Herbs on the Balcony

Herbs on the Balcony

Herbs are perfect for balcony gardening. They’re easy to grow, many smell quite nice, and they provide ready-to-use flavours for your meals; just harvest them right out of the containers. The selection is almost unlimited; there’s mint, chives, basil, summer savoury, dill, lemon balm, coriander, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme... the list goes on and on. There are a few important things to remember before cultivating herbs. For instance, most of them are quite
vigorous—especially mint, chives, and summer savoury. Because of this, I always keep each variety in its own container. Herbs should be grown in very clean soils with good drainage; high-quality potting soil is best. For basil, I recommend a soil-less mixture; there are fewer problems with disease when basil is grown in this medium. Basil is prone to a stem rot
that garden soils can encourage; clean soil can help prevent this occurrence.

To get the best herbs, I fertilize them with 20-20-20 once every two weeks. Of course, I keep my watering consistent to promote strong, even growth and to inhibit disease. Adding rich compost to the soil gives herbs (except basil!) a real boost, as well.

I always harvest soft new growth to promote branching in the plants, and produces a greater overall yield. When winter arrives, you can bring the smaller herbs like bay, basil, savory, chives, parsley, sweet marjoram, tarragon and sage indoors for year-round production. Just make sure that they receive at least 5 hours of direct sunlight per day (you will probably have to use grow lights in the dead of winter). Indoor herbs will be smaller than those grown outside, but they are still quite tasty and well worth cultivating. With containers full of fresh herbs at your disposal, you’ll have a blast preparing meals with an extra bit of dash.

Favourite Herbs: Chives


Allium schoenoprasum

Hardy perennial

Height 20 to 60 cm; spread 30 to 40 cm.

Grows in clumps of long, cylindrical, hollow leaves, with globe-shaped clusters of pale-purple to pink flowers atop tall, slender stalks.

Try these!

Allium schoenoprasum (common chives)

Allium schoenoprasum ‘Grolau’ (windowsill chives)

Allium tuberosum (garlic chives/Japanese chives): flat-leaved variety from Japan




As you must with all perennials, choose your location carefully, because chives come back year after year; however, they are not invasive. Although chives can be started from seed, most people start with clumps of young plants purchased from a garden centre or split the roots from an established plant.

How much: One clump (six to ten bulbs).

When: As soon as the ground can be worked; very tolerant of cold and frost.

Where: Partial sun to shade. Prefers rich, well-drained soil. Space clumps 30 to 45 cm apart.

Care and Nurture

Chives are easy to grow! For large, mild chives, water often; for smaller, more intensely flavoured chives, don't water as frequently. (Newly planted clumps need to be watered regularly.) Divide old clumps or plant in a new spot in your garden every 3 years to prevent crowding and maintain plant vigour.


Harvest chives throughout the growing season, using clean scissors.

For best flavour: Harvest mid-morning, after the dew has evaporated and before the day gets too hot.

Leaves: Harvest as needed by trimming individual leaves a few centimetres above the ground.

Flowers: Harvest when fully open but before the colours begin to fade. Cut growing stem a few centimetres above the ground; clip flower head and discard stem.

Preserving the Harvest

Chives are best used fresh and are fairly easy to grow indoors if you want a year-round supply of fresh chives. Chives are best preserved by freezing, either whole or chopped. Chives do not retain their flavour well when dried in the home.


  • To keep fresh chives available through winter, here’s a trick you may want to try. In late summer, take a clump of chives and transplant them into a good-sized pot. Sink the container into the ground; then remove after the first hard frost has killed the tops. Trim the dead material and keep the pot in a cool spot in your house (such as a cold room) for about 3 months. After this necessary period of dormancy, place the container on a sunny windowsill and keep it watered. New growth should appear in a few weeks. Harvest as needed.

  • Many people ask me "what's the difference between chives and green onions? Can I use them the same way?" While both plants are members of the Allium family, chives lack the fleshy, bulbous base of green onions (or other onions, for that matter). The flavour of chives is also subtler than that of green onions.

To Note: 

  • Chives make a great perennial border. The blossoms can also be used as cut flowers. Chives attract bees.
  • The juice of chives is used as an insect repellant.
  • Chives were recorded in Chinese literature 4000 years ago and were eaten by Marco Polo on his journeys to the Far East. In Europe, chives were not generally appreciated and widely cultivated until the Middle Ages.
  • Many Romanian gypsies believe that hanging chives from bedposts or the ceiling will ward off evil spirits.