Chives were some of the ancient Romans’ favorite herbs – so much so that clumps still grow in the English countryside wherever their soldiers camped.
Sprouts in 1-2 weeks. Harvest from Month 3+ on.
Equivalent of 5+ hours of direct sun [DLI of 15+ mol/m²/day].
Beginner-friendly. You’ll thin, prune, and harvest.
Best Chives varieties to grow inside.
Chives are the smallest edible plant, and any variety can be grown inside. Green onions/scallions are a bit bigger – are all part of the same family if you want a more dramatic look.
Evergreen Hardy White Scallion
Crisp and tasty, this first-class perennial onion continues to grow and form new shoots making it a superb choice for year-round kitchen gardening.
Best Setup for Chives Plants
Ceramic Self Watering Planter (preferred) or pot that is at least 4″ / 1 pint.
At the start: Balanced Blend. This should be equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (with NPK numbers like 10-10-10).
Ongoing: Herb Blend. This should be high in nitrogen (with NPK numbers like 10-5-5).
A strong grow light that can give the equivalent of 5+ hours of direct sun [DLI of 15+ mol/m²/day].
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Preparing your Planter & Watering Schedule for Chives
Chives plants don’t do well in moist soil conditions. The roots are not accustomed to being too wet and will rot in boggy conditions. On the other hand, if the soil dries out completely the roots will die back and the plant won’t recover. This can catch you off guard because the plant’s not very expressive (its leaves don’t wilt) so it will look fine right up until it dies.
A Ceramic Self Watering Planter filled with a free-draining potting mix self-regulates to keep the soil on the drier side, but with a little consistent moisture (and means no watering guesswork for you). Careful of wick-based self-watering planters with Chives – as they tend to be too wet.
To set one up:
- Fill up the planter with dry soil from the bag, gently tamping down the top.
- Dump the soil into a large mixing bowl and add water until the soil is moist, but not sopping wet (about ½ Cup)
- Mix in 1 tablespoon of the Balanced Blend Plant Food.
If you are using a regular pot instead, it should be a little bit bigger (at least 4″ / 1 pint and will need drainage holes to prevent it from being over watered. Let the top of the soil dry out between watering.
Starting your Chives: Seed vs Propagate vs Nursery Plant
Chives are easy to start from seed. If you are feeling impatient – they’re also easy to propagate by dividing an established clump or buying a pot of them (you can even find them at grocery stores).
How to Plant Chives seeds
Chives grow quickly from seed. Plant 10 sites in a 4″ / 1-pint container. In larger containers, space sites 1/2″ apart. For each site plant 5 seeds 1/4 inches deep. Keep the soil warm ( 45-95°F, ideally 60°F). Sprouts typically appear in 14 days but can be as quick as 7 days or as long as 21 days depending on your conditions.
Propagating established bunches: How to divide Chives
Chives replicate underground – so if you’ve already got an established plant you love (or a friend does!) you can easily “clone” it by dividing the bunch. First, give it a good watering to loosen up the roots. Then pull the entire cluster out and gently tease the roots apart. That’s it!
How to Transplant Chives
Live starter plants give you a big jump start on your first harvest. When you’re in a garden center – pick the bushiest plant available (tall and lanky ones will be weak growers) and give it a good inspection for pests. Leaves should be dark green without holes, spots, or curled edges. A best practice is to actually “quarantine” your plant for about a week after bringing it home to make sure it’s free and clear of ride-on pests.
Ensuring it’s pest and disease-free it’s time to transplant your seedling into its final home.
- Remove some soil from its final planter – leaving enough space for the bottom of the seedling to be just higher than the soil surface.
- Hold on to the base of the stem with one hand, and turn the pot over while gently pulling the seedling. Giving the pot a few squeezes can help dislodge it.
- Place in its final container and fill around it with soil so that it’s tight, but not compacted.
Where to grow your Chives plants
Like all edible plants, Chives plants need lots of light to grow and develop good flavor. Sunlight is excellent for plant growth (and free!) and you might be lucky enough to have a spot that’s got the 5+ hours of direct sun they need. Even with a bright window, it’s unlikely that you’ll have enough natural light in the winter so we recommend a grow light for anyone who wants a constant supply of flavorful produce. For an introduction to grow lights, head over to our post on grow lights for indoor gardeners. We’ve also got a buying guide for screw in types, but to keep things simple in this guide, we’ll just provide directions for the 24W Screw in Bulb by Sansi, which we think is a good middle-of-the-road option.
