Grow chives from cuttings

From a scattering of basil on healthy greens pizza to a handful of mint in a pitcher of iced tea, fresh herbs make our meals shine. More than just garnish, herbs like basil and mint provide a punch of flavor, nutrients, and healing properties.

Fresh herbs can get expensive, though, whether you’re buying cut herbs at the market or planting an herb garden. By propagating or cloning herbs from cuttings, you can save money, turning one plant into an infinite supply of new ones.

Growing herbs from cuttings also saves time because it’s faster than growing herbs from seed. For those who don’t have garden space, this can be a fun way to grow herbs indoors all year round, close to the kitchen where you’ll use them.

It’s super simple. All you need is a cutting from an herb plant and a glass of water…

Herbs You Can Root in Water

This easy propagation technique involves snipping a stem from a mature herb plant, putting the cutting in water, and waiting until it grows new roots. You can keep growing the herb in water indoors, or transplant it to soil in the garden.

Rooting in water works especially well for soft-stemmed herbs such as basil, mint, lemon balm, oregano, and stevia. For woody herbs like rosemary, sage, oregano, and thyme, take cuttings from new, green growth; older brown stems do not sprout roots easily.

Note that some annual herbs like parsley, cilantro, and dill should be grown from seed and do not work with this method.

Where to Get Herb Cuttings

There are lots of places to get cuttings, from mature plants in your own garden to friends’ and neighbors’ gardens (with permission, of course!), and even herb sprigs that you buy at the grocery store or farmers’ market.

For best results, take cuttings from healthy, disease-free plants in spring or summer. Avoid cutting herbs that are actively flowering because you want the plant’s energy to be focused on forming roots, not flowers. If you do take cuttings from a flowering plant, be sure to pinch off any flowers before you root it.

How to Grow Herbs from Cuttings in Water

Save money and time by growing herbs from cuttings and turn one plant into an endless supply of new ones.

What you’ll need…

  • Sharp knife or scissors
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Clean glass or jar (see Notes)
  • Room temperature water (see Notes)
  • Pebbles (optional)

1) Clean your tools. Clean your knife or scissors in warm, soapy water and wipe with rubbing alcohol to sanitize.

2) Take a cutting. Using a clean knife or scissors, take a stem cutting about 4 to 6 inches long. Make the cut at an angle, just below a leaf node (the point on a stem from which leaves grow). If you’re using cut herbs from the store, make a fresh cut at the bottom of the stem. It’s a good idea to take a few cuttings to make sure at least one of them will root.

3) Trim the cutting. Remove the leaves from the lower two-thirds of the stem; this is so they don’t get submerged under the water and rot. Also snip off any flowers, buds, or large leaves so the plant’s energy gets directed toward making roots. Take care not to cut or damage the stem as you’re removing leaves. (Tip: Use the extra leaves to make tea!)

4) Put the cutting in water. Stand the cutting in a glass of water, making sure the topmost leaves have plenty of airflow and no leaves are submerged in water. Keep the jar in warm place with plenty of indirect light.

5) Change the water frequently. Change the water every day or two to prevent the growth of algae and bacteria.

6) Wait for roots to grow. Depending on the plant and conditions, rooting time may take a couple days to a couple weeks.

Once the roots appear, you can keep your plant growing in water and just snip off leaves as you need them. As the plant grows, you may need to transfer it to a bigger vessel.

Or, you can transplant it in the garden:

7) Harden the roots (optional). If you’re planting herbs in soil, it’s a good idea to toughen the roots first. To help them harden, drop small pebbles onto the roots each day for a week.

8) Transplant (optional). When the roots are 1 to 2 inches long, plant it in the garden or a container of potting soil.


  • Glass or jar: Choose a glass or jar with room for airflow around the leaves. Algae grows faster in clear glass and more slowly in opaque or amber glass, but if you change the water frequently (see Step 5), then algae shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Water: Filtered water and spring water are good choices. Avoid distilled water, which lacks important trace minerals, and chlorinated water, which may hurt plant tissues. You can also leave chlorinated tap water out for 24 hours to let the chlorine evaporate.

Growing, dividing and harvesting garlic chives

This chive is not meant to be eaten raw, but cook it properly and your dishes will dance.

