A High Performance Plant: Garlic Chives

Reader Contribution by Cindy Murphy
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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.   

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.  

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.     

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. 

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