Grow chives indoors for instant access to a flavourful and aromatic herb that packs a punch.
Chives is that one herb that pretty much anyone can grow indoors.
Still, if you follow some simple rules your chive plant will not only grow but thrive and produce plentiful harvests for many years to come.
- Why we grow chives indoors
- How to grow chives from seed
- Chives and access to light during the darker months of the year
- How to care for chives indoors
- How to harvest and store chives
- Chives and pests when growing indoors
- Great ways to use chives in the kitchen
- Moving chive plants from indoors to outdoors
- The need to divide an established plant
Why we grow chives indoors
Chives have a mild but pleasant onion flavor and is the perfect companion as a topping on sandwiches, dressings, soups, stir frys or salads.
There are many varieties of chives but most people are familiar with common chives (Allium Schoenoprasum) with its mild onion flavored taste profile, and garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) with its distinct hint of garlic.
Chives are perennials and grow year-round outdoors. But growing outdoors only gives us a harvest period from May through October.
When we grow chives indoors we extend the growing season to last all year. And if managed properly, we can start next year’s growing season with strong plants ready to be transplanted outdoors.
How to grow chives from seed
You can grow chives from seed or by division from an established plant.
1. Choose your pot
Use a pot or container that has good drainage; the material is less important. I prefer using a 21 cm (8 inches) terracotta pot as they breathe and have a great color that gets even better with age.
2. Use fertile well drained potting soil
Chives will pretty much grow in any type of soil as long as it is well drained. Still, I recommend you use fertile and well drained potting soil.
3. Plant seeds in moist soil
Plant your seeds in moist soil about 1cm (½ inch) deep. You can choose to plant your seeds 1 cm (½ inch) apart or plant them in groups of 10-15 seeds. I prefer planting the seeds in groups as I like it when chives grow in distinct bunches.
4. Keep moist and place on windowsill
Keep the soil moist and wait for the seeds to germinate. You can expect your seeds to germinate in 10-14 days (common chives) whereas garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) will take a little longer to germinate. Place your pot on a windowsill with a minimum of 4 hours of sunlight per day.
You can also grow hydroponic chives - learn more about hydroponics for beginners.
Chives and access to light during the darker months of the year
The good news is that chives grow even if they only have limited access to light. But this does not mean that chives will grow and thrive without light.
Ideally you have a windowsill with 6-8 hours of sunlight year-round. This is all the natural light chives need to grow and thrive indoors.
But if this is not the case you need to provide an alternative source of light. And when we talk about plant- or grow lights you can choose to make it easy or really complicated.
Here are 3 things to keep in mind when you decide on lights for your plants:
1. Use fluorescent bulbs for extra light
Two standard 40W bulbs will be enough. Place bulbs about 30cm (12 inches) from plants but be aware of the heat that bulbs generate. Chives do not like a hot growing environment.
2. Use an LED bulb
Here, a 13W LED bulb will give you the same amount of brightness (approximately 1200-1500 lumen) as 2 standard 40 W bulbs. LED bulbs also emit less heat and can be placed closer to the plants.
3. Use a grow light designed for plants and herbs
This is of course the easiest solution and will provide you herbs with plenty of light. I use T5 grow lights that give 2x24W (3300 lumens).
As I said earlier. Lights for growing plants indoors can get complicated. But any of the 3 solutions above will work. And again, chives do not demand the same amount of light as many other herbs and vegetables when growing them indoors.
This is also a main reason why chives are ideal to grow indoors year-round – they tolerate lower levels of light quite well.
It should however be noted that less light will mean slower growth. But the plant will grow - just a lot slower. Also, if you do use artificial light you should up the absolute minimum from 4 hours to 8 hours of light.
How to care for chives indoors
To care for chives you need to keep a few simple rules in mind
1. Water chives when the surface of soil is dry
Chives like to grow in moist soil. And you should water your pot when the surface of the soil is dry. How often is difficult to say as it depends on temperature and light source but typically twice a week or so.
2. Chives like humidity
The easiest way to provide humidity is to place your pot with chives among other plants. You can also spray the plant lightly.
3. Go easy on adding nutrients
When you grow chives indoors in a pot your plant will only have access to the nutrition you introduce to the ecosystem. And most of the time it is enough to start with fertile and well drained soil. You are not looking for explosive growth. Herbs that grow slow tend to become more compact and develop stronger flavours.
But if you do decide to add nutrients you should use a liquid nutrient and start by adding half the recommended dosage. Remember, you can always add more if needed.
4. Chives like all herbs need light
Chives are not fussy and will grow in half shade. But you should provide a minimum of 4 hours of natural sunlight or 8 hours of artificial light.
When your seeds have germinated and you start to see growth you need to keep your plant moist.
How to harvest and store chives
Harvest chives with sharp scissors. Simply grab the desired amount and then cut across. But never cut all the way down.
Always leave about 3cm (1 inch) to allow the plant to grow back.