Words: Jenny Somervell

Garlic chives are an edible that are definitely more garlic than chives. They look similar to ordinary chives at first glance too. But look more closely and the leaf texture is solid, flat, and rather chewy, quite different from the soft, rolled, hollow leaves of chives. Their misleading common name has led Western cooks to use garlic chives raw, with unfortunate results, and they’ve never taken off as an edible. It seems they need to take lessons from the cooks of south-east Asia who know the best thing to do is to add some heat.

Cooking methods are diverse, but generally garlic chives (or Chinese chives as they are called overseas) will be lightly cooked, both flowers and leaves. If overcooked they lose their subtle flavour. They can also be blanched, stir-fried, or incorporated as part of a clear soup, in the same way you would use onion or garlic.

Varieties have been developed for improved leaf, tender flower stems, and with broad leaves for growing in the dark. The last kind are sold in bundles of pale, very tender leaves and are sought after to accompany fried noodles. When grown rapidly in ideal conditions, garlic chives have a mildly garlic with a hint of onion, pleasant, flavour. The flowers or florets have a sweet, mild, almost rose-like scent and a pleasant taste. Once you taste them at their best, you will want more than one plant.

Garlic chives have been used as a crude ‘drug’ since 770BC. The part used is the seed, called kyushi, kyusaichi or kyusaijin. Traditional uses were to help with lack of energy, urinary incontinence, kidney and bladder weakness, lower back pain, swelling, pain in the knees, as a tonic, and as an anti-aging supplement.

They are rich in carotene, vitamins B, C and E, and sulphuric compounds, including allyl sulphide (also found in onions and garlic) that contributes to their distinctive smell. Research shows allyl sulphide is a preventative in skin cancer, liver cancer and cancer of the large intestine. Research on garlic chives seed extract shows promise as an energy enhancer, immune booster, and for maintaining healthy neurotransmitters after stress.

There is another reason to grow garlic chives. The flowers are star-shaped and creamy-white, held in heads or umbels on long, straight, 60cm-high stems. They appear in late summer-early autumn when other flowers are waning, and last for ages. Even if they are not used in cooking, plants are worth including on the edges of the herb garden or vegetable plot for their ornamental value.

Bees and butterflies love them and they are a useful late season nectar source for beneficial insects. These little blooms are delightful in flower arrangements and can also be dried for floral displays.

Allium tuberosum does best in light, fertile soil with plenty of organic matter, but will grow readily in most soils. Full sun is preferred, although they will grow in light shade. They are tougher than chives (Allium schoenoprasum), surviving through the heaviest frosts. They are also taller, and have tuberous roots rather than bulblets like chives. These long roots do best in built-up beds with good drainage and soil depth.

However, you need a little more patience as garlic chives are slower growing than ordinary chives, and it doesn’t pay to hurry them along. I have grown them from seed, but they can be unreliable if the seed is not fresh, and they take forever to get to size. Four or five-year old clumps can be divided and this is the quickest way to propagate them.

Whether you go for seed or division-grown, plants need to establish before your start picking. Flower stems on young plants should be removed, allowing plants to build up strength. This also avoids self-seeding, reported to be a problem (although personally I have found chives to be the more prolific).

Once planted, it’s easy to forget about garlic chives in the garden. Like garlic, they don’t compete well and soon get smothered in weeds without regular weeding. They are best kept mulched if you don’t want to lose them. Plants will survive considerable drought, but if stressed they become tougher in texture and stronger flavoured. For the best flavour, you want to keep the plants evenly moist.

When watering, water thoroughly to encourage deep rooting. If you are serious about using garlic chives, it is better to grow several plants due to their lower production. What I’ve found is once you catch the flavour, you will want more than one plant.

Choose fresh, crisp chives that are not wilted. They deteriorate quickly, but can be stored in the fridge for 1-2 days. Store wrapped in damp newspaper or wet paper towels in a plastic bag in the vege crisper.

1. Dig up an established (4+ years old) clump in spring or autumn.
2. Separate into smaller clumps of about three rhizomes.
3. Replant in fresh soil with organic matter added.
4. Discard older roots at the centre of the clump.
5. Water thoroughly.

As a slower growing plant, garlic chives suit containers and look great in terracotta planters.
• Choose a deep pot for their long roots (at least 20cm).
• Plant in a free-draining, proprietary potting mix (not soil).
• Keep moist – do not allow to dry out.
• Liquid feed every 5-6 weeks after harvesting.
• Pots of chives can be brought indoors and grown as a houseplant.

