For those who want to liven up their herb garden or just get it started, chives are the best way to start. Chives add a mild onion flavor to any dish, and since they are so small, they can fit into any garden, including balcony or indoor herb gardens.
Their size makes chives ideal for container growing. You can grow chives even in small pots if you don’t have the space.
When to Sow Chives Outdoors in Pots
Chives are considered a cool-weather herb, but if you are growing them indoors, you can plant them any time.
But if you are planting chives in outdoor pots or you want to start them when they will get the most sun in your window, sow chive seeds 6 to 8 weeks before your last average frost date.
Chives will sprout within 7 to 21 days.
Choosing the Right Container for Chives
Chives do have strict spacing requirements. You can successfully grow chives (especially smaller, thinner varieties) in small pots if space is an issue.
Plastic, clay/terracotta, or even fabric pots all work effectively for chives, but note that you may need to water chives in clay and fabric pots more frequently.
No matter what pot you use, chives benefit the most when grown in rich, well-draining potting mix. Also, make sure there are adequate drainage holes on bottom of your pot.
Since chives can thrive in small containers, you can even grow chives in large yogurt containers or other food containers, like those for margarine or cottage cheese.
Chives Container Depth
Chives are considered a shallow-rooted plant, which means the deepest roots are no more than 12 to 18 inches (30 to 46 cm) in depth. However, most chive roots will reach no further than 3 inches (7.6 cm). You can successfully grow chives in containers between 3 and 4 inches deep.
In fact, I wouldn’t waste a pot more than 12 inches deep on just chives. Even other alliums like leeks or onions would be a better option for large pots.
How to Sow Chive Seeds in Pots
Chives Planting Depth and Distance
Chive seeds are very small, so they don’t need to be planted deep. You can sow chive seeds approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch (7 mm to 1.25 cm) deep.
Chive spacing recommendations are 6 to 12 inches apart, but this is way too far apart for home gardens. These spacing requirements are likely more for spacing between rows of chives in market gardens and farms.
You can get away with growing most chive varieties less 1 inch apart. The reason is that chives are very thin and their root systems are so shallow that they can
After sowing, water very gently to avoid washing away the seeds.
Keep your pot in a warm location with indirect light, and keep the potting mix evenly moist but not soggy.
Planting Chives with the Sprinkle (and Separate) Method
There’s an easier way to plant members of the onion family, including chives. Sprinkle your seeds evenly apart (1/4 inch or so, but don’t worry about spacing) on moist soil or potting mix, then cover with a 1/4 inch layer of potting mix and water in very gently.
Once your chives have sprouted, you can grow them in the same pot or transplant them into a larger pot.
Plants in the onion family tend to have very tough, fibrous roots, so if you are gentle, you can turn your seed-starting pot upside down and pull out all the potting mix and chives, then carefully break up and tease apart the tangled roots so you have individual chives to transplant into small holes.
While this is my preferred method of transplanting leeks, onions, and scallions, but it’s quite tedious for small, thin herbs like chives.
A better option is to sow your chives in one of those seed-starting trays with individual cells, or a smaller pot, and don’t separate your chives but rather transplant them together as clumps in a larger pot.
Chives grow well in clumps or evenly spaced apart, so the choice is yours.
Fertilizing Chives in a Pot
Chives are not heavy feeders, but since almost all their roots are within the top 3 inches or so of soil, you should ensure that there are enough nutrients in this top layer of soil or potting mix.
Any all purpose fertilizer will suffice, but a fertilizer with slightly more nitrogen is ideal as nitrogen is the most important nutrient for leafy green growth. Fertilizers for lettuce make an excellent fertilizer for chives as well. Lawn fertilizer can be used in a pinch but it’s not balanced for the nutrient needs of chives. Lawn fertilizers are often very high in nitrogen, may lack micronutrients like magnesium and iron, and if applied improperly, lawn fertilizers can easily burn your chives.
Harvesting Chives in Pots
Chives are the ultimate “cut-and-come-again” herb. It’s highly recommended you trim back your chives often, as old leaves will turn yellow and die back.
When harvesting chives, leave about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the base of the stalks so they can regrow.
If you don’t intend to use them right away, you can freeze them or dehydrate them and make chive powder.
Related Questions About Growing Chives in Containers
Can You Grow Chives Indoors? On a Windowsill?
Chives make an excellent addition to any kitchen windowsill. While chives do not have very high light requirements, they grow best beside north-facing windows, followed by east/west-facing windows, and lastly south-facing windows.
And if you think they will get too cold next to a window in the middle of winter, think again. Chives actually thrive in cool weather.
Can Chives Survive the Winter?
Yes and no. Chives can shake off light frosts easily, but in harder frosts, they will die back. However, chives can potentially survive Zone 3 winters (down to -40°F/C) and grow back next spring.
So, if you want to keep growing and harvesting chives all winter, it’s best to bring them inside to a sunny window if you live somewhere with frigid winters.
Should You Cut Back Chives After Flowering?
Chives are biennials, so they will often flower in their second year. Unless you want to save the seeds, you should cut your chives back to encourage more vigorous growth. But don’t throw away those chive flowers; they’re perfectly edible. Some people make chive flower butter or just fry them up or chop them into dishes.