How to grow and use chives

Chives are a popular herb for the home gardener. They are not only pretty to look at but can be used in many culinary ways.

Chives need to be planted in a sunny spot that has well-drained soil. Chives grow anywhere from one foot to two feet tall and can spread as much as 10 inches around. They can be purchased as small plants at your local gardening center or as seeds. When starting chives from seed in your garden, it is best to plant them directly outdoors in early spring. They are fairly easy to grow and also do well in a container indoors, in a sunny window.

Chives grow in upright clumps of hollow glasslike foliage. There are two different types of chives, regular chives, and garlic chives. Both have similar needs and growth patterns. The difference between the two is that regular chives, bloom in mid-spring and have an onion-like flavor and scent. When in bloom their flowers are lavender colored.

Garlic chives bloom in late summer, have a garlic-like flavor and scent. When in bloom their flowers are white. The spent flowers of the garlic chive plant will reseed very easily and if you aren’t careful you might end up with more plants than you’d like.

Chives make good companion plants for roses and will help to repel certain insects from your garden. They do, however, attract bees. They are quite attractive in their own right but if you are using your chives mostly for cooking purposes it is best to remove the flowers to help the plant produce more leaves. If you prefer to leave the flowers intact, cut the entire plant down to the ground after the blooms are spent to produce another set of leaves.

Chives is a perennial plant, meaning that they will return to your garden, year after year. They will need to be dug up and divided every three to four years to keep them vigorously growing. Chives can be used as a border for your garden or walkway, in an herb garden, a vegetable garden or in a container garden.

To harvest your chives, you will need to cut them down to about an inch above ground level with a sharp pair of scissors. Don’t worry they will grow back quickly to be harvested again.

Chives are best when used fresh. If you need to store them, freezing is recommended to preserve the best flavor. They can be dried but most of the flavor is contained in the plants oils. Dried chives will have a less rich flavor and you will need to use more to obtain the same results.

Chopped chive leaves can be used, mixed with sour cream, cream cheese, or butter, on top of potatoes, in salads, soups, sauces, and sandwiches. The flowers of the chive plant are edible and can make a beautiful addition to a salad. Combining chive leaves, flowers and white vinegar will make a lovely and flavorful vinegar that when used with olive oil will make a delicious salad dressing.

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