• Only harvest from established clumps.
• Cut back several times, beginning late spring and through summer, or snip individual leaves.
• When cutting, cut to the base of the leaves, just above soil level, as the lowest part of leaves are most tender and this promotes new, vigorous growth.
• Flower stems can be picked with tight buds for stir-fries.

• Use the leaves in a similar way to scallions or garlic, slicing into 2-3cm lengths, then briefly stir-fry with a dash of chilli.
• For a garnish, cut into 1-2cm slices and either stir-fry in a little oil, or blanch enough to soften without loss of colour.
• Add to scrambled eggs and top with smoked salmon, chopped garlic chives and a touch of sour cream.

• Delicious in Chinese-style dumplings with egg, shrimp and pork, or in any minced meat or seafood filling.
• Drop 2-3cm lengths into clear soups and simmer briefly – they’re often included in miso soup.
• Stir-fry with curried vegetables and potatoes.
• Add to herbal vinegars, or incorporate into soft cheeses.

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This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine. Discuss This Article

You can learn how to grow chives in a few minutes. Chives are a hardy cool-weather perennial, a relative of the onion. With slender, round, hollow grass-like leaves 6 to 10 inches long. Chives produce soft, globe-like pinkish-purple flowers in spring on stalks to 12 inches tall or more. Leaves rise from small scallion-like bulbs which grow in clumps. Once established, chives will grow for many years. The tips of chive leaves have a mild onion flavor. Chives will easily grow in a container indoors. Garlic chives—with a subtle garlic flavor—grow just like chives; unlike chives, they have flat not round leaves and white not pink flowers.

Get to Know Chives

  • Botanical name and family: Allium schoenoprasum (chives); tuberosum, (garlic chives); both are members of the onion family–Amaryllidaceae.
  • Europe
  • Type of plant: Chives are a herbaceous perennial.
  • Growing season: Chives will grow in air temperatures from 40° to 85°F—spring through summer; plant chives in autumn or winter in mild-winter regions.
  • Growing zones: Chives grow best in Zones 3 to 11. Chives are evergreen in mild-winter regions, but die back and go dormant in cold-winter regions.
  • Hardiness: Garlic chives are a hardy cool-weather perennial. Mature plants can tolerate cold to -35°
  • Plant form and size: Chives from 1 to 2-foot clumps of thin, grass-like leaves (if left unclipped).
  • Flowers: Chives have large globe-shaped purple-pink flowers. Garlic chives have white flowers. Flowers first appear as small bulblike buds among the round green leaves; the buds open into spherical clusters of flowers that resemble the heads of clover blossoms.
  • Bloom time: Chives bloom mid-spring to early summer.
  • Leaves: The leaves of chives are deep green, round, and hollow; the leaves of garlic chives are flat and grasslike.

How to Plant Chives

  • Best location: Plant chives in full sun or partial shade.
  • Soil preparation: Grow chives in well-drained, sandy-loam, a soil rich in organic matter. Prepare planting beds in advance with aged compost. Chives prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Avoid planting in wet soil that can encourage stem and bulb diseases.
  • Seed starting indoors: Sow seeds indoors from late winter until early summer; sow seeds in flats under fluorescent lights or in a bright window. Seeds need darkness to germinate. Cover seed trays or pots with a piece of newspaper or cardboard to aid germination. Seeds should germinate in about 14 days at 70°F.
  • Transplanting to the garden: Transplant seedlings into the garden from late spring to late summer.
  • Outdoor planting time: Chives are a hardy plant. Sow chives in the garden or set out divisions as early as 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in spring. The seed will germinate in 2 to 3 weeks at 60°F.
  • Planting depth: Sow seed ¼ to ½ inch deep. Seeds require darkness to germinate; cover the seed with light planting mix.
  • Spacing: Space clumps or rows of chives 8 to 12 inches apart; plants will fill in over time. To plant divisions, use a spade or shovel to divide existing clumps, trim back leaves to 1 inch above the ground and replant the divisions covering the bulblets with soil.
  • How much to plant: Grow 4 clumps of chives for cooking and kitchen use; grow 6 clumps for preserving.
  • Companion planting: Chives are said to improve the flavor of carrots, celery, tomatoes, cress, mint, and grapes. Chives are said to inhibit the growth of beans and peas. Chives deter Japanese beetles and are said to deter black spot on roses, scab on apples, and mildew on cucumbers

