The Nutrients Your Chives Need: The Right Fertilizer

You might be wondering if there is something you can do more than providing the right amount of water and light. Indeed, you know that nutrients play a crucial role in maximizing your herb harvest. Providing inadequate nutrients not only will not slow your herb’s growth, but it can even damage them. This article has you covered with the latest research on the subject and opinion of expert gardeners.

Hence, what nutrients need your chives to thrive? If the soil is a fresh good quality potting mix, 6 months old or less, no fertilizer is generally required. If this is not the case, nitrogen-heavy fertilizers (like the 24-8-16) are scientifically proven to provide the highest benefits, even better than nitrogen only fertilization approaches.

Interestingly there are cases in which you do not need fertilizer for your chives and situations in which you do. Which are those cases, and what fertilizer you have to choose accordingly to research? Keep reading to know more.

The Right Nutrients For Your Chives: Which Fertilizer

Chives are among the best herbs for beginner gardeners. Their low care requirement, in terms of fertilization, is one of the top reasons. However, having them in nutrient-poor potting soil, although they might not kill them, will definitely stunt their growth.

Among expert gardeners, there is not a unique rule on what type of fertilizer you need to deploy. Nonetheless, many agree that this should be heavy in nitrogen (compared to potassium, and phosphorus, for more details, you can consult the pH and nutrients relationship guide).

The University of Utah goes in more detail, recommending a simple all-purpose fertilizer of 16-16-8. This fertilizer has an equal amount of nitrogen (16g out of 100g of fertilizer) and potassium, but half the phosphorus (8g out of 100g). However, I had a hard time finding such fertilizer on Amazon and shops. However, the good news is that you do not need to! Chives are pretty resistant herbs, and it is not that picky if you do not find the exact match. A 24-8-16 fertilizer (check here for a good fertilizer on Amazon) will fit for purpose.

The Cornell Cooperative extension claimed that fertilizer is not needed in case the soil is “reasonable fertile.” This might be the case if you buy good quality potting soil (this article discusses one of the best). However, if, for any reason, your potting soil is not fertile (you can verify it cheaply and effectively through this guide), then the above recommendations still apply.

Your soil can lose its nutrients (fertility) in around 6 months as your chive will feed on them. Indeed, given the “enclosed nature” of a potted herb, without any other lifeform around to supply for those nutrients (dead insects, leaves, and other organic matter), it does require your external intervention. This is the case you need good fertilizer 24-8-16 as the one Amazon.

A study from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) demonstrated that chives grow way better with a high nitrogen fertilizer than using nitrogen alone. Furthermore, it suggests that in the case of soil already fertile, the external fertilizer can be milder. The n-p-k content of the fertilizer (the three numbers that identify it) is around 30-2-20. Hence, do not worry. Even this source confirms that a 24-8-16 fertilizer is a very good fit, as science demonstrated (here for a good fertilizer in Amazon).

Interesting enough, even another independent research conducted by Prof. Anderson in the conference Progress in new crops. ASHS Press, Arlington, VA, fertilizer with higher nitrogen content (40 and above) did not provide any improvement in the chives production by weight. This is another proof that you really do not need more than 20/30 nitrogen percentage for your chives. So do not exceed it.

What is The Result of Too Much Fertilizer?

You have to follow the indication of your fertilizer carefully, and, in case you want to be safe, use even less than recommended. Why? Because too much fertilizer (as too much food for a person) can have serious detrimental effects on your chive.

It is very easy to kill your plant for fertilizer burning. You will see those long leaves getting brown, dry, and fall. Indeed, an excess of nitrogen will reduce the amount of water in the soil leaving behind an excess of salt. You can notice this by the presence of a cracky white layer on top of your potted herb soil. When this happens, your herb will dry out, the chives will grow slower, the leaves edges will get brown/yellow and curl down, dry, and start falling.

Moreover, herbs are like humans, in a sense. If you are forced to eat a massive amount of food, you might not be able to have a stake. The same applies to chives (herbs in general) and fertilizer. If they receive too much nitrogen, they will not be able to absorb the other nutrients that, although in smaller amounts, are still needed for healthy development.

