Chives are a type of onion, but without bulbous fruit and with a much more subtle, delicate flavor than regular onions or even spring onions. Their pretty pink-purple and white flowers are also edible. But if you grow them, will you know when to harvest them?
When to harvest chives? You can harvest chives after they have been growing for at least one growing season. Exactly when will depend on when you planted them and how well they are doing. If they are well-established, healthy, and green, go ahead and pick them. If you’re planning to eat them fresh, don’t pick more than you need.
How Do You Know When Your Chives Are Ready to Harvest?
Chives Allium schoenoprasum is one of those wonderful essential perennial herbs that you can harvest at any time. It’s easy to grow chives from chive seeds, and within just a couple of months, you will have fresh chives to harvest.
If you plant root clumps, you’ll be able to harvest your chives after about 30 days.
Whether you start with bare-root plants or seeds, chives are one of the easiest herbs to grow. There are no set rules on when to harvest them.
Once your chives are established, they’ll be ready to harvest, and you can start chopping away. Generally, the more you cut, the more they will grow.
The only caution is that you need to harvest your chives so that you don’t kill the plant and it keeps growing. We’ll cover this in the section, How to Harvest Chives below.
As Bonnie Plants, founded in 1918 by Bonnie and Livingston Paulk, state on their website, if you live in a frost-free area, you’ll have chives all year round. If you don’t, your chive plants will become dormant with the first frost.
When Should You Harvest Chive Flowers?
Chive flowers are beautiful to look at and surprisingly tasty. They add color and flavor to salads and other dishes.
You can also harvest chive flowers and use them in fresh flower arrangements. Cut the flower stalks just above the ground and then trim them to the length you need for your vase.
There are two different species of chives, common and garlic chives, see Two Species of Chives, below. Their flowers are different in color and appearance – and in terms of when they bloom.
When Do Chives Bloom?
In the northern hemisphere, common chive flowers will start to bloom in late May or June. Garlic chives start to bloom later, in July and August.
If you’re going to harvest chive flowers, wait until they have fully opened, and don’t let them go to seed. As Rebecca Krans from the Michigan State University Extension points out, removing the flowers before they go to seed results in a longer growing season for chive plants. So, that’s another advantage.
Even if you don’t harvest chive flowers, when the plants stop blooming, cut off the flower stalks close to the soil. This will also prevent the plant from producing chive seeds.
What Happens If You Don’t Harvest Chives?
As mentioned above, if you leave your chives to grow and flower without harvesting, the flowers will go to seed. That’s fine if you want lots more chives.
Of course, you won’t know in advance how many new chives you will get. But if they’ve been thriving in a bed with well-drained soil, in full sun or partial shade, you might find you are over-run.
Also, chives are a perennial herb, so if you don’t harvest your fresh chives, they will simply grow back in the next year. And they don’t just grow back…
The clumps get bigger and bigger, though they don’t actually spread. So, you’ll probably want to start dividing them and planting them somewhere else or giving them away.
If the clumps get too big, the center of the plant might die. But in any case, it’s a good idea to divide the plants every 3 to 4 years, before they deteriorate. Do this in early spring when there’s no danger of frost.
Chives are much more productive if divided regularly. Divide them into clumps of at least 10 small bulbs and allow the divided plants to grow for at least 30 days before harvesting.
How to Harvest Chives?
When your young chive plant is big enough to harvest, start cutting the leaves from the outside of the clump. But now begs the question, do you know what the leaves of a chive plant are?
If you’ve grown onions, spring onions, or scallions, you’ll have a pretty good idea. It’s just that chive leaves don’t look like regular leaves of any kind.
Also, there are two species of chives that we grow in our home veggie gardens, common chives, and garlic chives, and their leaves are not the same. So, before we dive into how to harvest chives, we’re going to have a quick look at the two types.
Two Species of Chives
When you plant chives to grow in your garden, you have a choice between the common Allium schoenoprasum and garlic chives, Allium tuberosum. They both grow from slender bulbs that produce long, thin “leaves”, and it is the leaves that we usually harvest and eat.
The leaves of common chives Allium schoenoprasum are thin, tubular, and hollow. They are a blue-green color and grow to about 10-15 inches tall (250-380 mm) in height.
The flowers of common chives vary depending on the variety, including pink, pale purple, and mauve.
Garlic chives, also known as Chinese chives or Chinese leeks, have flat leaves that are more intensely green than those of common chives. They also grow taller, up to about 20 inches (508 mm).
The flowers of garlic chives are white, bigger than those of common chives, but not as dense.
The Harvesting Process
You will need pruning shears or sharp kitchen scissors for cutting chive leaves or flower stalks off the plant. The Utah State University Extension Yard and Garden program recommend that growers cut the leaves back at the base of the plant, within an inch or two of the soil.
Bonnie Plants recommend cutting chive leaves back even closer to the ground, about half an inch from the soil surface. They maintain that this prevents being left with a chopped-off leaf with a brown edge. It also encourages more rapid new growth.
Our advice is to make sure you leave enough green growth at the base of the plant to make sure it can continue to make food and keep growing. You don’t want to kill your chive plants!
If you don’t want to trim the whole plant back, you can trim just one side. That way, one half of the plant will start to develop flowers and the other will produce more fresh chives for your culinary delights.
Later in the growing season, you can harvest the other side.
During the first year, harvest your young chive plants three to four times. After that, you can happily harvest fresh chives at least once a month.
Should You Wash Chives after Harvesting?
If your chives are dusty or have been splashed with dirt, give them a quick rinse before you eat or use them in a dish. It’s not essential unless, of course, you’ve sprayed them with toxic insecticides, which hopefully you haven’t!
If you’re going to freeze fresh chives, wash them and then chop them up. Frozen chives are great for adding to soups, stews, and sauces, and they don’t need to be defrosted (or washed) before you use them.
Either pop them into ice cube trays and top up with water or dry-freeze by vacuum-sealing in a freezer bag. You can remove the air from the bag by sucking it out through a straw.
If you’re going to harvest chive flowers and use them for chive blossom vinegar, then you’ll need to wash the flowers. Dry them in a salad spinner before putting them into a clean glass jar and topping with white wine vinegar.
Can You Eat Chives Immediately after Harvesting?
The best way to use chives is fresh. People sometimes dry them, but they lose flavor quite quickly.
So, it stands to reason that being able to eat your fresh chives immediately after you have harvested them will be a bonus. If you harvest too much, you can store them in a plastic bag or sealed container in the refrigerator.
Alternatively, you can freeze them as described in the previous section.
Chives are one of the easiest herbs to grow. They are perennial plants and thrive with very little attention. They will also self-seed and multiply season after season.
You can harvest them at any time while the plants are growing. Even if you choose not to harvest them, they will continue to add color and charm to your garden.
The gardening tips in this article provide advice that will help you know what to look for when you harvest your homegrown chives. They also have invaluable pointers on how to harvest chive flowers and the fresh chives that add a zing to salads and other dishes.