Top of The Crops - Chives

Growing Chives In A Polytunnel

Chives are an excellent addition to a polytunnel garden – not only because they are a useful herb in their own right, but also because of the benefits they can bring to others plants in the vicinity, and to you as the gardener. 

As alliums, in the onion family, chives have a strong scent that can put off or distract a number of common pests, so they can be useful in organic pest control. If they go to flower, chives can also attract beneficial insects to help pollinate other polytunnel crops.

Key Information

Chives, scientifically known as Allium schoenoprasum, are a popular culinary herb belonging to the Allium genus, which also includes onions, garlic, leeks, and other related plants. Cultivating chives is straightforward, making them an accessible addition to any kitchen garden. 

Their versatility in the kitchen is vast, as they can be utilized in various culinary dishes. Moreover, chives offer additional benefits beyond the culinary sphere, contributing to organic pest control when grown in gardens.

Chives are valued for their slender, hollow leaves and delicate flowers. Leaf harvesting can be done throughout the early summer until autumn when they begin to wither. Being perennial, chives naturally die back in winter and reemerge in spring.

When to Plant Chives

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

The Preferred Conditions for Chives

Chives will prefer a location in full sun but can cope with some shade. They will do best in a moist and fairly water-retentive soil and will not enjoy being alternately flooded and subjected to drought, so it is important to make sure that you keep up a consistent watering regime.

How to Grow Chives

Chives can either be grown from seed or taken by division from an existing clump. Either method is relatively easy and straightforward. But the latter is of course the easiest option since it simply involves planting out your plants in the spring or summer. They are straightforward to plant and typically settle in and establish themselves speedily and without any fuss. 

Preparing the Ground

Choosing the right site for chives involves thinking carefully about the preferred conditions as mentioned above, and also considering your overall garden plans and what other plants will be grown close by. 

Chives can be grown in the ground, in raised beds, in dedicated herb gardens such as herb spirals, or in containers 30cm wide or more filled with a soil-based compost/ potting mix. 

Once you have chosen a growing location, make sure that it is weed free. In the ground or in raised beds, add plenty of organic matter for fertility and to improve drainage. 

Growing Chives from Seed

Chive seeds can be grown inside or outside – simply place the seeds beneath a thin layer of growing medium and water them in well. 

Sowing Indoors

If you decide to sow indoors sow the seeds onto the surface of pots or trays filled with a suitable seed-starting potting mix and cover them lightly. 

Place the pots or trays into a heated propagator or on a sunny windowsill covered in glass or clear plastic. When the small seedlings emerge, uncover them or remove them from the propagator and place them to grow on in any warm, bright location. 

The seedlings can be transplanted once they are around 10cm tall and you should then be able to start harvesting from your plants from around mid-summer onwards. 

Sowing Outdoors

If sowing directly into the soil in your polytunnel or elsewhere, make sure the area is well-weeded before sowing as the tiny chives can easily be mistaken for blades of grass and can also easily be uprooted by mistake when weeding. 

Seeds might also be sown directly into larger outside containers, perhaps as a companion to other container-grown plants. 

How to Plant Chives

Whether we are talking about chives you have grown yourself from seed sown indoors, or about young starter plants or potted plants that you have purchased from a garden centre or other store, planting chives is easy. 

If you have purchased a larger plant, you can potentially divide this and plant out a number of sections which should expand into larger clumps over time. 

Spacing for clumps of chives is around 15cm. 

Care Tips for Chives

Chives are definitely a low-maintenance herb and they should not need too much of your time and attention. 


One important task, however, is to keep newly planted chives well-watered. It is important to keep the soil or growing medium moist but not waterlogged, especially during the first summer. 

Though, once established, chives are quite drought tolerant, they like regular watering at first. Remember that those growing in pots will need more frequent watering than those growing in the ground. 


Mulching around clumps of chives is a very good idea. Not only will an organic mulch add fertility and protect the soil, it can also conserve soil moisture when it is hot and dry, especially through the summer months. 


