llium tuberosum (garlic chives, oriental garlic, Asian chives, Chinese chives, Chinese leek) is an Asian species of onion native to the Himalayas (Nepal, Bhutan, India) and to the Chinese Province of Shanxi. It is cultivated in many places and naturalized in scattered locations around the world.It is a perennial bulbous plant with a distinctive growth habit with strap-shaped leaves unlike either onion or garlic, and straight thin white-flowering stalks that are much taller than the leaves. The flavor is more like garlic than chives. It grows in slowly expanding perennial clumps, but also readily sprouts from seed. In warmer areas, garlic chives may remain green all year round. In cold climates, leaves and stalks will completely die back to the ground, and re-sprout from roots or rhizomes in the spring. The elongated bulb is small (about 10 mm diameter), tough and fibrous, originating from the stout rhizome.
HOW TO GROW
Consider growing onion chives for cooking. Onion chives, also called common chives, are the most popular variety of the plant. Onion chives are slightly onion flavored and scented (as the name suggests), and are used in salads and as toppings for many cooking dishes for a subtle flavor enhancement. These chives grow anywhere from 8–12 inches (20.3–30.5 cm) in length, and are bright to dark green in color. They have the traditional tube-shaped stem which is hollow at the center.
Look into growing garlic chives for cooking. Sometimes called ‘chinese chives’, garlic chives are another type of chives used in cooking. These chives smell like violets when the stem is crushed, but taste reminiscent of garlic. As a result, they are used in dishes to bring out the garlic flavor. Unlike onion chives, garlic chives have flat stems, and the flower buds can be used in cooking as well (typically in stir-frys). Garlic chives are bright to dark green in hue, and grow to be 12–18 inches (30.5–45.7 cm) in height.
Choose a growing method. There are two ways to grow chives: from a preexisting plant/cutting, or from seeds. Most gardeners recommend growing your chives from a bulb or from a start from another chive plant, because growing chives from seeds takes two full years. If you choose to grow from a preexisting plant (available at nurseries), select a start that is bright green, full, and is at least 3–5 inches (7.6–12.7 cm) in height. These are indicators of a healthy chive plant, and increase the likelihood of it flourishing in your garden.
- Growing from seeds involves starting seeds indoors a few months prior to planting them outdoors, and transplanting in the springtime. The seeds will grow into plants, but they cannot be harvested for 2 years.
- Chive plants grow in bulbs that are divided every 3-4 years, so you can plant a divided bulb from a friend or neighbor’s chive plot, that will grow into an entirely new plant.
- Planting seeds, bulbs, and starts outdoors is the same process. Seeds are the only growing method that take a bit extra work prior to outdoor planting.
Select a garden plot in full sun. Chives are sun-loving plants, and although they will still grow in shade, they will produce the biggest harvest when placed in full sun. Find a plot in your garden that has sunlight most of the day. If your garden is shaded, choose a patch that gets at least 4-6 hours of sunlight, to satisfy the chives’ sun needs
Prepare your garden soil. Although some plants can grow in dense, hard soils, chives need light, loamy, and sandy soils with good drainage. If you’re working with soil that has a lot of clay or is very dense, mix in some sand to loosen it up. Additionally, add in a garden-quality compost mixture to mix nutrients into the soil. If possible, amend the soil 4-6 weeks prior to planting, so that the soil can have time to adjust to the changes.
Balance the pH of the soil before planting. Chives need soil with a pH between 6 and 7. Test the soil, and if it is too low, increase the pH by chopping agricultural lime into the soil using a garden trowel or small shovel. If it is too high, lower the pH by mixing in a fertilizer with urea phosphate or ammonium nitrate, or by adding compost, manure, or plant litter.
- Test the pH using cabbage for an easy DIY method.
- You can test soil pH by using a store-bought test probe for exact measurements
Know when to plant. Chives are summer-blooming plants that should be planted in the early spring. If you are starting your chives as seeds, start them indoors 8-10 weeks prior to your outdoor planting date. Planting outdoors should occur 1-2 weeks after the
Water the soil to prevent transplant shock. Prior to planting your chives, wet the soil with a hose so that it is damp. This will help to prevent transplant shock of the new chive plants in your garden. Make sure that the soil is not muddy, just moist enough to form clumps when squeezed in your hand.
