I’ve grown chives for years. During my first few tries, I wondered… Why are my chives drooping? How to revive chives? So today, I’ll be helping you with this issue! First, we should find out the cause of the problem. This article has you covered explaining all you need to know regarding the reasons and actions to take to tackle this problem. Let’s dive in!
Chives become droopy and limp because of 1) overwatering, 2) underwatering, 3) water salinity, 4) insufficient light, 5) high temperatures, 6) pest infestation, 7) soil compaction, 8) poor seed quality, 9) smaller planter, and 10) lack of pruning.
Since several reasons might lead to drooping chives, you first need to identify which one is responsible for your case. Once you know the reason, you can undertake adequate countermeasures. As long as it still has a bit of life in it, it can quickly be revived. Follow our tips to get your chives back in good shape!
Overwatering is the number one cause of chives falling over. Excess water in a plant’s soil might suffocate its roots, reducing the amount of oxygen available which leads to drooping.
Like you and me, roots need oxygen for proper gas exchange. If you prevent that, then your chive will start losing vigor and drooping. Another sign of overwatering is chives turning yellow.
Are you confusing lemongrass with chives, and vice versa? Learn their differences!
Moreover, an overwatered plant will not be able to absorb all the water trapped in the soil (too much), leading the soil to stay wet for longer (water crystals might be a viable alternative).
A moist and low-oxygen environment is ideal for the development of bacteria and fungi. If this happens, your plants need to be thrown away as, in general, it is difficult to fully recover from root rot.
The majority of herbs suffer in the case of wet soil. The difference is how forgiving the herb is. Some, like basil and chives, are not forgiving. You overwater them once, and your herb might not survive.
Overwatering is a way bigger problem than underwatering—but I’ll still discuss that in just a bit!
You see, once the root-rotting process started, I usually just throw the affected tender herb away as it might take too much time and effort to recover it.
During winter, overwatering becomes even more of an issue. The combination of low light (reduced photosynthesis) and low temperature (reduced evaporation) make chives less thirsty. So they become even more prone to drooping and root rot.
A simple and efficient way to identify if you are overwatering/underwatering your chives is the finger or toothpick test. Wooden chopsticks will also work well—use what you have at your disposal!
Simply insert a finger into the soil and check it directly.
Is the soil damp to the touch? Does the soil stick to the toothpick? If so, you are overwatering.
Droopy chives can be a result of underwatering though it is less common. If the soil is dry or even cracked on the surface, then the lack of water is the reason why chives bend over.
It can be really difficult to know whether you’re overwatering or underwatering—especially because they share similar signs such as drooping and yellowing in chives.
Oftentimes, however, you’re more likely to get underwatered chives bending over easily if you live in a very environment like Arizona and you leave your chives under direct sunlight at noon for long hours.
In general, though, an underwatered herb (chives included) can recover if watered accordingly!
So how much water do chives need? Do chives need a lot of water? Well, the answer is pretty tricky. Sure, I could tell you exactly what I do, but following that may not be the best course of action.
Do not follow gardening “gurus” or “influencers” that give you a strictly precise watering schedule like once a week for any plant, chives included.
Watering frequency will depend on so many varying factors like the age of the plant, amount and intensity of sunlight it receives, number of leaves it has, overall growing temperature, container size, etc. Keep in mind that these things may also affect each other.
To be sure, check your chives’ soil before watering it again. Just use the same method as before. But now, of course, check for the opposite.
Tip: Do not trust your eyes alone! The top layer of the soil might look dry even when the soil at the root level (the one that counts for the health of your herb) is still pretty wet.
Stick a wooden chopstick at least 1–2 inches into the droopy chives’ soil. Does the soil feel dry? Does the chopstick come out totally dry with no soil particles sticking to it? Then you have an underwatering problem.
Underwatered droopy chives are easy to revive. Just give it some clean water until the first droplets come out from the drainage holes.
Chives can get droopy in case of excessive water salinity. This might be a problem with tap water in certain regions of the USA and Europe.