How to Grow Chives

  • Watering: Chives require moderate regular water to become established; established plants will survive in dry soil. The tips of leaves of plants that dry out will turn brown and papery.
  • Feeding: Side dress chives with aged compost at midseason.
  • Mulching: Mulch around chives with aged compost or commercial organic planting mix.
  • Care: Divide chive clumps every 2 to 3 years to prevent overcrowding. See Propagation below for directions. Protect chives from direct sun in hot climates with shade cloth. Deadhead plants regularly to avoid plants going to seed.
  • Container growing: Chives will grow easily in containers as an annual. Plant chives in a container 6 inches or deeper. Plant several containers to rotate harvest.
  • Winter growing: Clumps can be dug up and potted before the first frost and grown indoors in a sunny window over the winter, but first put the clumps in a paper bag and put them in the refrigerator for four weeks to simulate winter dormancy; a dormant period is required to send out new leaves.

Troubleshooting Chives

  • Pests: Chives are generally pest-free. Onion thrips may attack chives growing in a commercial onion producing region, but thrips are unlikely to bother plants that are regularly watered.
  • Diseases: Chives commonly have no serious disease problems, however, in high humidity if plants are crowded fungal diseases can develop.

How to Harvest Chives

  • When to harvest: Harvest fresh green leaves continuously early spring to fall, but don’t start harvest until plants are at least 6 inches tall about 5 weeks after planting. Established plants a year old or more can withstand regular harvest.
  • How to harvest: Cut leaves with garden scissors or sharp knife. Cut the outer leaves first. Harvest from the base of leaves to avoid plants with cut tops. Leave about 2 inches of leaf blade above the soil in order for the leaves to regrow. Always leave some top growth on the clumps to preserve the strength of the bulbs. Stop harvest 3 weeks before the first frost date to allow plants to flower and the clump to expand. Garlic chives can be pulled roots and all.

Chives in the Kitchen

  • Chives have a mild green onion flavor and aroma. Use chives in any recipe that calls for raw green onions. The flavor of chives is more delicate than onions.
  • Use chives fresh or dried to add flavor. Snip leaves into salads, soups, and egg dishes; put chives on scrambled eggs or on grilled cheese sandwichs. Add cut chives to vegetables and pasta salads. Sprinkle chopped chives over fish and other entrees to add flavor. Use chives to garnish onion and potato soups. Chives will add an oniony flavor to vinegar, herb butter, and cream cheese spreads.
  • Whole flowers can be added to salads and omelets. They are onions flavored. Steep flowers in white vinegar; they will impart their rose color and light onions flavor to the vinegar.
  • Add chives at the very last moment when cooking soups, stews, and sautés otherwise the flavor will be lost.
  • Culinary companions include basil, dill, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
  • Garlic chives have a subtle garlic flavor; use them as a salt substitute in soups and stews and with chicken, pork, and lamb dishes. The leaves of garlic chives are flat and the flowers are white.

Preserving and Storing Chives

  • Refrigeration: Refrigerate chives in a sealed plastic bag for up to 7 days. Wrap the base of a bunch in a wet paper towel placed in a plastic bag and lightly twist the top then store in the refrigerator drawer. Wash leaves before storing.
  • Freezing: Chopped leaves can be frozen. Snip fresh leaves into pieces and freeze them in freezer containers or plastic bags.
  • Drying; Leaves can be dried on a screen set in a warm spot out of the sun with plenty of air circulation.
  • Storing: Store dried leaves in an airtight container.

Propagating Chives

  • Grow chives from seed or divisions; divisions are small bulbs separated from root clumps.
  • Seed: Chives are easy to grow from seed; seeds require no special treatment; sow directly in the garden in early spring or start indoors and transplant out in spring or early summer
  • Division: To divide chive clumps, trim the tops to about 2 inches long and the roots to about 3 inches long. Pull or cut the clump into sections of 4 to 6 bulbs each. Replant divisions 8 to 12 inches apart. Divide older clumps in early spring every 3 years.

Chives Varieties to Grow

  • Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are also called Chinese chives or gow choy. Garlic chives clumps are slightly larger than chives with flat leaves and white flowers. It has a mild garlic flavor.

Also of interest:

How to Grow Basil

How to Grow Rosemary

How to Grow Sage

How to Grow Oregano

How to Grow Mint

More tips at How to Start a Herb Garden and Growing Herbs for Cooking.

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