If you do not harvest the entire plant you should harvest chives from the outside.
Chives respond well to harvesting and it will trigger new growth. Continuous harvesting will also prevent chives from blooming. Sure, the flowers are edible but when the plants start to bloom less energy will be used for growing new leaves. And, when growing indoors we are looking for leaves to harvest.
Chives store well in the freezer should your plant(s) produce more than you can use. Simply cut, rinse, dry and place in the freezer in a clean, dry plastic bag that is sealed with a clip.
Chives and pests when growing indoors
Pests are rare when you grow chives indoors.
The reason is that chives are in fact known to repel pests and bugs due to its smell and aroma.
Chives are in fact known to repel both aphids and Japanese beetles.
But should you encounter problems, spray the plant with a Neem oil mixture at the first sight of attack.
Simply read the instructions on the bottle and make sure you spray late in the evening and then again early the next morning. (This is a good pattern to remember as it minimizes any potential side-effect on beneficial insects, such as bees, that help pollinate vegetable plants when we grow outdoors.)
Great ways to use chives in the kitchen
Often people fail to understand how chives can be used in the kitchen.
Chives pack the most flavor when it is added to a cooked meal at the very end.
If you cook chives there will be a substantial loss of flavor.
I sometimes hear people say that they do not like chives. It surprises me as I am sure that would also be true for red onion, yellow onion, potatoes and garlic if eaten raw and by themselves.
You should of course not eat chives as a meal or like you eat and enjoy an apple or a tomato.
Chives are more like garlic or garlic greens. It brings new flavours to your meal.
Here are my top 10 ways to use chives
1. Tomato sauces
Add chives to your tomato sauces for a fresh new layer of flavour. Trust me, it is a personal favorite.
Hearty soups often need something to cut through to make the taste more exciting. Thinly sliced or chopped chives added just before serving will do just that.
Sprinkle chopped or thinly cut choices on top of you salad for a whole new falor dimension.
Whether you are dipping root vegetables or something less healthy, chives will give that dip the edge you are looking for.
5. Instead of garlic
Garlic chives are not as intense as garlic. But is that not exactly what we are looking for sometimes? A hint of garlic that is not overpowering. Garlic chives to the rescue.
Sprinkle chives on top of your omelette for a fresh contrast. Especially great with richer omelettes or omelettes with cheese.
7. Mashed potato
Take yesterday’s leftover potatoes and mash them. Now add some freshly cut chives and mix in just before you serve. Trust me. This meal is no longer about yesterday’s leftovers.
8. Pasta salads
Cold pasta salads often get creamy and rich. Add chives to cut though the richness with a bold and wonderful punch of flavor.
9. Cold potato salad
Cold potato salads are popular and not always that exciting. Try capers or chives to create that extra level of flavour to lift the dish.
10. Chives instead of yellow onion
This is not a dish. But chives are ready to be harvested long before yellow onions. Whenever you think yellow sweet onion, think chives instead. Chives are so versatile and can be used for almost everything. You just need to give it a try.
I have not even included fish or sandwiches in the list but I have to stop somewhere.
Moving chive plants from indoors to outdoors
Chives should always have a spot in any outdoor herb or vegetable garden.
Apart from being extremely tasty and useful in the kitchen, chives will repel aphids and Japanese beetles and bloom beautifully should you allow it.
We have chives that overwinter and start growing in the spring when they feel the time is right. Sometimes we will see chives starting to grow already in February but it has also been known to show up as late as April.
Chives can be grown in bunches as a border around your vegetable or herb garden. Or why not just plant chives in one of your flower beds? Chives are an early starter and will produce long beautiful green leaves when many of you other plants are just getting started.
Planting chive plants outdoors
When the temperature starts to climb above 12 degrees Celsius (50 degrees F) we can start planting our indoor chive plants in the garden.
Needless to say it is best if the plants are given a week or so to adjust and harden. But I have also been successful simply moving the plants outside into our garden.
It is truly a win-win. When you grow chives indoors you have fresh herbs year-round but you also get a head start on the new growing season with this wonderful and hardy perennial.
The need to divide an established plant
Chives are perennials and they will come back year after year.
But after a couple of years chive plants have a tendency to grow dense. At this point the plant will benefit from being divided.
And this is a good thing as it is not complicated and you get more plants to place around the border of your vegetable garden.
Follow these 5 steps to dividing chives into new plants
- Water your chive plant thoroughly an hour or so before you are planning to divide the plant.
- Trim the chives with scissors leaving approximately 10 cm (4 inches) of growth.
- Use a spading fork to loosen the soil and then lift the plant by applying pressure from underneath.
- Now grab the plant by the root system and gently tear the plant apart to form new smaller plants. Do not worry when you hear roots tear or break – they will regrow. When you are done you should have one larger core plant and several smaller plants.
- Replant the chive plants about 1cm (1/2 inch) deeper than before and water thoroughly. Do note that it is best to replant the chive plants straight away.
That’s it. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.