You might want to make sure the salinity content of the water you give to your chives is not too high. Indeed, as proven by scientific studies, salt has the power to ruin a perfectly good pot of chives.
However, if you suspect that the water used to water your soil is too salty, closely inspect the soil your chives are growing in.
Notice any patches of white or gray particles on the soil? Then, you’ve found your culprit—high salinity!
Salt crusts will form on the soil surface after you water it and it dries. This often happens when the water you provide for your chives is highly saline, which is the case for tap water in certain areas of the world.
Be aware that also the excess use of fertilizer might cause a similar white crust on the soil.
Check the water salinity of the water you give your plants to make sure that it isn’t too saline. You will need to use special instruments like a refractometer or hydrometer.
Also, if you’ve recently just applied fertilizer on your chives, stop in the meantime. Remove the top portion of the soil and replace it with a fresh mix.
If the crust forms again, you can be very confident that it is caused by salty water without buying expensive tools for checking. Either way, you need to change the soil and transplant your chives.
When chives don’t receive at least 4 hours of direct good-quality light, be it natural or artificial, they may begin drooping over.
Similar to most other plants, chives thrive with about 6–8 hours of direct light exposure to thrive. Chives, in particular, can still do well with as little as 4 hours of direct light.
As you might have already noticed, I am talking about light in general, not just sunlight. Indeed, as also discussed in this article, it is the quality of light that an herb, chives included, depends on.
If you do not have the luxury of getting at least 4 hours of precious sunlight, then this might be the main reason why your chives are falling all over the place despite all the care you give them.
Learn more about this in our article on hours of sun in northern gardens!
You may also notice your droopy chives not growing much if it isn’t getting enough sunlight. Remember, sunlight is key for photosynthesis, which is what allows plants to make food for themselves and grow!
If you can’t give your chives 4 hours of good natural lighting both indoors or outdoors (even in a southern location), then supplement it with some grow light.
Position the grow light at least 6–12 inches (15–30 cm) from the top of your chives to provide enough space between them and prevent leaf burns as well. You can have this on for 12–14 hours.
Choose a full-spectrum grow light that’s at least 20W. Just bear in mind that you’ll have to adjust the distance between the light and your chives if it’s higher than that.
High temperatures over 80°F or 27°C can trigger a period of dormancy in chives and result in the drooping of their leaves.
Chives are herbs that prefer and thrive in cooler temperatures—unlike others like basil, for instance.
If the temperature in your living room—due to a combination of south orientation, large windows, and very hot climate—can easily reach 80°F (27°C) without an air conditioning unit, you’ll have droopy chives.
Very hot temperatures will trigger a dormant state in your chives that will stop growing and might also droop. You might even end up wondering, why are my chives dying?
In an ideal world, the temperatures will stay within the 65–70°F range (18–21°C) to ensure that your chives thrive. But that isn’t a realistic expectation.
Discover more about temperature tolerance in herbs!
On the other hand, freezing temperatures below 40°F (4°C) can also make your chives go into dormancy.
Remember that high temperature is often associated with longer daylight hours so this comes with the potential risk of sunburn marked by browning leaf tips. Your chives are likely to dry up faster as well.
For such instances, it’s best to check on your plants’ soil and water more often than normal. Otherwise, your chives might end up dying completely in such harsh growing conditions.
Damage from pests such as onion maggots and thrips can result in the drooping of chives due to the serious damage they cause including tunneling and nutrient depletion.
Chives, likely for us, bugs do not like chives. Aromatic plants like chives are usually not seriously harmed by pests. But this doesn’t mean that they’re completely invincible!
The bugs that might have a chance against this herb are onion maggots and thrips. Both of them, among other more severe issues, cause drooping.
These can be spotted at the base of the plant where they lay their white eggs. This insect looks very similar to common flies but lighter in color.
Onion maggots create tunnels in the chives bulb, potentially causing root rotting and the introduction of other diseases.
These are tiny insects that, similarly to aphids, suck plants’ nutrients and fluids from their leaves, causing the surrounding area to die.
