Chives are easy to propagate in the home garden and can be grown in containers both indoors and outdoors.
Sometimes confused with scallions, chives are a favorite among many.
While not exactly the same, Allium schoenoprasum is very similar to scallops with their crispy, zesty flavor makes them perfect for many different dishes that need a bit of onion deliciousness.
While chives flourish in the garden bed, they also can thrive in containers.
There are lots of benefits to growing chives in containers vs. in the soil, which we’ll cover later in this care guide.
Let’s dive in and learn about how to grow and care for chives in containers.
Why grow chives in containers?
So the main question is why would you want to grow chives in pots when you can grow them in the garden?
This is a loaded question because it depends on your situation:
- If you have a tiny garden, container planting beats garden planting
- Planting in containers gives you portability that you wouldn’t get with soil planted chives
- You can move your chives to different locations to get more or less sun
- You can optimize yield by changing the soil profile easily
- You can put the chives into your house for the winter when temperatures dip
- Chives can be harvested much easier when they’re right in your kitchen
- Container planting allows for growing chives indoors rather than in the garden
- Growing in pots can make dealing with pest infestations easier
- Containers can provide insulation from temperature swings depending on the material used
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why you’d want to choose a planter over direct sowing.
But there are some drawbacks to it as well.
For instance, container-grown chives generally produce less yield.
They also need more water and they’re susceptible to nutrient buildup in the soil substrate. If the pot is poor draining, it can lead to root rot or fungus. The pot can also get clogged over time if you don’t keep it clean.
So there are always pros and cons of container planting. But if you think it’s right for your situation, then read on!
Do chives grow well in containers?
Chives generally grow well in planters but will produce less yield compared to garden sown plants.
When containers are grown, they have limited space for their roots to expand. Additionally, the soil requires more water, which is often not considered for rookie gardeners.
People new to the hobby generally water too little which can stunt the growth of the chives.
People tend to overfeed with plant food as well which can lead to nutrient buildup in the soil.
Soil choice is another important thing. People will choose the cheapest soil they can get.
They may even use garden soil instead of potting mix because it’s cheaper. This is a bad idea. They’re not the same!
These choices will lead to overall poor chive growth in containers.
But if you’re well-read and know how to make the right choices (such as reading this care sheet), then you can grow chives just as good and productive as those in the garden!
Chives are a forgiving plant and will tolerate mistakes.
So avoid them if possible.
That’s why you’re here, right? Learning about how to grow chives in containers is the easy part. Planting them is where it gets more challenging!
But don’t worry. I’ll try to talk you through it.
What is the best way to grow chives?
There is no answer to this question.
It completely depends on YOU and your situation. For example, if you have no garden or just a balcony garden, container growing is ideal.
If you have plenty of room in your yard, perhaps soil planting is the more efficient option.
But let’s say you want to be able to move your chives around.
Did you know that this is an awesome benefit? If they’re not getting enough shade, you can move them into it.
Or if they’re not getting enough sun, put them somewhere sunny.
Windy day? Take them inside or put them in a greenhouse.
You can see the probability of growing in planters gives you.
How to propagate chives in containers
First, it’s important to note that the USDA hardiness zone of chives is zones 3-9.
If you’re outside of this zone where it’s too hot or too cold, you may face difficulty in getting your chives to grow.
Additionally, container-grown chives are vulnerable if not properly cared for.
But then again, having the ability to move your chives around just by lifting the potter makes it easy to keep it virulent.
There are three easy ways to propagate chives for container growing. We’ll cover both of them.
Starting from seed takes the longest time, but is more rewarding. For sure.
Chives can be grown from seed packets. Read the instructions on the packet. Check your hardiness zone.
Check for the right time to plant. Generally, chives will germinate optimally when sown indoors about 8-10 weeks before the first frost of your zone.
If you plan to eventually move them outside, you’ll need to sow inside for a head start. But if you plan to keep them indoors, that’s fine too. No difference.
Just make sure that the temperatures inside are suitable for chives to germinate.
Use a seed starter kit and then each compartment with a high-quality, well-draining soil. Get organic soil if you plan to grow organic chives. That makes sense, right?
