How to Grow Lavender
Growing lavender in a home garden has several benefits. Lavender is a perennial bushy plant native to the Mediterranean and is beautiful to look at with its upright spikes of flowers that have a rich purple (or lavender) color; its green to gray foliage looks fresh all through the year.
Thus, it can be grown on the edges, fences, borders, informal hedges or anywhere in the garden to add beauty. Not only lavender has a stunning color and beauty, but also has an enchanting fragrance.
Published: December 20, 2019.
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Lavender has medicinal properties too and it can be used for culinary purposes as well. Plus, it can be used in floral arrangements, potpourri and sachets. Lavender oil is an essential oil and is used for its soothing effect and inducing sleep. It’s also good for comforting insect bites and repelling insects. All in all, lavender has a power to make a garden look beautiful, fragrant and relaxing.
Variations in Blooming Seasons, Colors etc.
Although all lavender varieties are native to the Mediterranean, they show a vast difference in bloom times, flower forms, sizes and colors. Bloom times can differ vastly between various locations only about 20 miles away from each other.
Not all lavenders are purple (lavender). Especially certain hybrids show stunning pastel hues like pale pink, violet blue, white, rose and even sometimes yellow.
Even leaves can differ in color and shape. To extend the color palette and bloom season, one can consider planting various varieties.
Lavender is a robust, reliable woody perennial that lasts for many years if grown in the right conditions. Being originated in the Mediterranean, lavender loves dry soil and blazing hot sun. If one’s lavender is not thriving, it’s most probably due to too much shade, overwatering and high humidity.
English lavenders and their hybrids are best for cooler climates, because they are cold hardy. But they will thrive best in a sheltered spot with winter protection, whereas French and Spanish lavenders being more tolerant to humid conditions are best for southern gardens in highly hot, moist climates, but should be planted apart from each other for good air circulation.
If one experiences too harsh winters or has dense and heavy soil, they should consider growing lavender in containers. These will thrive as long as they are planted in a high-quality potting mix having good drainage and receive minimum 8 hours of direct sunlight every day. The containers should be brought inside in winters and placed near a sunny window.
It’s easy and rewarding to grow lavender. It can be grown in garden beds or in containers. For growing lavender successfully, full sun and well-drained soil are needed. Lavender grows well as a perennial in arid climates, whereas it grows as an annual in humid climates.
When to Plant
Lavender should ideally be planted in the spring since the soil is warming up. But it can also be planted in fall; but then bigger plants should be used to ensure survival over the winter.
For planting, healthy lavenders should be chosen. If it’s not possible to plant them immediately, they should be watered after bringing them home. Then a location should be selected that will receive full sun. Then the plants should be planted.
Lavender plants reach a height from 1 to 3 feet. They should be planted at least 2-3 feet apart from each other. Soil can be poor or moderately fertile with good drainage. If it is heavy or clay, some organic matter, sand or gravel should be added to improve drainage. Avoid applying moisture-holding organic mulches. The area should not be wet or moist.
Checking Soil pH
If one’s soil is too acidic, lavenders won’t grow successfully. They will look good initially; but within a few years, plants will start dying randomly. pH can be checked from some hardware stores for free and some universities at quite low charge. Acidic soil can be amended with lime to accommodate the lavender plants better.
Lavender should be given a long soak to encourage root growth. Short and repeated watering cycles can lead to unhealthy roots that may rot.
Taking Care of Lavender Plants
Once established, lavender requires low maintenance and minimal watering or pruning.
Mulching: To keep weeds at bay or to a minimum, mulch (pea or rock gravel work especially well) should be added. But it should be kept away from the crown of the plant.
Watering: Plants should be watered once or twice a week after planting until they are established. Mature plants should be watered every two to three weeks till the formation of buds and then once or twice a week until harvest.
Cold Areas: If the grower lives in a cold area, plants should be covered with a winter mulch of straw or evergreen boughs. While growing indoors over winter, pot should be placed in south-facing window where it can get maximum sunlight.
Pruning: Established plants (from the second year of planting) should be pruned in the spring when green leaves start appearing on the base of the plant. A clean, sharp set of pruning shears should be used for this.
