Lavender Growing Guide

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Lavender is a wonderfully fragrant and versatile herb that can be grown for its ornamental beauty and numerous culinary and medicinal uses. With its visually striking flowers and aromatic foliage, lavender makes a beautiful addition to gardens, containers, and landscapes. Though relatively easy to grow, lavender does require proper care and conditions to thrive. This comprehensive guide to how to grow lavender provides tips and instructions for successfully cultivating lavender in your own garden.

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Choosing the Right Lavender Variety

With over 400 different lavender varieties, selecting the right one for your climate and growing conditions is key. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and French lavender (Lavandula dentata) are two of the most popular types.

  • English lavender features attractive grey-green foliage and tall flower spikes. It is winter hardy to zone 5 and does best in full sun and well-drained soil. Popular English lavender cultivars include ‘Munstead,’ ‘Hidcote,’ and ‘Maillette.’
  • French lavender is more compact with shorter, bushy foliage and a mounded shape. It thrives in zones 7-9 in hot, sunny climates with minimal winter chill. Some recommended French lavender varieties are ‘Grosso’ and ‘Provence.’

Preparing Your Garden for Lavender

Lavender thrives in well-drained, sandy or gravelly soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. Heavy, compacted clay soils can cause root rot, so it’s important to prepare the planting site properly.

  • Improve drainage in dense clay soils by mixing in 2-3 inches of coarse sand or small gravel.
  • Build raised beds for improved drainage or plant on slopes and mounds to prevent water-logging.
  • Ensure the planting site receives full sun for at least 6-8 hours daily. Morning sun is essential.
  • Space plants 2-3 feet apart for good air circulation and sun exposure.

Planting Lavender

Lavender can be planted in spring or fall, depending on climate. Fall planting gives roots a chance to establish before summer.

  • Spring planting should occur after the last frost date. Fall planting should take place 6-8 weeks before the first expected frost.
  • Dig holes the same depth and width as the pot or root ball. Place the plant in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the ground.
  • Backfill the hole with native soil, firming the ground gently around the plant. Do not bury the base of the stems.
  • Water thoroughly after planting and add 2-3 inches of mulch around plants to retain moisture and reduce weeds.

Lavender Care and Maintenance

With proper care, lavender can live for over 10 years. Routine maintenance will keep plants looking their best.

  • Water lavender deeply once weekly during the first year, aiming for 1-2 inches of water. Established plants only need infrequent watering.
  • Prune plants by 1/3 after flowering to promote bushy growth. Cut back flower stems to where they meet green foliage. See our guide: How to Prune Lavender Correctly
  • Apply slow-release granular fertilizer in spring as new growth emerges. Excess nitrogen can cause leggy growth.
  • Weed carefully around lavender, taking care not to disturb shallow roots. Mulch helps suppress weeds.
  • Protect plants from strong winds, which can damage branches. Shelter lavender or stake tall varieties.
  • In zone 5 and below, insulate base of plants with gravel mulch before winter.

Harvesting and Using Lavender

One of the joys of growing lavender is harvesting it for various uses. Harvest when flowers are fully open for optimal fragrance and oil content.

  • Cut flower stalks with pruning shears, leaving some buds unopened for later harvests.
  • Bundle stems together and hang upside down in a warm, dry area to dry. Freeze or crumble dried flowers for potpourri.
  • Add fresh or dried lavender to teas, baked goods, syrups, and liqueurs. The flowers and leaves lend a subtle floral flavour.
  • Simmer buds and leaves in olive oil to infuse the oil with lavender essence. Use for cooking, massage oil, or bath oil.
  • Distill lavender flowers to extract the essential oil for use in aromatherapy, perfumes, and natural products.

FAQs – How to Grow Lavender

Q. What are the most common pests and diseases affecting lavender?

Aphids, mites, and whitefly can sometimes plague lavender. Good cultural practices like proper pruning and watering helps prevent infestations. Fungal diseases like root rot are often caused by excessive soil moisture. Improve drainage and allow soil to dry between waterings.

Q. How can I propagate new lavender plants?

Take 6-8 inch cuttings from non-flowering shoots in summer. Dip cut end in rooting hormone then plant in potting mix. Keep cuttings moist and sheltered while roots develop. Mound layering by pinning low branches covered with soil also works well.

Q. Does lavender need winter protection?

In zone 5 and below, insulate the base of plants with mulch before winter. Gravel helps prevent frost heaving and damage. Avoid excessive mulch which can cause crown rot. Prune off dead growth in spring after new shoots emerge. Shelter from harsh winds.

Q. When is the best time to harvest lavender?

Harvest lavender flowers when they first open for maximum essential oil content and fragrance. The ideal time is mid to late morning after dew dries. Cut flower stalks leaving some unopened buds for later harvests.

Q. How long does lavender last when dried?

Properly dried and stored, lavender will retain its scent and colour for 1-3 years. Keep in cool, dark places in airtight containers. For best quality, use dried lavender within 12 months and replace old potpourri annually.

Growing your own lavender is an enjoyable and rewarding endeavour. With its beautiful flowers and soothing fragrance, this versatile herb is a wonderful addition to any garden. Follow these tips and enjoy lavender’s beauty for years to come.

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