Thrips can change their appearance significantly during their development, so you need to be able to recognize them. You can see them in two different forms:
- Larva stage: they are white/semi-transparent bugs (usually below a millimeter) and spend most of their time slowly feeding on your leaves.
- Adult stage: they are brownish/dark with four legs and wings with hair. They will start flying all over your herbs. If this happens, it is a sign that their colony might already be well developed.
In case you did not spot them directly, you can identify them by their presence:
- Silver patches on leaves: these are the dead areas due to their feeding
- Small black spheres on leaves: these are their excrement
Although you might find a gardener suggesting remedies, given that the aggressive invasion of onion maggots might really challenging (and not worth the effort) to get rid of them. The only suggestion is to transplant, to a new pot with fresh potting mix, those chives that looks not affected.
You can choose from several solutions available to get rid of thrips. One of the least chemical-heavy methods is the use of sticky sheets that attract and trap thrips.
Insect traps like the one below from Amazon are quite affordable, long-lasting, and easy to find. They don’t smell the best, but they’re absolutely effective!
The more aggressive solution way to get rid of these pests is the use of spray (either organic or synthetic).
The compaction of heavy soil and soilless potting mixes inhibit aeration and suffocates the roots of chives and causes drooping of their leaves.
Chives are one of the most beginner-friendly herbs. They can withstand drought and grow well in virtually non-fertile soil.
In other words, even if your potting soil is not rich in nutrients (perhaps you have it sitting there for a long while) and sometimes forget to water your chives, they will do fine.
Hence, the only aspect you should take care of is the physical properties of your potting soil. Old potting mixes, in particular, tend to get more readily compact.
This will limit the exchange of gases (due to plant respiration) with the outside (the soil becomes like brick). In this situation, your chives will start slowing to suffocate, and drooping might be one of the first signs to look at.
One of the easiest ways to check soil compaction is direct touch, Is the surface hard to break? Does the water stays on top of the soil for a while before finally being absorbed? These are the 2 most common signs of compacted soil.
Replace your chive’s old, heavy, compacted potting soil completely, and choose a loose and airy one. Go for a lightweight potting mix like FoxFarm (here on Amazon).
Alternatively, you can use a wooden chopstick or a handheld rake to move around or air out the soil every time you water your chives. This will help to aerate your soil and let your chives’ roots breathe!
8. Poor Seed Quality
Chives can grow droopy when started from poor-quality seeds, especially ones older than 2 years. If chives seeds are left in a warm and moist environment they can develop fungi weakening the plants.
Let’s be honest, all gardeners go through a seed-hoarding phase. This is a common problem among beginner gardeners.
However, even if you buy the most expensive high-quality chive seeds, they won’t grow well if you end up compromising their quality from neglect.
For example, if you left your seeds in a drawer, perhaps in the kitchen, and not did seal it properly after inspecting them the first time, chances are their quality and viability could have dropped significantly.
You see warm and moist environments can lead to deterioration. These factors can weaken the seeds, especially since they promote the growth of bacteria and fungi that could kill your droopy chive seedlings.
Also, the tiny seeds of chives are generally viable for only up to 2 years with proper storage. So if you buy too much without any plans of planning them soon, you’ll simply end up wasting your hard-earned money.
Seeds should be stored in a cool, dark, and dry place for them to last longer and retain their great quality and viability.
Once they get wet, plant them right away, give them to friends or family that also garden, or simply throw them away if you no longer have space for growing them at the moment.
9. Small Planter
Chives will start competing for water and resources if left in a pot that’s too small and shallow, making them droopy and weak.
This is a common problem for supermarket-bought chives that are typically sold in very poor quality soil with a very small place compared to the number of plants on it.
More often than not, such potted plants are also packed with too many individual herbs to give the illusion of lush growth.
So unless you separate those shoots of chives into multiple planters, they’re bound to fall over and fail sooner than later.
When I grow chives I always prefer growing them in a 6-inch wide planter in the beginning. Then, I’ll thin them out.
After they’ve grown much fuller, I’ll thin them out a bit more or bump them up to a bigger pot.
