Skip to main content

Our complete guide to growing chives, a versatile, fragrant herb

Chives, often confused for green onions, are fresh herbs used as garnishes and ingredients in dishes like dips and soups. They can be used interchangeably for green onions (and are part of the onion family), though it isn’t a one-to-one switch when cooking. Growing chives, however, is very similar to onions and just as satisfying. Chives thrive in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9 and are a cold-tolerant herb. This herb reaches a harvestable size in just two months, making for a very quick turnaround during the growing season.

Fresh chives sprinkled on a spread
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why you should grow chives at home

Growing chives at home is a cost-effective, rewarding way to have fresh herbs for garnishing your dishes and putting in salads. When you grow any herb at home as opposed to buying it in the store, you have the option to harvest only as much as you need, leaving the rest to continue growing and thriving. It minimizes the risk that your ingredients will go bad, and you won’t have to worry about wasting money on a bag of fresh chives when you only need a sprinkling.

Herbs can even be dried out and saved for later! If you notice some of your chives need to be cut but you don’t have an immediate use for them, you can harvest however much you need to, dry them out, and store them in an herb or mason jar to use later. Nothing has to go to waste when you grow herbs fresh at home.

A complete care guide to growing chives

Because chives are part of the onion family, they actually enjoy many of the same environmental conditions that onions themselves do. If you’re used to growing those, you should have no trouble adding chives to the mix!

Chives grow well in regions with cool temperatures, offering up their greatest harvest in late spring and fall. Similar to how trees go dormant during extreme cold, the intense heat of the summer occasionally causes dormancy in chives until temperatures cool down again. They will die off completely in the winter, though, and will return in the spring (vigorously, if you let them go to seed). You can also transplant them into containers and overwinter the plants indoors if you have the space.

Light needs: Prefer full sun but can grow in light shade
Water needs: Drought tolerant; should be kept consistently moist (not soggy) for best growing results
Soil needs: Enjoys rich, well-draining soil

Is growing chives indoors different than outdoors?

Although the care is relatively similar — perhaps with slightly more frequent fertilization since potted plants have access to less nutrients naturally — the location and management of your chives will be a bit different.

Planting chives outdoors

Growing chives outdoors is best done in a garden bed if you plan to eat them; however, they also make great ornamental herbs that can be planted along fences and garden borders. Outside, chives love full sun and a good amount of moisture. They can tolerate light shade, but you’ll get more from your harvests if they have access to light all day long.

Chives grown outdoors tend to develop clumping habits, which cause the plants to get overcrowded. You may find that you’ll have to separate them at least once per growing season in order to keep the individual plants as healthy and strong as possible.

Growing chives in an indoor herb garden

In an indoor herb garden, your chives will still enjoy a decent amount of sunlight; however, you’ll want to keep them in an area that receives bright, indirect light as opposed to direct to help prevent the plant from burning.

You’ll also want to be a bit more mindful of watering. There won’t be as much space for the water to go, so a pot with good drainage and well-draining soil is especially important. Chives don’t like to sit in soggy soil and are prone to root rot. When watering potted chives indoors (or even deck box or patio containers), make sure you only do so when the top of the soil starts to dry out.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The best way to harvest your chives

When growing from seed, chives are ready to be harvested within a couple months. If you’re starting with an already-established plant bought from a local nursery, time to first harvest is almost immediate. You’ll want to let them get established for a couple weeks, but it won’t be nearly as long before you’ll be adding fresh chives to your dips.

In the first year, chives should be harvested four or five times during the growing season. After that, you can harvest monthly. When growing a chive plant indoors, the same guidelines apply; however, if you need to snip one leaf off here or there, it won’t hurt the plant.

The best way to harvest chives is to take a sterilized pair of shears or scissors and cut the leaf one to two inches up from the base of the plant. It’s best to choose larger leaves first, that way the smaller, newer leaves have time to continue growing to reach their maximum flavor.

Should chives be pruned?

Only if you don’t want them growing all over your garden! Once the chives flower and the blooms are spent, they’ll go to seed. If you don’t deadhead the flowers, you may find yourself with more chive plants next season than you know what to do with. Although the species isn’t invasive, if you want a bit more control of your garden, trim off the blooms as soon as they start to fade.

That said, if you have no issue with a natural increase in the amount of chive plants you’re growing, then there’s no reason to prune your plant. Regular harvesting will do just fine for keeping it healthy and strong. Plus, the more you harvest, the more of your hard work you’ll get to enjoy in your favorite meals.

Editors' Recommendations

Kiera Baron
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kiera Baron is a freelance writer and editor, as well as a budding digital artist, based in Upstate NY. She is currently one…
A complete guide to caring for the holly plant, a common symbol of Christmas
This pretty red plant is the quintessential holiday decoration that's easy to care for
A fresh holly branch

Whether you call it common holly, Christmas holly, English holly, or just plain old holly, this striking plant with the bright red berries against deep green leaves just screams Christmas. The holly plant is a popular holiday tree or shrub (depending on the variety) that’s often used in garlands, wreaths, mantelpiece decor, and so much more. The berries give your home a vibrant pop of red to really accentuate the festive colors of the season. And hey, what's more fun than decorating for the holidays with fresh greenery?

Although the English holly plant (Ilex aquifolium) is the most common variety, American holly (Ilex opaca) is another one you might see used in holiday greenery. Appearance-wise, there isn’t much of a difference; however, the English holly plant has a slower growth rate and is native to the U.K. while the American holly is a medium grower native to parts of the U.S. Really, you can’t go wrong with growing either.

Read more
The best Christmas herbs to grow to infuse the Yuletide spirit into your home
Your guide to choosing and growing delicious and fragrant holiday herbs
Sprigs of Christmas herbs next to holly and twine

Towering trees and bold poinsettias aren’t the only foliage plants that tell you it's time for the holidays. When it comes to channeling the Yuletide spirit, festive Christmas herbs and spices are great for brewing teas, garnishing dishes, and infusing the home with aromatherapy to counter holiday stress. If you’re wondering what kinds of herbs are hardy enough for the holiday season and how you can grow and use them, we’ve got you covered. 

Perhaps the most famous holiday herb of them all is peppermint, which is beloved for its fresh and cooling taste. We love a striped candy cane as much as the next person, but you can definitely go straight to the source if you don’t have much of a sweet tooth.

Read more
Use these tips to start a successful indoor vegetable garden this winter
Want to grow veggies indoors? Here's how to do it in winter
A container gardening display

Come fall when the growing season ends, a lot of gardeners will spend the winter prepping and thinking about what they want to grow next spring — all the while lamenting how they miss having fresh veggies and herbs around during the colder months. That doesn't have to be the case, though. You can easily grow some of your favorite veggies indoors, even without a greenhouse.

Although you can't grow everything, and the indoor harvests are often smaller, you’ll be able to have enough that you can still enjoy the feeling of preparing and eating something you grew. What's more, you can even use these tips and tricks to grow fresh veggies year-round if you don't have the outdoor space for a traditional garden!

Read more