By Josie Borlongan, Garden Guides Contributor
Chives are herbaceous, clump-forming perennials. They are the smallest species of the onion family. They grow from 30 to 50 cm (11.8 to 19.6 inches) tall. The bulbs are conical in shape measuring 2 to 3 cm (.78 to 1.18 inches) long and 1 cm (.39 inches) wide. They grow as clustered from the roots versus growing individually. The leaves are hollow tubular almost grass-like in shape and grow, up to 50 cm (19.6 inches) long, and 2 to 3 mm (.07 to .11 inches) in diameter. The leaves are used as garnish and flavoring in salads, dips and soups due to its mild onion flavor. The mauve colored flowers are edible. Chives are hardy to zone 3.
Chives thrive in well drained, rich soil with additional organic matter that has a pH of 6 to 7 and full sun. This plant will tolerate most soil types and has a low nutrient requirement. If possible, prepare the ground well in advance, preferably in fall. Start by removing all the weeds, especially the perennial weeds such as quackgrass (Elymus repens).
Chives flowers are pale purple, star-shaped with six petals, 1 to 2 cm (.39 to .78 inches) wide and produced in a dense inflorescence of 10 to 30 together; before opening, the inflorescence is surrounded by a papery bract. Chives have been used as border or edging in the garden.
Choosing a Variety
Chives come in variations of height, flower color and flavor. Chinese, or garlic, chives (A. tuberosum) have a mild garlic flavor and white flowers. Other recommended varieties of chives are: Blue Spear, Alba, Curly Mauve, Marsha and Snowcap.
Sow seeds ¼ inch deep. Seeds require darkness, moisture and temperatures between 60 to 70 degrees F. Seedlings can be transplanted four weeks after germination. Small clumps or individual bulbs should be transplanted early in the spring. A small patch, approximately a 3 foot row, should be enough for a family of transplants. Because it propagates by offshoots, a patch will begin to compete with itself as it spreads causing the chives not to grow as well. Renewing the patch by digging up a portion of the patch, then thinning it out and finally transplanting to another area of the garden should solve this problem. Container-grown chives maybe planted throughout the year, but the best time is in spring when they establish rapidly.
Water well before planting because dry root balls are difficult to wet once below the ground. Water thoroughly after planting, no matter what the weather may be to settle the soil around the plants and provide moisture for new root growth. Chives have the same watering and fertilizing requirements as those of other members of the onion family. Since they are fairly shallow-rooted, water frequently although they may still thrive with minimal watering giving smaller yields. Chives generally require little attention.As for pests, onion maggots are a problem. Diazinon applied in the spring is one of the recommended controls.
Harvesting and Storage
Pick young leaves in spring and freeze or dry. If you plan to freeze or process the chives, remove all growth about 2 inches (5 cm) above the ground. Do this only once a year, preferably before mid-July, to allow the bulbs to replenish their food reserves.Gather young spring stalks for crystallizing. After they have been under pots for two to three weeks, cut blanched stalks in spring leaving central shoots to grow. If you want fresh chives, selectively cut off individual plants. This can be done all season long until frost, with little risk of damage to the plants.