Chives, Allium schoenoprasum
, are perennial herbs in the family Liliaceae grown for their leaves which are used as culinary herbs. The chive plant is a member of the onion family and forms small bulbs from the roots. The leaves of the plant are tapering, hollow and cylindrical and have a soft texture. The chive plant grows in clumps and produces large pale purple flowers in a dense clusters of 10–30 individual inflorescences. Chives grow to approximately 46 cm (18 in) in height and can live for many years in favorable conditions. The exact origin of the chive plant is disputed but it grows wild in Europe, Australia and North America.
Chive flower heads
Flower heads beginning to open
Chives are consumed fresh as a culinary herb in a variety of dishes.
Chives are easy to grow and tolerate a range of soil types and conditions. Chives will grow best in a well-draining soil, rich in organic matter with a pH of 6-7 and will perform optimally when positioned in full sunlight but will tolerate partial shade.
Starting from seeds
Chives can be grown directly from seed or new plants can be produced by dividing an established plant. Seeds can be started indoors approximately 4 weeks prior to the last frost date and should be planted in flat trays containing sterile seed starting mix. Plant seeds to a depth of 1.3 cm (0.5 in). The seeds are slow to germinate, emerging after about 7 days but the seedlings develop quickly and are ready to be transplanted when they are about 4 weeks old and after they have been hardened.
Established plants should be divided in the Spring. Start by watering the plants a few hours before dividing to soften the soil and ensure the plants are turgid. Identify individual groups of plants and plant to take 3 to 4 of these together to form a new clump. Cut the chives back to a height of approximately 10 cm (4 in) and carefully extract the existing plant from the soil. Break the clump by dropping the plant from a gentle height to break it apart into separate plants.
Individual plants or seedlings should be planted 20 to 30 cm (8-12 in) apart. Plant divided plants about 1.25 cm (0.5 in) deeper than they were previously. Keep the plants moist to aid in the establishment of the root system.
Chives can be harvested at any time once plants are established. To harvest leaves simply snip them with a pair of scissors leaving about 3 cm (2 in) of green on the plant. Begin harvesting from the outside leaves inwards as required. The plants will quickly produce new growth.
General care and maintenance
Chives benefit from the application of a layer of mulch in the Spring, grass clipping or leaves are ideal and help to conserve soil moisture and suppress weeds. When plants flower, remove the flower head when it starts to dry out and die in order to divert energy to the production of leaves. Chives require the application of fertilizer at regular intervals throughout the growing season unless they were planted in composted manure. A liquid fertilizer should be applied every 4 to 6 weeks.
Common Pests and Diseases
Seeds water-soaked, mushy and decomposing; infected roots are gray and water-soaked; seedlings that have already emerged prior to infection collapse and die; older plants that become infected become severely stunted
Control of disease is dependent on minimizing soil moisture: break up compacted soil; plant in well-draining areas or raised beds; treat seeds with appropriate fungicides prior to planting
Pale spots or elongated patches on leaves; gray-purple fuzzy growth on leaf surface; leaves turning pale then yellow; leaf tips collapsing
Avoid planting infected sets; rotate crops to non-allium species for 3-4 years; plant in well-draining areas and do not overcrowd plants; destroy all infected crop debris; apply appropriate foliar fungicides taking care to apply thoroughly to waxy leaves
Light pink roots which darken and turn purple; roots become transparent and water soaked; plant may look like it has a nutrient deficiency; infected seedling may die; stunted plants with shriveled bulbs
Disease is most severe were onions have been planted continuously; avoid planting on sites where onion has been planted recently, especially if they were diseased; plant more resistant varieties; solarization and/or fumigation can help reduce the levels of pathogen in the soil
Thrips (Onion thrips, Western flower thrips)
Discolored, distorted tissue; scarring of leaves; severly infected plants may have a silvery appearance
Natural enemies include some species of predatory mite, pirate bugs and lacewings; avoid planting onion in close proximity to grain fields as thrips populations build up on these plant in the spring; overhead irrigation of plants may help reduce thrips numbers; apply appropriate insecticides at first sign of thrips damage
Stunted or wilting seedlings; plant will commonly break at soil line if an attempt is made to pull it up; if infestation occurs when plants are bulbing, bulbs will be deformed and susceptable to storage rots after harvest; adult insect is a greyish fly which lays white, elongate eggs around the base of the plant; the larvae that emerge from the eggs are tiny and white and bore into the bulbs; mature larvae are about 1 cm (0.4 in) long with feeding hooks
Management of onion maggots is heavily reliant on good snaitation; all chive bulbs should be removed at the end of the season as maggots will die without a food source; commercial growers must often rely on the application of appropriate granular insecticides and, in some cases, insecticide sprays are also required; home gardeners should try to remove any volunteer wild onion and chive plants as these can act as an infection source; floating row covers may provide protection by preventing females from laying eggs around the plants