Sequim, Washington is the self-proclaimed Lavender Capitol of North America. Its mild, dry climate makes it the perfect spot to grow hundreds of varieties of this fragrant and colorful perennial. Small growers are taking advantage of the upsurge in popularity of lavender to establish successful market gardens.
Planting and Growing Lavender
Lavender grows best in well-drained sandy loam, but it can grow in less fertile gravelly ground. Your plants need excellent drainage in order avoid root rot. You will, however, need to water young plants at least until they establish themselves
Except in cold climates (where spring planting is better), it’s best to plant lavender in the fall, which gives the plants time to establish good root systems before the hot summer. The spacing between plants depends on the varieties and how the crop will be used–typically from one to three feet apart.
Lavender is not a heavy feeder, so it may not require any more nutrients than a good soil will provide. The only way to know for sure if extra nutrients are needed, particularly nitrogen, is to do a soil test. Too much fertilizer will reduce both the yield and quality of the crop.
Mulching helps control weeds, but if it’s too deep it could keep the soil too wet and promote root rot. Sequim growers use oyster shells, which control weeds and reflect light up to the plants, encouraging growth.
Lavender plants need pruning, starting soon after they are planted. Remove the flower stems and topmost buds for the first year or two after planting. After that, cut back about one-third of the gray leaf stems every year after flowering. Use clean and sharp cutting tools to help prevent the spread of disease.
Lavender Pests and Diseases
Spread by aphids, Alfalfa Mosaic Virus (AMV) is a common lavender disease. It won’t kill the plants, but it will reduce yields. Bright yellow patches appear on leaves and shoots, which may become twisted. The best way to limit AMV is to remove infested plants and burn them immediately.
As mentioned earlier, root rot can damage lavender grown in wet soils. Planting in well-drained soils is the best way to prevent root rot.
Start harvesting lavender when the flowers become vivid in color. Harvest early in the morning after the dew has dried. Harvested lavender has many uses; you can make fresh or dried arrangements or wreaths, or process it to use in soaps, candles, and cosmetics.
Propagation by cuttings results in uniform plants, and is the most common commercial method.
Common Questions and Answers About Lavender
by Erin Marissa Russell
Can I cut lavender back to the ground?
Under certain circumstances, some plants (like flowering perennials) benefit from being cut all the way back to the ground, but lavender is not one of those plants. You’ll need to prune English lavender annually to keep it from getting floppy with lots of bedraggled woody growth. However, you shouldn’t be removing more than between a third and half of the lavender plant’s foliage in any single pruning session. Prune just after blossoms have faded, in early to middle summer. Some gardeners prefer to prune twice a year, also cutting their lavender back as spring begins.
Can I root lavender in water?
Yes, one way to propagate lavender is to root a cutting in water. Though this method is less work than other ways to propagate, some gardeners experience a lower success rate with cuttings rooted in water than with cuttings planted directly in soil. Whichever you choose, there are a few guidelines to follow when you’re taking a cutting to propagate new lavender plants.
Use tools that have been sterilized with one teaspoon of bleach diluted in two cups of water. Choose branches that haven’t yet flowered from a mature, well-established lavender plant when you’re selecting a cutting. The cutting should have three to five leaf nodes and also have several inches of greenery at the top. Cut cleanly, as near to the base of the stem as you can. If your cutting is flowering at the tip, trim off the flowering area. Strip the bottom three to five sets of leaves from the cutting. New roots will emerge from the spots where you’ve removed foliage. The longer the cutting you start with, the more stem you’ll be able to strip of foliage and plant. And with added surface area under the ground, the chance increases that your lavender cutting will grow a strong, healthy root system. Now your cuttings are ready to either be placed in a container of water or planted with some soil so they can root. If you choose to propagate in water, watch for the root system to develop. Once it does (in about three to six weeks), you’re ready to plant your cutting.
Before planting, treat the bottom end of your lavender cutting with rooting hormone. Fill the container you’ll use with a seed starting mix or well-drainng potting soil containing perlite and vermiculite. Poke a hole in the soil with your finger to place the cutting into, then firm the soil around the cutting with your hands to keep it in place. Bury as much of the cutting as you’ve stripped of leaves. For the next several weeks as your lavender grows roots, you might consider misting it occasionally or propping a plastic bag upside down over the container where it grows to create a mini greenhouse effect, increase humidity, and keep soil moist.
Can I split a lavender plant?
Lavender plants cannot be propagated by splitting or division because it is a woody shrub. Splitting will kill the lavender plant. You can propagate lavender by collecting its seeds or by taking a cutting and rooting it in soil or water, or if your lavender plant has overgrown its bounds, you can prune in early spring or after its blooms have faded.