The blades should be wiped with rubbing alcohol or bleach to remove all potentially harmful germs. Around one third of the top should be removed. If the stems look woody as the plant matures, it should be pruned back to about half its height in the spring so that fresh new growth and hardy flowering will be promoted.
Plants that are not pruned tend to amass, leaving a hole in the center. In the summer, faded blooms should be clipped to induce repeat blooms all through the season.
What if Lavenders Become Leggy?
All lavenders need to be pruned once a year in order to keep them low and full. If they are not pruned for around a year, renovation should be started the coming spring, when plants will start re-growing.
First, branches should be brushed with fingers to remove any dead leaves. Then, the old gray stems should be shortened to within a few inches of the base. If green buds are seen sprouting close to the base of an unpruned stem, a quarter-inch above the bud should be cut. This type of thinning will allow more light, awakening buds that are low on the rest of the old stems. When green buds appear at the base of these stems, the old wood should be cut back to the lowest bud.
By early summer, all the old stems will be shortened to a few inches above the base. In midsummer, plants should be shaped with hand pruners or hedge clipper into a symmetrical mound. Next year, there will be bushy lavender which will have to be pruned only once.
In Zone 7 and northward, such annual pruning should be done in early spring or in midsummer, just after heavy flowering, whereas in milder climates, pruning should be done after the summer bloom.
Growing Lavender in Pots
Lavender is coveted by almost every gardener. But unfortunately, not everyone lives in a climate that resembles the hot and sandy Mediterranean home of lavender. So, if the grower’s winter is too cold or soil is too dense, growing lavender in pots is a wonderful solution.
Lavender can be grown in a pot from cuttings or seeds.
Growing Lavender from Seeds or Cuttings
Growing lavender from seeds or cutting both have their own advantages. If the grower already has lavender plants or knows someone who does, growing from cuttings is a quick method to get lavender plants that resemble the parent plant.
From Cuttings/Propagating Lavender
Softwood or hardwood cuttings can be used for starting lavender. Softwood cuttings are taken from the tender, pliable tips of new growth, while hardwood is thicker than softwood and won’t bend.
The best kind of cutting depends on the kind of lavender and the time of the year. Spring is the season for plentiful of softwood cuttings. They root fast but are not as dependable as hardwood cuttings. Hardwood cuttings can be taken in spring or fall.
Some kinds of lavender bloom generously, making it difficult to get a blossom-less stem when the wood is soft. Blossoms drains the energy of the plant and it’s unlikely that a stem will have the ability to form good roots if it’s making efforts to bloom. Such freely blooming plants are best rooted from hardwood cuttings.
Irrespective of the type of cutting, always healthy, vigorous and straight stems should be taken for rooting. They should have good color and no buds. A sharp knife should be used and cutting should be 3 to 4 inches long. Hardwood stems should be cut just below a bump that shows a leaf node.
All the leaves from the lower 2 inches of the stem should be removed and the skin should be gently scraped off the bottom section of the stem on one side using a knife. These cuttings should be set aside while preparing the container.
A small pot should be filled with a homemade mix of half perlite or vermiculite and half peat moss, or commercial starting medium with a little bark added to help drainage. The stripped tip of the cutting should be dipped in rooting hormone, if desired. Rooting hormone is meant to encourage fast, strong root development, but lavender roots well even without it.
The lower end of the cutting should be stuck about two inches in the soil and the soil should be firmed so that the cutting stands erect. To create a greenhouse-like effect for the cuttings, a plastic cover can be used.
While softwood cuttings root in 2 to 4 weeks, hardwood cuttings take slightly longer. By giving a gentle tug, it can be checked if the stems have roots. If resistance is felt, roots are present. Several days should be allowed between tugs because the tender young roots can be damaged by frequent tugging. Once the cutting has roots, the plastic bag can be removed.
Now the plant can be transferred in a sunny spot and watered when the soil is dry about an inch below the surface.
The plant should be fed with one-quarter strength liquid plant fertilizer once a week. If the plant is to be kept in a pot for more than 2-3 weeks, it should be transplanted into a larger pot with regular potting soil that drains well. Commercial potting soils have ample nutrients to maintain the plant without feeding supplements.