- Transplant shock is a plant’s reaction to being dug up/relocated to a new environment, and is totally normal. It can cause problems if the plant is not cared for post-transplant, though.
- Your plant might have transplant shock if it is wilted-looking and generally sickly in appearance
winter, typically around March or April (depending on your growing zone)
Dig a hole 2–4 inches (5.1–10.2 cm) deep. Chives grow from small bulbs at the base, which need to be covered fully when planted. The bulbs aren’t typically that large, so a hole no bigger than 2–4 inches (5.1–10.2 cm) deep and equally wide should be necessary.
Plant the chives. Place each chive plant into the hole, and replace soil over the top. Make sure that the soil does not go above the base of the stems, as this will slow the growth of the plant
Water the chives every few days. The soil should be moist when you water your chives, so you need not water them again immediately after. Chives don’t require a lot of moisture, so add water only when the soil is completely dry. The frequency of waterings will depend on the weather in your area, but may vary from once every 1-3 days.
Apply a fertilizer once a month. Your chive harvest will prosper with a bit of fertilizer applied once every 3-4 weeks. Choose a 20-20-20 mixture (equal parts nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium), and incorporate it into the soil according to package directions.
Add a layer of mulch to prevent weeds. If you’re concerned about weeds in your garden, adding a layer of mulch will help block them out. Mulch is a type of compost/bark available at most garden supply stores. Add a layer 1–2 inches (2.5–5.1 cm) thick over the top of the soil, to block out weeds and to trap in moisture for longer
Keep an eye out for pests and disease. Few pests are interested in chives, but onion pests, like the onion fly, may gravitate toward your chives if you have true onions planted nearby. A few fungal diseases, like rust, may also attack chives on a rare basis. A small amount of pesticide or fungicide can usually restore your chives if these problems do occur.
Wait to harvest your chives when they are at least 7 to 10 inches (17.8 to 25.4 cm) in height. The overall size of your chives will vary depending on the variety you grow, but all varieties are harvestable around 7–10 inches (17.8–25.4 cm). This normally occurs around mid summer, and will continue until the weather cools below freezing. In some areas with light winters, chives will remain evergreen and produce harvestable plants until the following year.
- Water young plants throughout the growing season. Once established, mature chive plants need minimal care. Remove flowers after they bloom to prevent plants from self-sowing. Small clumps of chives potted in the fall will grow indoors. Divide the plants every three or four years.
- Watch for aphids, especially in spring. Spray with neem or insecticidal soap. Spray will bead up on the waxy leaves, so be sure it comes in contact with the pests, especially down in the crown of the plant. Chives reseed generously if you let the seed mature; this can be a plus, but in the wrong place, you will find yourself pulling up lots of seedlings.
- Cancer:Allium vegetables have been studied extensively in relation to cancer, especially stomach and colorectal cancers. Their beneficial and preventative effects are likely due in part to their rich organosulfur compounds. Although the exact mechanism by which these compounds inhibit cancer is unknown, possible hypothesis include the inhibition of tumor growth and mutagenesis and prevention of free radical formation.
- Prostate cancer:In a study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers used a population-based, case-controlled study to investigate the relationship between allium vegetable intake and prostate cancer. They found that men with the highest intake of allium vegetables had the lowest risk for prostate cancer.
- Esophageal and stomach cancer:Frequent intake of allium vegetables such as chives has been inversely related with the risk of esophageal and stomach cancer.3 Several survey-based human studies have demonstrated the potential protective effects of consuming alliums, as well as reports of tumor inhibition following administration of allium compounds in experimental animals.
- Sleep and mood: The choline in chives is an important nutrient that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.6 Folate, also found in chives, may help with depression by preventing an excess of homocysteine from forming in the body, which can prevent blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain. Excess homocysteine interferes with the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which regulate not only mood, but also sleep and appetite as well.