Put 2-3 seeds per compartment. Then water until the soil is moist, but not wet.
Cover the tray with a humidity dome. If you don’t have one, you can use plastic food wrap and then poke holes over each compartment.
Place the tray in a sunny spot with filtered sunlight. Keep the soil moist by misting daily. Check for pests or fungus. If you see any, you’ll need to start over.
When the seeds germinate, thin to the strongest plant in each compartment. When they develop their second pair of true leaves, you can start moving them into their containers.
Some people like to wait until they’re taller. Note that it can take a full year before chives can be harvested from seed.
This is NOT for the impatient! Use a seedling from the nursery if you want to harvest quicker.
Chive seedlings can be purchased from your local nursery.
The nice part about using these little pre-grown plants is that you can skip the germination step entirely.
No need to wait around for your seeds to pop.
You also get a headstart for the season if you’re planting too late or you just want a quicker time to harvest.
Plus, chives are cheap!
Find a chive plant that’s nice and leggy. Here’s how to choose chives for growing:
- Look for dark green foliage rather than lime green
- The chive should be standing upright with minimal drooping
- Check for signs of infestation or rot
- There should be no yellowing or browning of the foliage
- The soil should be well watered with no signs of pests
- And if you need it, look for a nursery with easy returns
Next, grab your favorite garden shovel and gently loosen up the chive by the base. Be careful not to trim the roots by accident.
Plant the chives into the new container at the same depth they were originally contained in. Fill with soil up to 1” from the rim of the pot.
No need to firmly pack. The chives will stay in place if the soil is moist. Water for the first time. The water should quickly drain from the bottom onto a saucer.
The last step is to acclimate. If the chives were grown under awnings or indoors, you’ll need to harden them off before you move them outside.
This is done by taking them outside for a few hours each day over a week. Then you can put them outside in your garden permanently.
If you just take them out without acclimating them, they can wither. However, if they were grown outside already, then they can be immediately brought out with minimal plant shock.
Regrowing chives from the grocery store
If the chives in your local grocery store aren’t sterile, they can be used for replanting.
Organic chives will be ideal for this purpose. Buy a few bunches of chives. Get chives that look suitable for planting by looking for signs.
Here’s how to choose “good” chives from the grocery store to regrow:
- Chives should be nice and firm
- Avoid mushy chives
- They shouldn’t bend easily
- They should be free of bugs
- Don’t buy chives with lime green foliage (dark green only)
Once you get a few good bunches, they’re ready to be replanted into containers.
Give them a good rinse to remove bugs or dirt. Trim the chives back using a clean knife or scissors.
Clean it first so the chives don’t get infected if pathogens are present.
Cut them back to about 4 inches or so from the flowering end. Loosen up the soil in your pot, which should be prefilled before cutting.
Use a spade to dig a hole 3 inches deep. Gently slide the bunch into it. There should be 1” of chives above the soil line. Fill it with well-draining soil.
You’re done. Put the container somewhere that gets suitable sunlight. Water generously for the first time established water pathways.
Chives grown in pots need more water than garden sown plants. Make sure you water before it gets completely dry.
Use a moisture meter if you’re unsure. These tools are cheap and can tell you exact soil conditions.
Some people like to dip their fingers into the soil to feel how moist it is.
Choosing the perfect container for chives
Next, choose a container for your chive transplants. There are a few things you should know before you choose your chive planter.
The material of the container is the number one thing you should consider.
Planters come in a variety of different construction materials, including plastic, stone, terra cotta, glazed stone, glass, foam, wood, zinc, copper, aluminum, resin, pressed paper, fiberglass, recycled, and even galvanized construction.
The material is more than just looks. It affects how well it drains, how easy it is for bacteria or plant viruses to infest your chives, and even how well it keeps temperatures stable. You could write a book on it.
In summary, go for porous containers like stone or terra cotta. This help insulates heat during the daytime so your chives don’t get too cold at night. Plastic is cheap but is prone to temperature swings.
You MUST use a pot that has multiple drainage holes with large pores. if it just has a single hole, it’ll likely get clogged from buildup in the pot. So get one that has at least 3 holes on the bottom.