Pots as wide as 12 inches will provide plenty of soil and space to accommodate all the water and nutrients established chives need.
10. Lack of Pruning
Chives tend to become limp and droopy if not pruned regularly. Ideally, chives should be pruned 3 to 5 times during the growing season, from March to September, leaving at least 1/3 of the leaves.
Many herbs like basil, mint, and chives develop social hormones that promote growth after they are cut.
It is an extremely useful defense mechanism that plants have developed over the years in order to be able to reproduce and thrive despite being preyed on by animals such as deer or getting eaten by us.
Keep deers away by checking out which plants can deter them from the garden!
In a relatively more controlled environment, like your garden, your chives will not be “forced” to increase their production if do not experience any stress at all.
You see, similar to how it is with humans, some stress can be beneficial by helping plants like chives deal with negative incidents better.
Such chives are likely to get top-heavy and start falling over from all the weight they’re trying to keep upright. Remember, chives have hollow leaves that can’t withstand too much heaviness.
The best way to avoid having wonderful chives that don’t fall over on themselves is to prune or harvest them regularly, while also making sure to let them grow and recover before doing it again.
Consider harvesting them until there are at least 1–2 inches of leaves left starting from the soil’s surface. Doing this will stimulate more healthy growth.
As I’ve explained, this is a great win-win and the main reason we love herbs. We prune them so we can use their flavorful and fragrant leaves for cooking while they can grow stronger over time.
Drooping in chives, especially for tall ones, is normal and not necessarily a cause for concern. Also, the bending of the leaves toward the light source can be mistaken for drooping so it should be rotated.
If, at this point, you find that none of the reasons I’ve discussed is the reason behind your droopy chives, your herbs are likely healthy, and there is nothing to worry about. But if you want to be sure, check their leaves’ firmness.
One other reason behind them leaning toward one side is the location of their light source. In such cases, the leaves of your chives will stretch in that direction to maximize their light intake, looking droopy.
In this case, I recommend doing the following:
1. Rotate the pot every week to balance the direction of their growth
2. Use a grow light to ensure sufficient light exposure
3. Move them to a more sunny location for better development
Are Droopy Chives Safe to Eat?
Do you know that you can eat stalks and flowers of the chives? Well in cases where droopy chives are due to poor soil, lack of sunlight, incorrect watering, or they’ve grown too tall from lack of pruning, they are safe for consumption.
However, if your chives are drooping because of attacks from bugs, I would avoid eating them. Otherwise, you might end up eating some larvae as well!
How can you preserve harvested chives?
Among the most common technique, are flash-freezing, oven-drying, and using them as part of a long-lasting product (chives-based oil or butter)
What are some chives replacements?
Scallion and onion are used as a replacement for chives in recipes. Leeks are another alternative, although their onion flavor is way more intense than chives. Hence, leeks should be used in a moderate amount.
Are chives safe for dogs and cats?
Chives are poisonous to dogs and cats, and specific breeds can suffer from more severe effects. For more information, please go to poisonous herbs for pets.
Do drooping chives taste good?
The flavor of droopy chives is similar to that of fresh firm chives though they may taste more bland. Drooping chives, however, are generally more tough and chewy than healthy chives. However, this does not make much of a difference when it comes to most recipes involving chives.
Summary of Reasons for Droopy Chives
Overwatering, underwatering, water salinity, insufficient light, high temperatures, a pest infestation, soil compaction, poor seed quality, small planter, and lack of pruning can all result in chives drooping, as well as yellowing and dying.
From all of these reasons, only lack of pruning can be considered as not a problem as chives naturally grow tall and top-heavy without regular harvesting and/or pruning.
- “Chives” by Susan Mahr in Wisconsin Master Gardener
- “Impacts of different water salinity levels on salt tolerance, water use, yield, and growth of chives (Allium schoenoprasum)” by H. Arslan, M.S. Kiremit, and A. Gungor, in EurekaMag
- “Thrips” by Garima Kakkar in University of Florida
- “Chives” by n/a in Pet Poison Helpline