Prized for the delightful onion or garlic flavour of their leaves, chives are a member of the onion family native to Europe, Asia and North America. Chives are perennial herbs that are much easier to grow than traditional onions and garlic, with the added benefit of not taking as long between planting and harvest time. Chives are ideal plants for pots, make attractive grass-like plants in herb beds and can be used as pest repellent plants as well.
Planting Time: September – March
Position: Full sun – part shade
Water Needs: Low
How Long: Any time is a good time for chives!
Both garlic and onion chives will thrive in a full sun to partially shaded position, provided they are protected from strong winds. When there is a dry period, water deeply to ensure the root system is well hydrated and mulch well to retain moisture. If planting in a pot, go for one at least 30cm wide as chives can form clumps of up to 50cm wide. To encourage continuous supply of leaves, cut off the flowers; they are edible too so toss them in a salad to dress it up.
Chives are definitely not needy and will thrive in just about any type of soil. A little bit of compost mixed through the soil prior to planting is ideal and if planting in a pot, go for an organic potting mix. Chives in pots should have their soil replaced every three years to ensure flavour and performance is top-notch!
For those of you who with limited garden space, chives can be easily grown in pots indoors. A bright and sunny position, good quality well drained potting mix and good pot drainage is all you need. During winter when light is poor, you may notice that the plant will not grow much and may even die back a bit, but should spring back to life with the return of brighter sun in spring. It’s advisable not to fertilize during winter.
Possibly the least demanding of all our herbs, chives are generally happy not to be fed at all. If growth seems a little slow, or you have been harvesting a great deal, give them a drink of compost tea. Do the same if re-potting, or dividing up large clumps.
Chives are fairly drought tolerant, although those grown in pots (especially terracotta) have a tendency to dry out fairly quickly. A drink once or twice a week is sufficient if chives are planted in a rich soil or potting mix and mulched well.
Harvest as needed throughout the life of your chives.
As well as being hardy, chives are an excellent companion plant in the vegie and flower patch. Said to repel aphids, many rose growers swear by garlic chives as companion plants. They are also said to prevent apple scab, but keep them away from your beans though.
Passionate home cooks recommend that chives be eaten fresh – much better flavour. Extra chives can be frozen by chopping up prewashed leaves into small pieces and freezing them in plastic containers, or in water in ice cube trays. There is no need to thaw pieces out before using.
Here are a couple of recipes to get you inspired:
Photos: Elaine Shallue & Mary Trigger