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Gardening in the Rainy Zone.
Pronounced: A-lee-um skoyn-o-PRAH-sum
Europe, Asia, North America.
Sunset zones: A1-A3; 1-24; H1, H2.
USDA zones: 5-11.
Heat zones: 12-1.
Height: 12-24 inches (30-60 cm).
Late spring to summer.
Umbels densely packed with bell-shaped, purple-pink flowers.
Hollow, dark green leaves.
Light shade to full sun.
Fertile, well-drained soil.
Sow seed in spring, 68°F (20°C).
Divide in spring.
Dead head flowers for extended flower season. Cut anytime for eating during the growing season and into the fall.
Rainy Side Notes
"Eat no onions nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath." William Shakespeare.
Allium schoenoprasum has been around for 5,000 years, but it was not until the Middle Ages that chives became cultivated. The name, schoenoprasum, comes from the Greek language and means reed-like leek. Indeed, these herbs look like reeds.
Besides being an ornamental herb, this little plant of the onion family is great for eating and cooking with, in spite of what Shakespeare wants in our breath quality. They are also high in Vitamin C and A. Their low sulfur content makes them milder tasting than other onions and garlic varieties. Pick flowers for salads, and snip the tubular long leaves for a mild onion flavor added to salads and main courses. You can use the flowers to make lavender colored vinegar. My all time favorite way to eat chives is on top of a baked potato with sour cream. In addition, I take the leaves and cut them into small pieces and place them in ice cube trays, fill with water and freeze. Then they go into freezer bags, and during the winter, I take one or two cubes out as needed to add to stews or sauces. Although I do not do this myself, you can pot up a clump of chives in the fall and bring them indoors for fresh eating during the winter. Place them in a well-lit window and snip the leaves, as you need them.
Here in our Pacific Northwest maritime climate, I divide chives at anytime during the year. Early spring and fall are preferable times to divide, but in the summer, you can divide if you keep the plants well watered during our annual drought period. When dividing, leave 6-8 bulbs per clump and transplant to new location. Divide every three to four years to rejuvenate the plants, or sooner to propagate more plants quickly.
After the first flush of flowers, I cut the chives all the way to the ground and use the prunings for freezing. Deadheading the flowers keeps the chives from seeding around the garden, which can result in a weedy mess. Other than this chore, chives are easy to grow. Chives do best in full sun but I grow mine under dwarf apple trees in light shade.
Photographed in author's garden.