Chives do not like too much competition so make sure you weed well. Weeds can make harvesting move difficult, stunt the growth of your chives, and cause overcrowding which makes fungal diseases more likely to take hold. 


This is helpful when learning when to cut back chives. An established clump of chives can easily be propagated by means of division. Simply take the clump up and divide it into several smaller portions with your hands before replanting each one. This can also help to keep mature chives happy and healthy over time. 


Harvesting chive leaves is a straightforward process. To know how to harvest chives, simply use a pair of gardening scissors, trim the hollow leaves, leaving approximately 2cm from the base.

You have the option to harvest an entire clump simultaneously. Alternatively, if only a small quantity is needed, select a few leaves from the perimeter of the clump.

Regular harvesting encourages new leaf growth. However, it's essential to allow a few weeks for the newly grown chive leaves to reach a suitable height for subsequent harvesting.

To harvest leaves, simply snip them with scissors, leaving about 2cm from the base. You can either gather all the leaves at once or take small amounts as needed. If only a few leaves are required, it's advisable to pick them from the outer edges of the plant.

When leaves are cut, new growth will ensue. Regular harvesting promotes continuous leaf production. As for the flowers, pluck them just before full bloom for fresh inclusion in salads or as a decorative garnish. To maintain the plant's vigour, remove the wilted flower heads if not harvesting them.

If you opt to harvest only a few chive leaves from a chives plant, it should still produce flowers provided it's thriving in its environment. Just before full bloom, you can gather the flowers for use in salads or as a decorative garnish by simply trimming them off.

However, if your intention is to continue leaf harvesting, it's advisable to remove the flowers either by harvesting them or by clearing away any faded blooms left unused. This step ensures the plant's focus remains on producing new leaves.

Nevertheless, flowering chives serve a purpose in the garden ecosystem. Leaving some flowers intact benefits bees, pollinators, and other beneficial insects they attract. Chives possess qualities beyond culinary use; they contribute as companion plants, offer ornamental value, and contribute to the creation of wildlife-friendly gardens.

Storing Chives

Freshly harvested chives are the best for culinary use, preferably used promptly. However, if needed for later use, they can be frozen in ice cube trays.

Varieties of Chives

Most of the chive seeds and plants available for purchase belong to the Allium schoenoprasum species. However, there are a few cultivars with variations such as finer or larger leaves, slightly altered flavours, or flowers in white or pink hues. Additionally, there are several related species including:

  • Garlic chives or oriental/Chinese chives (Allium tuberosum) – These varieties produce larger clumps of taller, flat leaves (up to 50cm/20in) with a subtle garlic taste. Their clusters of star-shaped white flowers are also suitable for consumption.

  • Siberian garlic chives or blue chives (Allium nutans) – These chives have flat leaves reaching up to 60cm (2ft) in height, offering a mild garlic flavour. Their edible flowers come in a bluish-mauve hue.

Common Problems for Chives

Though chives are pretty easy to grow and care for, there are certain pests and diseases that can take hold, especially where you have not provided optimal growing conditions. 

Aphids, for example, are one common pest attracted to these plants – fortunately this means that aphid predators are also attracted to them, which can help keep pest numbers down and keep the ecosystem in balance. Onion fly, and thrips are other pests to look out for. 

Chives can also sometimes develop fungal issues, including bulb rot, white rot, mildews, and rusts. Weed well and avoid overcrowding, overwatering or waterlogging to reduce the chances of such problems occurring in the first place. 

Top Tips for Growing Chives in a Polytunnel

Chives are a cut-and-come-again crop so if you pick chives as and when needed, the clumps will continually regrow. If you grow several clumps of chives then, in theory, you can enjoy a constant supply of fresh chives whenever you have need of them. 

Chives can be a wonderful companion plant for a wide range of other crops and since they take up so little space, are perfect for popping into gaps here and there in your polytunnel planting.

Are Chives Perennial Plants?
What is the secret to growing chives?
Do chives grow back after cutting?
Are chives easy to grow?
Are chives best grown in pots or in the garden?
When do chives flower?

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growing chives in a polytunnel