Can lavender be grown indoors?
Yes, lavender can be grown indoors as a houseplant. Find your lavender a spot away from any drafts and near a south-facing window where it will get plenty of sunlight—at least eight hours per day. Your lavender plant will likely be too large to sit on a windowsill, so you can use a small table, plant stand, or stool to raise the lavender up to catch more rays.
Make sure your lavender gets a container that has plenty of drainage holes and fits your plant. You want the container to be an inch or two wider than the rootball of your plant. The soil you use should be light and well-draining, containing vermiculite and perlite. Lavender doesn’t mind a bit of alkalinity, so you can mix in a tablespoon of lime when you set up and add ground eggshells to the top of soil each month.
Water right after planting, and then only when the soil is dry to a depth of one inch. You can check the moisture level by sticking your finger into the soil near your lavender plant. If soil clings to your skin, it’s still moist. Allow the soil to dry well between waterings, especially during lavender’s dormant season in the winter.
Can you harvest lavender after it has bloomed?
If you’re harvesting lavender to cook with it or to dry the stems, the best time to take your cuttings is when only a couple of the blooms have opened. Catching the flowers this early will make the stem color more vibrant and keep the buds from falling off as the plant dries. If you harvest early enough in spring or the beginning of summer, you’re likely to get a second bloom—and along with it, a second harvest. Take cuttings to harvest lavender in the morning after any dew has dried but before the sun has warmed up, as the heat will have already begun to release the lavender’s essential oils.
Do you deadhead lavender?
You should inspect your lavender for spent blossoms and deadhead the plant by removing them on a regular basis during lavender’s blooming season. Deadheading your lavender plant helps it to keep blooming longer and also encourages fuller, more compact growth. If you plan to harvest just the flowers (to use in potpourri, for example) you can remove the buds as soon as they start to show a lavender hue. If you harvest the flowers this way, you won’t need to deadhead your lavender plant.
Does lavender die in the winter?
As a perennial plant, lavender stays alive through the winter in the zones where it is hardy (5 to 9, or for Spanish and French lavender varieties, 8 to 9). If your lavender plant isn’t winter hardy in your growing zone, you should bring it indoors for the winter to ensure its survival. You can help your lavender make it through the winter by giving it a protective layer of shredded leaves or straw. If it will get below freezing in your area, you can give your lavender plants even more protection by covering them with evergreen tree boughs after the first frost has come. The boughs will shelter your lavender from winter’s icy winds and reduce the impact of the freeze-thaw cycle. If your lavender is in a container, you can bury the container in the ground so the soil won’t freeze quite as quickly and easily.
Although it doesn’t die over the winter when grown in an appropriate zone, lavender does go through a dormancy period from September to April. It won’t do a lot of growing during this time and requires less water to survive than it needs the rest of the year. Some gardeners may get enough rain to sustain outdoor lavender and won’t have to water at all during winter. Plants should not be fertilized during their dormancy. You can learn more about dormancy in plants in our article “Dormant Plants: Your Top Questions, and Answers.”
Does lavender keep bugs away?
Lavender does keep some bugs away, but it entices others to spend time in your garden. The good news is that the bugs lavender keeps away tend to be ones people would rather avoid, while the bugs lavender reels in are beneficial pollinators. Lavender’s strong scent repels fleas, flies, mosquitoes, moths, and spiders. Planting lavender in your garden will help to attract butterflies and bees. In fact, it’s one of the plants that bees find most attractive.
Does lavender need feeding?
Lavender plants don’t require much in the way of fertilizer or supplements. Gardeners can add potash around the base of lavender plants to encourage blooming and make flowers more vivid. Feeding with manure or a high-nitrogen fertilizer can have a negative affect on lavender plants, making them floppy and sappy.
Does lavender spread quickly?
Lavender plants aren’t known for spreading. A single plant can reach an average size of 20 to 24 inches tall by 20 to 24 inches wide.
How do I prepare my soil for lavender?
You want to ensure the soil you use for lavender is well-draining, as like most plants, lavender doesn’t do well in soggy soil. Conditions that are too wet can lead to root rot. Adding builder’s sand to the soil will help improve its drainage, as will situating lavender plants on top of a small mound in the garden bed. Lavender also prefers soil to be slightly alkaline, with a pH level between 6.7 and 7.3. If you aren’t sure of the pH level of your soil, you can learn how to test soil pH in this Gardening Channel article. Adding compost or lime can help make soil more alkaline if needed.
How do I take cuttings from lavender?
