Chives are rich in vitamins A and C, and contain essential minerals such as iron, calcium, and potassium.
Chives are delightful fresh herbs that grow easily in outdoor gardens and indoor pots alike. You can harvest them the first year you plant them, but it’s crucial that you know how to harvest chives without killing the plant so you will have a supply of fresh chives all season or even for years to come.
Cut chive leaves 1-2” from the soil. Never pull the roots out of the soil when harvesting. Harvest chives three or four times in the first year of growing, or once a month from an established plant. Chives are ready for harvest when they are 3” to 6” tall.
You will quickly find that young chive leaves test better than the woodier, older leaves. For this reason, you will want to know how frequently you can go out and snip some bright, fresh leaves for your recipes. Read on for everything you need to know about how you harvest chives without killing your plant.
How Do I Harvest Chives Without Killing My Plant?
Chives are beautiful, producing either purple or white flowers, and also delicious, with a mellow onion or garlic flavor. In addition, growing chives will keep pests away from other plants grown nearby.
With such a wonderful addition to your garden, you will want to keep them healthy for years to come and knowing how to harvest chives is key.
1. Know When to Harvest
In the first year, you will begin to harvest chives around 30 days after planting a new plant or 60 days after seeding. After the first year, you will want to cut back your plant monthly to keep it producing tender shoots.
Chives are ready to harvest when they are around 3-4” in height. Make sure you harvest anything 6” or over, as these leaves will begin to lose flavor and get tougher as they get bigger.
Chives thrive in cooler temperatures, so you may be able to harvest chives even in early spring. Chive harvest may run through the first frost of fall–giving you a long season of fresh chives!
2. Hand Harvest or Use Scissors
Make sure you cut the leaves 1-2” from the top of the soil. Cutting the leaves back this much will ensure that new growth follows from the bulb. You can snip off the tender young leaves just with your fingers. This works best for gardeners who just want a few chives at a time for a recipe or garnish.
You can also snip leaves individually with scissors or herb snips.
It may be tempting to just pluck the tops of the leaves, but leaving long leaves on your plant will not encourage new growth.
If you want to harvest a lot of chives to freeze (they can be dried, but tend to lose flavor) or if you are cutting back your plant after it flowers, you can secure a bundle of leaves with a hair tie, rubber band, string or twine, and cut with shears or pruners.
Keep in mind you may want to wash your tools before and after with soap and water. Chives have an oniony smell that may linger on your gardening scissors after harvest.
3. Don’t Pull Up the Roots
How to kill your chive while harvesting? Pulling up the roots. Chives grow from a bulb. If left undisturbed it will continue to produce chives for years to come. In many climates, bulbs can overwinter outdoors and produce new chives every year.
However, if you pull up the roots, the growth will stall or the plant may die. Stick to snipping the leaves 1-2” from the soil and leave the bulbs alone until it is time to divide your plants.
4. Cut Back Fully Before and After Blooming
Some gardeners recommend cutting back your chive plant completely two times per year (after the first year). Once early in the growing season before the flower buds appear, and once again after the flowers fade. These cuttings promote further new growth.
In this case, tie together bundles of leaves and stems (the flower stems will be woodier) and cut with scissors, pruners or shears. You can freeze or dry the cut leaves for future use. It will take 2-3 weeks after a full cut for leaves to grow back–so you may want to stock up on frozen chives for this period.
When the chive is in flower, you can still harvest individual leaves in-between larger cuttings. Store in an airtight container, or place in water in the fridge for a day or so. Everything you harvest from a chive plant is edible.
5. Harvest the Chive Flowers
Your chive plant will produce buds and flower once a year. The flowers produce seeds that will seed your garden with even more chives, so you may want to remove them if you don’t want a lot of volunteer chive plants.
That said, chive flowers are important to pollinators, so you may not want to cut back flowers until they are ready to seed.
Chive flowers can be used as a delightful addition to salads or as a garnish. Garlic chive flowers have a particularly strong garlic flavor. You can store the flowers in a plastic bag and garnish with florets as needed.
6. Divide Chives Every 3-4 Years
As your chive plants grow, you may want to divide the bulbs every few years to avoid overcrowding. In addition, you can grow even more chives or share with a friend or your neighborhood. Many gardeners plant chives as filler plants all over their gardens. They also thrive in pots.
Unlike other plants, chive bulbs should be separated and replanted in late summer, after the hottest weather has passed. It’s best to water your chives the day before, and then dig up the bulbs and divide into groups of 10-12 bulbs.
Chive bulbs are also edible, like onion and garlic. You can saute and add to your favorite recipes for a stronger chive flavor.
See another post: Holes in Pothos Leaves
Now that you know how to harvest chives without killing the plant, you too can be a gardener or chef who delights in having fresh herbs from your very own garden (or windowsill!). Chives are an excellent herb for beginners and experienced gardeners alike.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you pick chives so it keeps growing?
Harvest when the leaves are 3-4” tall, and cut around 1-2” from the bottom of the plant. In the first year, you can harvest 3-4 times over the course of the year, but don’t harvest the entire plant.
In subsequent years, you can cut back the entire plant twice per year, and harvest monthly.
Will chives grow back after cutting?
Yes! As long as you don’t damage the roots and bulbs, chives will grow back. It may take a few weeks for established plants. If you cut back an entire new plant, you may have to wait until the next year for it to regrow.
How many times can you harvest chives?
The first year, you should only harvest 3-4 times so the plant can get established. After the first year, you can harvest frequently. Larger harvests can be done monthly. If you only want a few chives for recipes or garnish, you should be able to take a few leaves from an established plant as needed.
Hey, I’m Lisa and I’ve been an avid gardener for over 30 years. I love writing, talking and living in the garden! Feel free to connect with me on my socials below