Chives are like the perfect neighbor: good-looking, cheerful, and well behaved. They’re tidy and practical and they’re there when you need them—but they’re never intrusive. So it is with Allium schoenoprasum, a common herb that does triple duty in the garden.
Many cooks grow clumps of chives just outside the door, so they can snip a few leaves for the morning’s omelet or evening’s salad. But the tiny tubular green leaves and round purple flowers are also pretty enough to be ornamentals. In addition, chives have a reputation for repelling garden pests. Don’t take this cute, tidy, tasty plant for granted—it will make your life better in many ways. It even makes a great gift for perfect neighbors.
Common name: Chives
Botanical name: Allium schoenoprasum
Plant type: Bulb
Zones: 4 to 8
Height: 1 to 2 feet
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Well-drained, average
• Moisture: Average
• Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
• Pruning: None needed.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed or by division.
Pests and diseases
• Under damp conditions, susceptible to mildew, bulb rot, rust, and leaf spot.
• Vulnerable to thrips and onion fly.
• Chives do spread, but slow enough that you can easily keep them under control. Divide clumps every few years.
• Use chives in a rock garden or as a border for a vegetable or flower bed.
• Both leaves and flowers are edible. Leaves harvested after the plant flowers will have a stronger flavor. Harvest by pulling or cutting a few leaves at the base of the plant.
• Because of their small size, tidy nature, and toughness, chives are great in containers.
• Allium schoenoprasum deters many pesky insects but is attractive to bees.
• You can pick up Allium schoenoprasum at just about any local nursery, but you’ll have to scour mailorder catalogues and the Internet to find cultivars. They’re out there—they’re just not widely available.
• ‘Forescate’ has rich pink flowers. It’s typically a little taller than the species.
• ‘Black Isle Blush’ is a cultivar introduced by the Poyntzfield Herb Nursery on Black Isle in Scotland. The flowers are mauve with a blush of pink in the center.
• ‘Curly Mauve’ has beautiful blue-green curling foliage.
• ‘Album’ has white flowers.
All in the family
• There are about 700 species of alliums. They’re typically found in the northern hemisphere, in North America, Europe, and Asia. Favorite ornamental garden alliums include A. aflatunense, A. giganteum, and A. ‘Globemaster’, which bear very large globe-shaped flowers; stars of Persia (A. cristophii), with a sparser, more airy flower; and drumstick allium (A. sphaerocephalon), with small, bell-shaped flowers.
• Other alliums cultivated as edibles include onions (A. cepa), leeks (A. porrum), and garlic (A. sativum).
• Garlic chives or Chinese chives (A. tuberosum) are much like A. schoenoprasum—both edible and pretty—but they typically have a white flower and the leaves have a mild garlic flavor.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Allium schoenoprasum courtesy of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden.)