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A High Performance Plant: Garlic Chives

By Cindy Murphy

Tags: Garlic chives, Perennial herbs, Deer and Rabbit Resistant Plants, Drought tolerant plants, Low maintenance plants, Cindy Murphy,

A trip to the garden center this time of year can bring a dizzying flood of ideas about what to plant.  Maybe we should add more edibles, or perhaps more perennials; plants that attract pollinators to our garden would be good too.  It might be late season color we’re lacking, or plants that are low maintenance.  Then there is always the search for something that the deer and rabbits won’t eat.    

What if there is a plant that does it all?  Look no further; garlic chives fill the bill.

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are an edible perennial herb popular in Asian cuisine, traditionally added to stir fries, soups, stews, and Chinese dumplings; an alternate common name is Chinese chives.  I planted them on a whim in my herb garden years ago, and when seeing how beautiful they are in flower, started adding them to my perennial gardens as well.  

Growing about 18 to 24 inches high, garlic chives are a bit taller than common chives, which I also grow in the herb garden and as ornamentals.  Common chives add a nice splash of pinkish-purple color in late spring and early summer.   

      Common Chives
Garlic chives have quite a different bloom; their starry white flowers grow in airy clusters in August and September. The fall flowers play a vital role in ensuring the health of over-wintering bees, like bumble bees, which build up their energy stores for winter from late season nectar sources.  

     Garlic Chives flower
When the pollinators have had their fill, garlic chives are still not done with their showy performance; the flowers, once dried on the plant, also add late fall interest.

Like their common cousins, garlic chives have a long harvest season.  The leaves can be cut for kitchen use as early as April, and up until the first heavy frost in autumn.  Use in place of common chives in recipes or to your favorite stir fry dish for a touch of garlic taste.  Add them during the last few minutes of cooking; chives lose their flavor if over-cooked.  Use them fresh in salads, or as a garnish for potatoes and soups.     

     Garlic Chives leaves
Easy, and fast growing, garlic chives prefer a sunny location, and average, well-drained soil.  As with all alliums, they are deer and rabbit resistant.  I’ve read that re-seeding can be an issue, but I’ve never had a problem with it, most likely because my soil is so poor and dry, (Oh, did I mention that?  Garlic chives are quite drought tolerant once established).  Re-seeding can be avoided by dead-heading before the seeds dry on the plant.  I let the seeds dry though, because the seed heads are so pretty, and any seedlings that sprout the following spring are easy to pull when they’re small. 

So on your next visit to the garden center, searching for that perfect plant, why not consider giving garlic chives at a try.  It truly is a plant that does it all. 

nebraska dave
5/19/2013 2:48:53 PM

Cindy, you have made my day. I've been wondering about the genus species connection for ever. Now that it's cleared up, I expect my garden will grow much better now. I hope you know I'm just kidding but your information was fascinating to read. I'll never be able to fly over those Latin plant names again without looking to see if it's a hybrid or not. And well, it will be fun to impress people with my knowledge of plant terminology. Thanks for always having such good informational posts about gardens and plants. Have a great Michigan garden day.

cindy murphy
5/19/2013 2:26:16 PM

Yep, Dave - wild onions are edible; there are probably a million or so recipes for them on the Internet. And no - garlic chives are not a kind of hybrid. Want a basic binomial nomenclature lesson? Since you're not here to tell me "no", here it is: the easiest way to distinguish if a plant is a hybrid or cultivar is by its botanical name. Every plant has a Latinized name consisting of two parts, the first part being the plant's genus, and the second word being the species within that genus. Take your rugosa roses for example - their botanical name is Rosa rugosa, "Rosa" being the genus (rose), and '"rugosa" being the species of rose within the genus. Rosa rugosa 'Blanc Double De Coubert' is a cultivar of rugosa roses - the hybrid (cultivar) name always appears between single quotation marks. If two species within a genus are crossed the species name will have an "x" between them (Cornus kousa x nuttallii 'Venus' for example; Dogwood 'Venus'). So garlic chives - Allium tuberosum - is a species of Allium (the onion genus); the botanical name of garlic is Allium sativum. Garlic and garlic chives are related, but neither is a hybrid of the other. Probably a bunch of useless information (and I have a wealth of it), but you never know when useless information might come in handy.

nebraska dave
5/17/2013 12:56:26 PM

Cindy, Garlic chives, huh. I have heard of garlic and I've heard of chives but not the two together. Is this some kind of a hybrid? I found wild onions at Terra Nova Gardens. Can you eat those? Spring finally arrived, well, summer actually. We had our first 100 degree day a only three days after breaking the record low of 29. I've been scrambling to get things planted. It's a very busy garden time now that the temperatures warmed up. I imagine you are very busy as well with nursery work and spring gardening. I'm hoping to have a good garden year now that all the weeds are under control. This is the first year that I've actually planted seedlings that I've started. Tomatoes and green peppers went in the ground yesterday. I still have cabbage and broccoli but I think the hot weather will cause them to really not do well this spring. I'll give it another try in the fall. Have a great day at the nursery and in the garden.