How bright should your grow light be?
Chives plants need the equivalent of 5+ hours of direct sunlight [DLI of 15+ mol/m²/day] to grow their best. In order to provide an equivalent amount with a grow light, it needs to be pretty bright! The 24W Sansi bulb should be placed 6 inches away from the top of the plant. This will give your PPFD (the standard measure of brightness) of 500 μmol/m²/s.
How many hours per day do your Chives plants need under a grow light?
Chives and Green Onions have varieties that are known as “short-day” and “long-day”. In either case, our goal is to stop them from going to flower (so they keep producing leaves). Check your variety – if it’s “short-day” then light it for at least 12 hours per day. If it’s “long-day” then light it for less than 12 hours per day.
Extend your harvest by keeping the Temperatures Cool
Chives is known as a “cool weather crop.” If it senses warming temperatures it will “bolt” – send up flowers and become bitter in the process. Where you plant them can have some effect on the temperature – lower positions on a growing rack and ceramic planters tend to run cooler. It’s best to avoid windows that get really hot (like bay windows)
Week 1-2: Check for Sprouts
You could see seedlings in as little as 7 days (though 14 days is more typical). If it’s been 21 days and you still don’t have any sprouts, it’s likely that your setup is too cold.
Week 5: Check Your Seedlings
There’s no need to thin Chives, but you should check on your seedlings’ progress to make sure you’ve got enough light. They should be about 1 inch tall by the end of Week 5. If they aren’t you likely need a bit more light.
Month 3: How to Prune & Harvest Chives Plants
You’ll notice how all the stems and leaves of Chives grow from a single, central point (called radial growth). The plant puts out new leaves in the center and pushes old leaves outward, getting bigger and bushier over time.
Pruning and harvesting are one-in-the-same with Chives. Once the plant at least 3 separate stems coming from the base take one of the outside leaves and cut it close to the base (½” above is fine). It’s good to leave at least 2/3rds of the plant left to regrow. If you only want a tiny amount of herbs, you also can clip the top of an individual stem – just be sure to leave some leaves on that stem, otherwise it won’t grow back.
Month 3+: How to Harvest Chives
Cut the stem clear to the base – only cutting what you can use fresh. Each time you cut, new stems will come in to replace them – kind of like mowing the lawn.
Year 2: End of Life
Chives grow from an underground bulb that multiplies every year, so a clump can produce indefinitely. In its second year, the first bulbs will flower – they’re edible and should be harvested right after they open.
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The right supplies can take the guesswork out of caring for your plants – and turn care from a daily to weekly routine. Through our grow tests, we’ve found these products to produce the best indoor Chives (and also have simple maintenance). Plants are adaptable and can grow in many different conditions, so they are by no means necessary if you already have other supplies.
Best Containers for Chives: Ceramic Self Watering Planters
Plants thrive on consistent moisture but can suffer if they’re waterlogged. A semi-porous ceramic self regulates ideal conditions. Our favorite is the COSWIP planter. Runner up is XS Self Watering Planter by Wet Pot.
Best Soil for Chives: Free Draining Mix
Chives need a drier environment – so you are better off using a free-draining cactus potting mix – we like this Organic Mix by Espoma.
Best Nutrients for Chives: Balanced Blend followed by Herb & Lettuce Blend
Chives like to start with nutrients that are equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (with NPK numbers like 10-10-10). For this Balanced Blend we recommend: Dr Earth All Purpose
Once they are growing, it’s better to use plant food that is high in nitrogen (with NPK numbers like 10-5-5). For this Herb Blend, we recommend: Joyful Dirt All Purpose
Best Light for Chives: DIY or Soltech
There is a very small chance that you have the bright windows needed to grow these without a grow light. If you are looking for a higher-end option – we love the Aspect Light by Soltech. For a more affordable option, a DIY setup using a 24W Screw-in Bulb by Sansi with a Clamp Light and Mechanical Timer works well too. Check out our complete guide on a DIY setup for less than $40 or our buying guide for screw in bulbs.