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Alabama Gardener

Alabama Gardener
June 25, 2013 |

Garlic chives make a big splash in the summer garden, coming into full bloom at a time when other plants are feeling the heat.

This plant is easy to find at botanical gardens but isn’t widely sold in garden centers. However, neighbors with garlic chives in their gardens are usually glad to share because the plants reseed almost too generously. Seeds also are available from online suppliers.

The first time I saw garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) was on a farm specializing in Asian vegetables. They were called Chinese chives. They also go by other names like Chinese leeks and are an important ingredient in Asian cooking.

This perennial is a relative of onions and onion chives, but the plants have thin, flat, strap-like leaves, not the hollow leaves of onions and chives. For stir fry, garlic chives are a dream. The flat leaves are easy to cut, crunchy and taste very much like garlic, only milder.

Cooks use them in countless other ways, too, such as an ingredient in egg salad or scrambled eggs or as a topping on pizza. Just add them near the end of any cooking process because their mild flavor is destroyed by heat. The pretty, edible flowers have a mild garlic taste. (Harvesting the flowers causes the plants to produce more leaves.)

Gardeners use chives as an accent or edging, but they also grow well in pots.

Plant in a spot where the soil drains well to avoid root rot. After a few years, the original clumps will need dividing in spring. Dig and transplant seedlings in spring or fall.

Rugged and easy to grow, each plant forms a lush clump that grows fast, especially in the cool weather of spring. It only takes a small clump of garlic chives to get started. Garlic chives prefer full sun, but will grow in partial shade, too. Once established, these plants are tough, enduring summer and winter with no problem. This time of year they come into bloom, adding beautiful, white flower stalks in the mid-summer heat. The blooms are atop thin stalks that rise about a foot-and-a-half above the leaves.

Harvest leaves as soon as they are big enough to clip and use, but go easy the first year. Young plants need the leaves to build up energy and grow a good root system to make a strong clump. In fall, trim back the entire plant and freeze the leaves to use later. In south Alabama, the plants are generally evergreen, so enjoy them fresh from the garden year-round.

Once established, leafy clumps will multiply. If you leave the flowers to set, their little black seeds that drop to the ground, you will find yourself a provider of seedlings to share with cooks and gardeners.

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