One of the easiest herbs to grow, onion chives have a delicious and mild flavor, and can be used in so many ways! Prune chives after their first flowering to encourage new growth, and then you can have fresh chives to use all spring and summer long!
This time of the year, everything in the garden is growing frantically. The corn is almost knee-high, and the peas are falling over under their own weight. Many of the cooler-weather crops are done already, like the spring brassicas (broccoli and cauliflower), radishes and early lettuce.
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If you grow onion chives in your vegetable or herb garden, you might think they have passed their prime as well. Last month these plants were awash with bright purple blooms, but by now those flowers have faded to a dried-out brown. The chives themselves are getting woody and slightly bitter and even the most experienced gardener can be forgiven for thinking that the chives have done gone quit for the season.
But – hallelujah! – it doesn’t have to be so! Prune chives now and they’ll send up brand-new growth, which means that you can continue to reap the rewards of chives for months to come!
Why you Should Grow Onion Chives
First of all, why should you grow chives?
You might already have bulbing onions and green (or bunching onions) growing, so adding another allium to the garden might seem superfluous.
Believe me, it’s not.
Chives have the lightest, most delicate of onion flavor. They don’t overpower the way regular onions can, and so they’re perfect for using in butters, sauces and vinaigrettes. They are a perfect and mild onion-y addition to salads, soups, fish and chicken dishes, omelettes and, of course, they are an absolute necessity on baked potatoes! (The flower blossoms are edible, too, and your friends will think you are extra fancy if you garnish your potato salad with them.)
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Onion chive flowers are also wonderful and beautiful in their own right!
They are one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, and for that reason alone they’ve earned a special spot in my heart. There isn’t much that’s as uplifting as those first purple blooms, which stay vibrant for a very long time. Those beautiful blooms attract bees, butterflies, other pollinators and beneficial insects like green lacewings, ladybugs and hoverflies, and being an allium they deter a lot of pests, too, thanks to their distinctive (and delicious) onion smell.
Why you Should Prune Chives
To really understand why you should prune chives, you should know how they grow.
Common (or onion) chives are a perennial plant, which means that they keep growing year after year.
This is great, because it increases your yields each year without increasing your effort. You don’t have to keep sowing seeds or rooting cuttings. The plant does it all itself!
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Like all alliums, chives form new bulblets at the base of mature bulbs. In this way chive plants can easily double in size each year, and you can dig up the clumps, divide them and transplant them throughout your yard without hurting the plant.
Chives are also prolific self-seeders – an average-sized clump of chives usually drops about 5,000 seeds after flowering. Unless you have all the room in the world, you might not want that many chive seeds growing!
Pruning (or deadheading) the flowers will prevent them from dropping all those seeds and creating a veritable chive jungle in your herb garden.
On top of that though, a hard prune (cutting away all previous growth) will revitalize the plant and trigger each bulb to send up new shoots, essentially giving you a whole new season of chives!
When and How to Prune Chives for New Growth
The best time to prune chives is after flowering, when all those once-purple blooms have turned brown and begun drying out.
I can’t speak for everywhere, but here on the Oregon coast in zone 8, early July is the best time to do so. The whole plant has started to look droopy and worn out, and the once-verdantly green shoots have begun to yellow.
To prune chives, simply cut everything off, leaving only about 2 inches of growth at the base. You can take large hedge trimming shears and lop everything off in one go, or use smaller scissors and shape the remaining growth into a nice mound shape.
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This will trigger a new round of regrowth, and the chives will quickly start producing again.
Wait until the new shoots are about 4-6 inches tall, and you can resume harvesting them!
Chives will need to have one more hard prune in the fall. In areas where winters are mild (or at least milder) chives will actually stay evergreen. I believe it’s more beneficial to get rid of all the old growth though, and let it start anew in the spring.
Cutting back chives for new growth is a really simple task to do, and will reward you with fresh chive stems for months to come!
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