You can choose between taking softwood cuttings from your lavender plant in springtime, which root quickly but have a lower success rate than hardwood, or you can take hardwood cuttings either in spring or fall. The tools you use to take cuttings should be sanitized with a teaspoon of bleach diluted in two cups of water. When selecting a cutting, choose healthy stems with vivid coloring that don’t have flower buds on them. Make your cut just below the bump on the plant’s stem that indicates a leaf node. Strip leaves from the bottom two inches of your cutting, then use a clean, sterilized knife to scrape the bark, or skin, from the bottom two inches as well. Plant your cutting either in seed starting mix or in a combination of half peat moss and half perlite or vermiculite. You may wish to treat the bottom end of your cutting with rooting hormone before planting. Cover the container with plastic, such as propping open a plastic sandwich bag over the container, to keep things moist. Softwood cuttings will have developed roots in two to four weeks, while hardwood cuttings take a bit longer.
How do you prune woody lavender?
Pruning a woody lavender plant can help revitalize it, encouraging more frequent blooms. First, sterilize the tool you’ll use in pruning in a teaspoon of bleach diluted in two cups of water. Don’t prune away too much at once. The plant should have green foliage remaining when you’re done. Also don’t worry about removing the brown woody parts until they’re dead, as once a branch has gone woody, it won’t produce new growth even if it’s pruned. Trim branches back by one third or one half. It’s a good idea to trim lavender twice a year, once in February or March and once in September after flowering.
How do you stop lavender going woody?
You can stop your lavender plants from turning woody by planting lavender in a location where it will thrive: one with good drainage. The most optimal spot for a lavender plant is a slope with well-draining, rocky soil. Lavender should also only receive light fertilizer in its first year. After that point, you do not need to fertilize lavender, and doing so may cause more woodiness.
How do you take care of lavender plants in the winter?
To help lavender plants make it through the winter, ensure that they’re planted in soil that drains well. You can help improve the soil’s drainage by digging up the plants, adding sand to the soil, then replanting to replace the plants. Mulch with a two-inch layer of sand or fine gravel to help hold in warmth and filter winter rains. Stop watering lavender plants as winter approaches; they’ll get all they need from rainfall, since they don’t require as much hydration in the winter. If your lavender plants don’t go dormant and instead continue to produce flowers during the winter, continue to harvest as you did in other seasons. Especially cold weather or heavy rains that continue for a long time may require bringing your lavender plants indoors (or to an unheated patio, shed, or otber location). If you don’t have time to move lavender inside during freezes or significant rainfall, you can cover the plants with a blanket to afford them some protection.
How long do lavender plants live?
Lavender can live up to 15 years if it’s cared for properly.
How long does it take to grow lavender?
When you begin by sowing lavender seeds, it can take between 90 and 200 days for lavender to grow to maturity.
How many times a year does lavender bloom?
The different varieties of lavender have different blooming periods, and a particular lavender plant may not flower as much or as long as others like it do for a variety of reasons. However, Spanish lavender is capable of flowering up to three times a year. English lavender blooms in summer and may bloom again if flowers are harvested in a timely fashion.
How often should lavender be watered?
Lavender should be watered whenever the soil begins to dry out, but not kept soggy, as that can lead to root rot or kill the plant. Especially in the first three months of growth, before lavender is well established, check it every two or three days to see whether it needs water.
Is lavender a sun or shade plant?
Some varieties of lavender perform well in sunny spots, while others may prefer sun but can still handle some shade. Full sun is the default. Shade-tolerant varieties include English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), French lavender (Lavandula dentata), French lace lavender (Lavandula multifida), and Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas). All these types can handle some shade but do need to get sun in part of the day in order to grow well. Dappled shade is a better bet than full shade for growing lavender plants.
What is the difference between English lavender and French lavender?
There are several things that English and French lavender vary on. English lavender is hardier than French, which can only handle up to Zone 8. French lavender can grow larger, up to three feet, while English caps off around two feet. French lavender’s blooms last longer, while English lavender produces the recognizable strong scent (French lavender’s scent is lighter).
What is the hardiest lavender?
English lavender varieties tend to be more hardy than French and Spanish varieties, with the “Munstead” cultivar having the most cold hardiness.
Want to Learn More About Lavender?
Lavender is such a delightful and useful plant, there’s a lot more to say about it. Here are three interesting websites you might enjoy.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac covers How to Care for Lavender in Winter
The Seattle Times covers Transplanting Lavender in the Home Garden
Southern Living covers How to Harvest Lavender
Colorado State has great information about Growing Lavender in Containers.
Here’s a great PDF file if you’re interested in Growing and Marketing Lavender commercially.