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On Gardening: Garlic chives wins for culinary, fragrance and butterflies

February 24, 2014
 

Culinary delight, fragrant flowers and a treasure trove of butterflies, pollinators and wildlife makes the garlic chives a must have plant for everyoneís garden. You may be thinking arenít garlic chives for the herb or vegetable garden and I would say absolutely, but they are much more than that.

Garlic chives, known botanically as Allium tuberosum, are cold hard hardy from zones 3 through 9. This means just about everyone in the United States can grow them. While they are ideally suited to herb and vegetable gardens, they also are great in mixed containers, and perfect in landscapes from the rock garden to grandmaís perennial cottage.

Like society garlic they are recommended for the culinary artist who wants a little milder flavor versus the dramatic punch one associates with garlic cloves. They are a staple in Asian dishes. While the onion aroma permeates the air when the leaves are cut or crushed the late summer blooms have a sweet and pleasant smell.

The flowers seem be an absolute magnet for butterflies and bees, as well as their wildlife predators. If you plant several garlic chives in your garden you will relish the National Geographic-type moments that will happen continuously once the bloom period begins. I find it hard to leave and return to the office desk, fearful I will miss something.

I have seen almost two dozen species of butterflies feeding on the obviously nectar rich flowers. Crescents, buckeyes, skippers and swallowtails are always hanging around but itís the hairstreaks that get me pumped. The great purple hairstreak, red-banded hairstreak and gray hairstreak definitely make the butterfly watching a real thrill. If you only watch swallowtails and monarchs, paying no attention to these incredible smaller butterflies, you are missing one of the great joys of life.

But remember I also said predators. In the south it is not uncommon to see the green anole lizard lying ever so still along the stem reaching up into the flowers to snag an unsuspecting bee, butterfly or wasp. You may also find the praying mantis lurking like he is the king of the jungle.

The garlic chives thrive in full sun but also do quite well in part shade. Transplants are pretty easy to find at the garden center once spring arrives. They are not water hogs in the least, only requiring dry to medium moisture. This also points out however the need to plant them in well-drained soil. Deadheading old flowers before seeds fall is a good idea, as it can spread. This has never become an issue in my gardens but I will rely on the testimony of others.

Like regular chives, your clumps will enlarge, so plan on dividing every two or three years. I like to divide in the spring just as growth is resuming. This list of companion plants is long. I like planting an informal cluster or drift. This shows off the texture of the leaves then the flowers. Partner with another informal drift of blue, like Victoria Blue salvia or Blue Fortune agastache. Add some Lady in Red, Salvia coccinea, or Faye Chapel, Salvia splendens, and you will create a real wildlife extravaganza that the kids will love all summer long.

 

 


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