If the grower doesn’t already have a lavender plant, they can plant lavender seeds which is actually an excellent way to grow a lot of lavender inexpensively. Previously, seeds from the same packet would usually yield plants of different heights and strengths; but today, the grower can expect plants that look much similar to each other.
Lavender seeds should be bought from reputable sellers online or offline.
Seeds should be planted at a warm location (around 70 degrees) in a seed tray with a fine vermiculite or light soil mix that drains quickly.
The seeds will sprout in around a couple of weeks. At this time, the seedlings should be placed in full sunlight. They should be watered but not to let them stay damp since this can encourage mildew growth. When the plants have leaves, they can be planted in their final pots.
Personally, if you need only few lavender plants, go to your local garden center and get yourself few lavender plants intended for your climate zone.
Choosing the Right Pot
The pot should be chosen carefully before lavender seedlings are transplanted or cuttings are planted. The container should be made from a breathable material like terra cotta. Plants should be repotted to a larger container every spring to let it reach its full growth and blooming potential.
The pot should be loaded with a sterile potting mix or the following potting mix can be tried: around 60% peat moss and 40% perlite should be mixed with a couple of handfuls of homemade compost added. If compost is not added while potting, the plant should be fertilized every three weeks or so with diluted seaweed or fish emulsion.
Once the lavender is settled in its final location, it’s likely to grow slowly in the first year, but most plants will bloom. Higher growth and larger blooms can be expected from year two and beyond.
What Diseases and Pests can Affect Lavender?
Lavender can be affected by fungal diseases in humid climates and root rot because of excess water - lavender don't like 'wet feet'! So, dryness should be maintained.
Harvest and Storage
Lavender stems should be harvested when around half of the flower buds have opened. This should be done in morning hours when oil concentration is at its peak. Stems should be cut as long as possible and gathered into bundles and secured with a rubber band.
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Then the bundles should be placed to dry out in a cool, dark place with a good air circulation.
The dried out lavender can be used to make lavender sachets or can be added to dishes like lavender shortbread cookies, lavender scones and honey-lavender syrup.
Which Varieties Should be Planted?
Four varieties of lavender are considered the best to plant.
English lavender or Lavandula angustifolia is hardy to zones 5 to 8 and blooms from June to August. It grows up to 2 to 3 feet and flower colors range from lavender and deep blue-purple to white to pink. It usually blooms twice in one season.
The plant has originated in the Mediterranean, still has got its name because it thrives best in the cooler climate of England and has long been a major component of English herb gardens. This is one of the most winter-hardy varieties and the best for culinary use due to its low camphor content.
French lavender’s botanical name is L. dentata and it’s hardy to zones 8 to 11. Its blooming time is from earlysummer to fall and it grows up to 36 inches or even taller. Flower color is light purple.
This is basically a showy variety known also as fringed lavender with finely-toothed narrow leaves and compact flower heads crowned by purple bracts. Although the flowers of this variety have less aroma than the English lavender, it fresh leaves are more fragrant.
Spanish lavender or L. stoechas is hardy to zones 8 to 11 and its blooming time is mid to late summer. It grows up to a height of 18 to 24 inches and has deep purple flowers.
Spanish lavender is especially prized for its unique pineapple-shaped blooms with colorful bracts or “bunny ears” that shoot from each flower spike. While the flowers are not particularly fragrant, the light green leaves are very much fragrant.
Lavandin or L. intermedia is hardy to zones 5 to 11 and blooms from mid to late September. Its height can be up to 2 to 2 ½ feet and it has dark violet or white flowers. This popular hybrid has the cold-hardiness of English lavender and heat tolerance of Portuguese lavender (L. latifolia). It usually begins blooming a few weeks after most English lavenders and has long spikes of extremely fragrant flowers. It’s not considered edible due to its high camphor content, but its flowers and leaves are usually added to potpourris and sachets.
Popular varieties are “Phenomenal” which is vigorous with long flower spikes and is highly resistant to common foliar and root diseases and tolerant to heat and humidity, and “Provence” which is also a vigorous, extremely fragrant and long-stemmed variety.
Lavender may be easily grown in any backyard, house, patio, lawn, etc. and anyone can enjoy its beauty, fragrance, flavor and, of course, its medicinal properties to the fullest.
Green lawn, few lavender bushes, gentle breeze ... Perfection :)