Propagating Chives by Division
Chives grow from small, fleshy bulb-like roots called bulbets, and it's a rather simple matter to divide an established clump of them in the spring or fall. Once separated, the small clumps can be planted outside in your herb garden, vegetable garden or flowerbed, or potted for use in your kitchen herb garden.
This article will show you how to propagate chives through division.
Selecting Chives to Divide
Be sure to select a clump of chives that's large enough to divide. Unless you cultivate an exceptionally large variety of chives, the chive plants in your garden probably grow to about 6 inches in diameter, which is typical for most.
We grow garlic chives. They're average in size, reaching about a foot tall when in bloom and growing about 6 inches wide. They're also very tasty.
If the stems are left unharvested, the plants will produce small, white pompom-like flower clusters. These large clumps are made up of clusters of bulbets that lie close to the soil line. If the plant is healthy, it probably has a thick mat of a root system that extends out from the bulbets, as well as down into the ground several inches.
This spring, I divided two clumps of chives in our outdoor herb garden, each about 6 inches in diameter.
The larger of the two (pictured below) was a good candidate for propagation by division, comprised of 15 bulbets in all.
Digging Up the Clumps of Chives
With a spade or shovel, dig up the clump of chives you intend to divide.
Work the tool all around the plant, sticking the blade into the ground and then lifting it up to loosen the roots. Don't dig too close to the clump though. Doing so could cause you slice through some of the bulbets or hack off a portion of the root system.
This year, I used a spade. Once I'd circled the clumps with it, I was able to lift the plants out of the ground by their stems easily. Pulling the clumps apart, however, was more difficult.
Separating the Clumps
After a year or more of growth, chive clumps can be difficult to pull apart. It took me some time (and lots of patience) to separate the clumps I'd unearthed into smaller clumps.
First, using my fingers, I removed as much soil from the roots as possible. Then I slowly wiggled the clumps in my hands, one a time, gently pulling them apart until the roots separated.
The initial clump of chives was the most difficult to separate. Dividing the subsequent clumps into groups of three to four bulbets became easier as the clumps got smaller.
When I was finished, I had many, many little chive plants to replant.
Replanting the Bulbets
Chives grow as well in pots as they do in the ground. So you may want to plant some of your divisions in beds and pot up the rest for convenient use in the kitchen.
Planting Chives Outdoors
Chives need full sun (about 6 to 8 hours per day) and rich, moist soil. So keep that in mind when replanting.
When planting outdoors, be sure to make the hole big enough so that you can spread out the roots and deep enough so that you bury the plant up to its stem. (You should be able to see the soil line on the plants.)
Tuck them into the holes, cover them with rich soil, and water them in place, tamping them down firmly with your hands or feet.
I made a little front border to my raised herb/vegetable with some of my chive clumps. The rest I potted for the kitchen.
If potting up a few sets of chive bulbets for your indoor herb garden, you'll need rich, sterile potting mix and small pots. (Pots about 5 inches in diameter work well.)
Although I potted 2 sets of chives outside, I did not use the soil from our raised beds. It's good soil, loamy and enriched with compost and leaves, but it contains all sorts of things I don't want in our house (and that I'm sure you don't want in yours). This includes weed seeds, fungal spores, and insect eggs. I could have, of course, pasteurized a batch of it in the oven and then used it. But I took the easier way out and used a bag of store-bought potting mix this time.
First, I moistened the soil a bit, mixing it in a pan with a spade. Then I created a small cone of soil in each pot and arranged the bulbets and roots over it before adding more potting mix.
As with the chives that I planted outside, I covered the plants up to the very extreme bottom of their stems where a soil line was clearly visible.
I'm hoping the transplants do well. Last year, I allowed the chive plants, which were from one small plant that I set out the year before, to go to seed. I was pleased at how well they spread and was happy to see at least two large clumps that could be divided into smaller ones this spring. I'd like to have enough chive plants next spring to plant around our rose bushes.
Caring for Chive Plants
Chives need full sun (6 to 8 hours per day) in order to thrive. So make sure that you transplant them to a sunny location in your garden—one that won't later be overshadowed by shade trees or tall herbaceous perennials.
If you're growing chive plants indoors, a southerly window is best, or you could grow them under lights for about 12 hours per day.
Like basil, chives like moist soil. So you'll have to water them more than Mediterranean herbs, such rosemary and lavender, which do best if allowed to dry out between waterings.
To keep them healthy, try misting your chive plants daily with water, and check the soil with your finger to make sure the pots haven't completely dried out.
Use water that's at room temperature, as cold water can be a shock to any plant's system, inhibiting its growth.
If you grow chives as part of a working culinary garden, be sure to clip the plants with scissors close to the soil line when harvesting, just as you would if growing them in pots.
Clipping the stems close to the ground encourages chives to produce new fleshy roots. The new stalks that emerge will be tender and green—just what you want for the kitchen.
A Few Additional Notes
- Companion Planting: I have no firsthand knowledge of chives' efficacy in preventing plant diseases, but it's reputedly a good companion plant for roses, keeping black spot at bay, and for apple trees, reducing the likelihood of scab and deterring carrot fly.
- Growing Chives in Beds: Chives are neat, compact growers and make lovely plants for borders. If allowed to grow unharvested as ornamental plants, they will produce attractive globes of flowers, usually in pink, purple, or white.
Do you have an herb garden?
About the Author
The Dirt Farmer has been an active gardener for over 30 years.
She first began gardening as a child alongside her grandfather on her parents' farm.
Today, The Dirt Farmer gardens at home, volunteers at community gardens, and continues to learn about gardening through the MD Master Gardener program.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
What is the use for chives?
Fresh or dried, chives are delicious in salads, soups, and other foods. They are in the allium (onion) genus and have that sort of flavor.
© 2013 Jill Spencer