Or get a self-watering pot.
Consider putting a layer of pebbles or sand right at the base of the pot. This will prevent clogging and ensure good drainage. Perlite or moss can also be used. Poorly draining pots will lead to rot or poor yield from your chives.
The size of the container will depend on how many chive plants you want to grow per each.
If you only plan to grow a single chive plant, you can just get a basic 6-inch planter. It should be at least 6 inches in depth with 4 inches in diameter
If you want to grow multiple chive plants in the same container, provide at least 6 inches between each plant.
This is important. If you cram them all together into one pot, they’ll each grow smaller with less yield.
They need room to grow their roots and flourish. If the larger pots are too expensive, you can get multiple smaller ones instead.
The largest factor for price is its material of it. Stone, ceramic, or terra cotta will cost more than plastic. Next is the size of it.
Larger containers will run you more dollars per inch and it increases exponentially.
Get what you can afford without breaking the bank. It’s more important that you provide enough room for the chives to grow rather than clumping them together into a tight space.
Consider getting multiple cheap pots rather than one big expensive one.
Caring for container-grown chives
This section covers basic care for chives. The care is very similar to garden grown chives.
container-grown chives will need at least 6-7 hours of sunlight per day.
Put them next to a sunny window if you’re growing chives indoors. This is necessary for proper germination and production.
Otherwise, put the containers somewhere with direct sunlight outside.
This is the benefit of growing in containers- you can move it around as you wish! Isn’t that awesome?
If you can’t provide full sun right on your chives, move it outside so it does. If you’re growing on your balcony or you don’t have a garden, you can set it on the window or use a grow light to help supplement the light requirements.
Note that full-spectrum lighting is highly recommended for indoor herbs.
Cheapo grow lights don’t provide the necessary wavelengths for photosynthesis. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!
Here are some excellent grow lights for chives (from Amazon):
- VIPARSPECTRA P2000 LED Grow Light Full Spectrum LED Grow Lights
- FRENAN Grow Lights for Indoor Plants with Red Blue Spectrum
The first one will grow almost anything indoors. The second one is a basic, gooseneck grow light for multiple indoor plants. But feel free to shop around.
Chives appreciate good watering twice a week. Adjust as necessary.
If it’s dry, hot, or peak summertime, water more. If it’s cold or rainy, water less. Common sense, right?
Provide around 2-3 inches of water per week. Water thoroughly. Let the soil go near dry around the base of the plant before you water it again.
You can use a moisture meter (check Amazon) to get accurate readings. Or you dip your finger to feel it.
Chives will produce optimal yield when watered frequently, but in smaller amounts IMO. Your soil must drain efficiently.
If there’s buildup or pooling of water, your chives will turn yellow, brown, droop, or even face root issues.
Chives that are overwatered will turn yellow and possibly drop their foliage or get student growth. You may also notice witling or soft foliage.
Note that chives that are container-grown will require more water than garden-raised plants.
Chives will benefit greatly from a light dosage of plant food.
While this isn’t required, dosing your chives with some high-quality fertilizer can replenish nutrients that are missing.
Use a fertilizer that is made for edible plants. Look for an NPK ratio of 5-10-5 with two dosages per month or so. Work the fertilizer into the soil.
Use organic if possible or if you’re growing organic chives for resale. You’ll need to use only organic products to be considered an organic grower, but you should already know this.
Consider using some organic mulch to help retain water and keep weeds down.
When they grow their little bulbs in the summer, mulch can help keep the weeds from competing with the chive for nutrients in the soil.
Mulch can also help get the temperatures consistent by insulating the roots of the plant.
When growing in containers, you need to use nutrient-dense soil.
Chives thrive in well-drained soil rich in organic matter such as manure, compost, or leaf litter.
Since the soil column in a pot is different than in the garden, your soil choice is the staple ‘food’ for your chives.
Use soil that’s organic if possible. It should be slightly acidic with a pH value of 6.0-7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral). You can naturally bring your pH lower by using some soil amendments like limestone.
Chives will grow in nearly any soil condition, both dry or damp. But if you want to maximize it, give it some moist, acidic, nutrient-dense soil.