What Can You Do if You Put Too Much Fertilizer?

If one-two week(s) after starting applying the fertilizer, you start noticing the typical signals of leave burning and salt deposit, then you know that the problem is the fertilizer. What can you do now?

In this case, you have two solutions:

  1. Limit the impact: remove the crust of salt from the top and the damaged leaves, they are only a burden for the herb. Of course, stop fertilizing so to allow the nitrogen to go away (through also watering), restoring the average nitrogen level in the soil and in the plant;
  2. Leaching the soil: this is literally a “soil shower”. An amount of water about 5 times the volume of soil is poured on the pott. Minerals take around 10 minutes to dissolve so apply the water slowly in the pot that must, of course, have drainage holes to let all the mineral reach water to flush away. This should be done only once a year.
  3. Transplant: essentially you remove the chives from their current pot, through the soil and use a new fresh one. Here a step-by-step process. However, if your plant is already seriously affected (are the majority of the leaves damaged?), then this might kill your chive. Indeed, the herb might not be able to withstand the transplant shock. The transplant helps as replaced the salt-saturated soil with a fresh one;
How to Leach Potted Plants

Alternative Fertilizers

The 24-8-16 fertilizer is undoubtedly the best match for your chives in case you are dealing with an unfertile soil (this is the case if your potting soil is older than 6 months or you performed some test as discussed in this guide and the results clearly indicated a lack of nutrients).

However, around, you can find other suggestions that might be worth considering. For instance, some might suggest using blood meal.

How to Fertilize Chives : The Chef's Garden

Without getting into much detail, blood meal is obtained by processing animal blood (cow commonly) by removing the liquid part of it and making a powder.

The N-P-K of such fertilizer is quite peculiar. Indeed, it is on the X-0-0 where X varies depending on the process adopted (in general 12-0-0). Hence, as a nutrient, it has only nitrogen in it. This can be ideal if your soil has another way to provide the missing nutrients. This might be the case for outside soil, as shown in the video below. However, for indoor potted chives, this is hardly ever the case. So providing only nitrogen, although it might help to stimulate growth, it is not suitable in the long run. Your chives also need potassium and phosphorus that cannot get naturally in a pot.

Moreover, blood meal is more suitable for outdoor indoor applications due to its strong smell that might stink your living room or kitchen. Such smell might be a problem also if you have a dog living with you. Indeed, as hunters, dogs are attracted by blood smell, potentially causing your furry friends to play (or better destroying) your potted chives.

Of course, you can find a countless number of fertilizer for your herbs. However, what you have to look at is always the N-P-K. Ask yourself, “Is this something close to the optimal 24-8-16? If it is too unbalanced (like banana peels, for instance, that are mainly potassium), probably that is not a good fertilizer. Or perhaps it is not the only one you should be applying, making the whole process more complicated).

The only case in which such specific fertilizers (that have just one nutrient) are useful is for soil that is lacking, exactly that specific nutrient. Hence, having a fertilizer that targets such a problem is a great idea. However, more commonly, many of us just have old potting soil that is devoured of any nutrients, and so a more balanced fertilizer is ideal.

Related Question

How often should you water your chives? There is not a unique answer as this depends on temperature, size of the container, and state of growth of the herb. However, the water should be enough to have the soil moist but not waterlogged.

How often should the fertilizer be applied? This information, with the appropriate dosage, is indicated in the label of the fertilizer. However, as a general rule of thumb once a week although twice a month might be a safer choice

Further Readings

6 Reasons For Your Droopy Chives (and Solutions)

What Are Those Black Bugs On Your Chives? No Time To Waste

The Fertilizer You Should Use For Your Indoor Basil


A young Italian guy with a passion for growing edible herbs. After moving to the UK 6 years ago in a tiny flat, it was impossible to grow herbs outside. So I start my journey in growing indoor and so I decided to share my knowledge.

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