sow so abundantly that it becomes a weed. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

There are two categories of potentially weedy herbs: those that produce creeping rhizomes or stolons (or sprout from broken pieces of root) that head off in all directions, soon producing offsets that surround and overwhelm neighboring plants, and those whose invasive habits are due to self-sowing, giving hordes of babies from the seeds they drop, hordes that can quickly threaten your entire herb garden.

Here is a list of the “main culprits” along with their preferred mode of invasion:

  1. Borage (Borago officinalis): seeds
  2. Caraway (Carum carvi): seeds
  3. Catnip (Nepeta cataria): seeds
  4. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita): seeds
  5. Chervil (Cerefolium anthriscus): seeds
  6. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum): seeds

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    Perilla or shish is a popular Chinese herb, but self-sows like the dickens. Photo: User:SB_Johnny, Wikimedia Commons

  7. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale): seeds and root sections
  8. Coriander or cilantro (Coriandrum sativum): seeds
  9. Costmary (Tanacetum balsamita): seeds
  10. Dill (Anethum graveolens): seeds
  11. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): seeds
  12. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium): seeds
  13. Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum): seeds
  14. Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana): root sections
  15. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis): seeds
  16. Mint (Mentha spp.): stolons and creeping stems
  17. Monarde (Monarda didyma): rhizomes
  18. Mustard (Brassica nigra and B. juncea): seeds
  19. Origan (Origanum vulgare): seeds

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    Russian tarragon (Artemisia dracunculoides) can become a garden weed. Photo: Cillas, Wikimedia Commons

  20. Russian tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus): rhizomes and seeds
  21. Shisho or perilla (Perilla frutescens): seeds
  22. Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata): seeds
  23. Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum): rhizomes
  24. Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare): rhizomes and seeds
  25. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): seeds
  26. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): seeds

How to Control Weedy Herbs

Weedy or not, several of the herbs presented above are essential to any herb garden. Can you even imagine cooking without thyme, oregano or chives? But fortunately there are ways to grow weedy herbs while limiting their ability to invade. Here are a few:

A. Self-Sowing Herbs

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Harvesting early and often prevents the plant from going to seed. Photo: Veganbaking.net, Wikimedia Commons.

  • Either remove all their flowers or harvest them before any seeds ripen;
  • Apply 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 cm) of your choice of organic mulch (shredded leaves, wood chips, forestry mulch, etc.) throughout the herb garden, completely covering the soil. Seeds will not germinate in mulch-covered soil;
  • Hand pull when plants are still small;
  • Grow them beyond their hardiness zone. For example, fennel is hardy from zone 6 to 9 and can be weedy there if you let it go to seed. However, it won’t be invasive in zones 1 to 5.

B. Herbs With Wandering Rhizomes and Stolons

  • Cultivate them in pots on a deck, patio or balcony: that will nip any spread in the bud;

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    Peppermint (Mentha piperita) grow inside a barrier made of sunken pots.

  • Plant them inside a barrier sunk into the ground. This could simply be a plastic pot or pail with its bottom removed. The barrier should stick up at least 2 inches (5 cm) above the ground as the rhizomes of some plants, such as mint, right will creep right over a barrier that is level with the ground.

 


Don’t hesitate to grow herbs: most are great and very productive plants and you’ll be thrilled with the results. But do take note of the invasive ones. After all, forewarned is forearmed!20170425G confessionsofocomposter.blogspot.com