Coffee grounds, compost, or leaf litter are excellent for fertilizing chive plants as they provide essential nutrients while keeping the soil acidic.
This herb will thrive in USDA hardiness zones 3-11 and will grow as evergreens in warmer zones.
But in colder weather, they’ll die back on their own. Winter dormancy will occur if the temperatures are consistently cool in the fall and winter.
But if you’re growing in pots, no need to worry because you take them inside, into a greenhouse, or wrap them for the wintertime.
Chives are somewhat cold and hardy to an extent. For cold dips in the temperature, they may need to be covered if you want to grow them as perennials. Chives can tolerate temperatures as low as 32F.
If the soil doesn’t drop below 32F, it can go dormant for the winter.
Once established, they require minimal care and get more hardy over time. Chives can withstand 40-degree weather.
Keep humidity moderate at around 50% or higher.
Chives grown indoors may be supplemented with a small humidity dish to keep the local humidity in the right zone.
They’re easy to make DIY style. You can also use pebble trays filled with water or place your chives near the kitchen sink. Regularly misting with a spray bottle can help increase the moisture, which chives like.
Note that humidity that’s in excess can lead to root rot or fungus if there’s too much foliage that restricts evaporation.
Keep it wet, but not too wet. Since you’ve got the benefit of a container, you can move it around as you need! Just be sure that it gets at least 6 hours of direct, unfiltered light daily.
You can start harvesting your homegrown chives when the blades (grass) are taller than 6 inches.
This is when the chives will be tastiest without too much bitterness.
Be sure to cut with sterilized pruners or else you’ll risk getting them infected.
When you cut, cut no more than down to 2 inches tall. If you cut it too short, it’ll harm the plant and reduce future yield.
If you want your chives to produce rapid yield (who wouldn’t want that?), cut it back but not excessively.
Chives are considered to be a cut and come again plant that you can harvest all season.
Generally, this is about 50 days after sowing. For transplants, it takes about 30 days. But it depends.
Variables like available sunlight, water, or plant food will affect how quickly your chives are ready to harvest. So keep that in mind if your chives are producing poor yields.
Picking “good” chives involve picking the flowers when they’re bright purple. If you wait until they turn brown, they get tough and not as flavorful.
Chives are completely edible so you can fully utilize it.
Eat the foliage for an oniony flavor. They can also be used in eggs, salsa, soups, or garnished. The purple flowers can be eaten as well.
Some people use them as a decorative centerpiece.
Note that a single chive plant won’t produce enough for a small family.
You’ll want to plant multiple pots of chives so that you can harvest one and then another on rotation for endless harvests. This way, you can pick chives so it keeps growing.
Chives are OK to eat after they flower, but they won’t be optimal in taste. Chives will keep growing after you cut them if you don’t cut below 2 inches from the soil line.
Whether you’re growing chives in containers in your yard or your house, they’ll produce for you constantly! Just give them some TLC and that’s it.
This is why chives are one of the perfect herbs for beginners.
Overwintering chives in pots
Chives can be taken into the house during the wintertime.
Store them in your kitchen where the humidity is high and there are no cold swings. Avoid placing chives near doors, drafty windows, or HVAC vents.
During dormancy, you can reduce watering, stop feeding fertilizer, and cut it back down to 2 inches for the winter.
In the spring, move it back outside after hardening it off. This is for lower hardiness zones.
For higher zones, you can leave it outside as an evergreen. But you may need a layer of mulch or use a row cover if the temps dip.
Watch out for that by checking the weather. To be safe, just move them indoors. No need to worry once you do so.
If you want to save the chive seeds, let your chive flower and then blossom.
You can harvest the seeds from the flowers, store them in an envelope, then replant them next season. Just check for pests before you save them.
Rinse them with cold water and then let them completely dry before you put them in storage or else you risk rot or fungus.
When your chive outgrows its container, it’s time to switch to a bigger pot!
Some key things to look out for include: chive roots coming out of the drainage holes, stunted growth, poor yield, foliage touching the edge of the pot, drooping over the container edge, or yellowing/browning of the foliage.
