If you’re looking an onion flavored edible, but don’t want to fuss with onions, grow the milder flavored chives. Chives are one of the easiest herbs to grow. This perennial pops up quickly in spring in a clump form with bright green leaves. It adorns the garden in early summer with lavender blue, red or white edible flowers. Chives are a mainstay in soups, salads and, on a baked potato. There’s even a garlic chive that has a more pungent taste. This plant looks great all season in the garden. Simply cut it back once the flowers fade and it will resprout and flower.
How to Use in Foodscaping
Chives are hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9. Grow chives in groups as a border plant in a flowerbed and in an herb garden. Chives grow easily in containers and can be taken indoors in fall in pots to grow in a sunny window in winter. You can even plant chives under open canopied trees as long as they get at least one-half day’s worth of direct sun.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are commonly sold without a varietal name, but there are a few selections. ‘Staro’ is a good yielding chive with purple flowers. ‘Forescate’ has rose red flowers. ‘Nira’ is a garlic chive (A. tuberosum) variety with 2-foot tall, bulky plants and white colored flowers.
Since chives are in the onion family, any plants that look good paired with ornamental alliums would work with chives. In the flower garden grow creeping flowers, such as alyssum and calibrochoa, near the 1-foot tall chive plants to fill in between clumps. There’s much speculation about chives repelling insects. Try growing chives under fruit trees and around roses to ward off various insects and diseases. Even if they don’t keep pests away, chives will still look great in these locations and attract bees to the fruit trees.
Chives grow easily from seed planted directly in the ground around the last frost date for your area or as transplants. You can also take divisions of chives from a neighbor or friend’s yard or purchase them at your local garden center. Chives are bulbs, so are easy to dig up to make new plants. Chives thrive in full sun, but tolerate part shade. They like a well-drained, fertile, moist soil. Space plants 1 to 2 feet apart.
Fertilize chives in spring with a layer of compost. The clumps are well behaved, but the flowers will self-sow spreading seeds around the garden. Weed out self sown seedlings in unwanted areas in spring. Divide clumps as needed to create more plants in spring. Cut back chive plants once flowers start to fade to encourage new tender leaf growth and prevent self-sowing. Once chives flower, the leaves can become tough textured.
Harvest leaves from established plants as soon as they are large enough to eat in spring. Flowers are great harvested for salads. Harvest and freeze or dry chive leaves in fall for winter use.
Excerpted from the book, Foodscaping (CSP, 2015)