If your pot gets clogged or drains poorly, it may be that the roots have covered the drainage ports. It’s time to get a bigger pot and then move it into its new home! Congrats.
Commonly asked questions about container-grown chives
These questions asked by readers may help you out.
If you have a question of your own not answered here, just use the comments form below and ask me!
Please note that your chive care needs will vary. It depends on the type of chives you’re growing, where you’re located, and your local climate.
Use these as general care guidelines for container-grown chives. YMMV.
Do chives need full sun?
Yes, full sun is highly recommended to help maximize yield.
Poor sunlight will result in stunted growth, drooping, yellowing, or poor taste/texture. Provide at least 6 hours of sunlight per day directly onto the plant. If you’re growing in a pot, you can move it so it gets the light it needs.
That’s the benefit! Use it.
If your zone is extremely hot during peak summer, it may be wise to put them into partial sunlight or limit sun exposure.
You can tell if it’s too hot for chives because they’ll either become crispy. They can scorch or burn.
Chives are drought tolerant if established, but you must water them consistently throughout the season. Keep the soil moist and water deeply. The small bulbs will grow near the surface of the soil, so make sure to supplement with water to help keep them growing in the summer.
How do you cut chives to encourage growth?
The key element is to cut frequently and the amount every time. Use sterilized scissors or pruners.
Grab the leaves and then cut them down to two or three inches from the soil level. This will encourage chives to rapidly grow back and won’t kill them.
Chives will keep growing after you cut them, but frequently cutting on a schedule is key to promoting its growth. It will make it bushier and fuller-looking too.
How deep should a container be for chives?
Use a container that’s at least 6 inches deep. The deeper you can provide, the more room there is for the roots to expand.
Chives are a shallow-rooted plant, so their roots rarely grow more than 18 inches at most. Even that’s a stretch.
If you want a future-proof container that you never have to upgrade, get one with good, quality construction.
Single planters with at least 8 inches deep, and 8 inches wide are enough for multiple chives planted together. Whether you want to grow multiple chives together or keep them separate is a matter of personal preference.
How do I make my chives thicker?
If your chives are thin, you can thicken them up by using organic, nutrient-rich soils. That’s the key.
Poor soil quality is often responsible for thin or leggy chive foliage. Use a soil that retains moisture, such as loamy soils made of clay, silt, or sand.
Supplement with perlite to help further increase the composition.
If you want to make it bushier, trim it when it hits 6-8 inches rather than letting it grow tall.
Give them some compost or other organic matter to help make it bushy. Saggy or drooping chives can be fixed by using fresh soil when planting.
If you did this, consider replacing the soil entirely with some supplemented organic fertilizers. It just needs more nutrients to support itself to stand up. Skinny chives are the result of poor soil quality.
Should I remove the flowers from my chives?
When the flowers blossom, you have the option of pruning them off. If you trim them off, you can increase the yield.
Cut them off before they bloom. Look for buds on the foliage and cut them off with sterilized pruners. Deadheading your chive blossoms, when they’ve finished blooming and starting to wilt, is another option.
If you want to enjoy the flowers, there’s no harm in doing so. You can collect the seeds to plant more if you wish.
It’s a question of weighing more foliage to harvest or seeds to collect. So it depends on you.
- Chives | Herb Gardening – U of I Extension
- unhappy chives? – Houzz
- Chives in the Garden – USU Extension – Utah State University
Grow chives in pots!
Now that you’ve read through this care sheet, you know everything you need to know to grow chives in containers. Both indoors and outdoors!
Chives are an easygoing herb that can be grown as evergreen or perennial. If you’re in the extreme zones, it can be grown as an annual.
Keep them well watered, well-fed, and provide plenty of sunshine for these guys. They’ll reward you with endless purple blossoms and plenty of onion deliciousness for your favorite recipes.
What do you think? Do you have any questions about growing chives in containers? Post them below!
I’ve always been interested in gardening, but I never took it seriously until I was forcefully gifted an orchid. This was what got me into the hobby and I’ve never looked back. I enjoy writing about it, but not nearly as much as getting into the dirt and sculpting the perfect decorative ornamental to enjoy for the times.