How to Grow and Care for Lavenders

Introduction to Lavender

Prized for its colorful, scented blooms and aromatic foliage, lavender has been grown and enjoyed for millennia. This versatile plant has a multitude of uses. The cool-hued flowers are borne on tall, stiff stems, offering a stunning display in the garden and in flower arrangements. The dried flowers are a must-have in potpourri and sachets. In the kitchen, lavender adds a floral note to salads and baked goods. And lavender is a popular aromatherapy scent, reputed to soothe frazzled nerves and promote calm.

About Lavender

There are dozens of species of lavender (Lavendula spp.), most of which are semi-woody, shrubby perennials native to the Mediterranean region. The flowers produce abundant nectar, making them magnets for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. All lavenders require full sun and very well-drained soil. 

Several species are popular choices for home gardens. They vary in plant size and hardiness, as well as bloom color and shape. English lavender (L. angustifolia, aka common lavender) is the most cold-hardy species and is the one grown in the famous lavender fields of Provence. It grows 2' to 3' tall and blooms in early to mid summer. French lavender (L. dentata) grows 3' tall and blooms from early summer to fall. It lacks the familiar floral scent of English lavender. Spanish lavender (L. stoechas) grows 2' tall and blooms in mid spring to late summer. Flowers are topped by distinctive bracts. Portuguese lavender (L. latifolia) produces fragrant flowers on long stems from late spring to late summer. It's more tolerant of humidity than English lavender. Lavandin (L. x intermedia) is a showy, fragrant hybrid that offers the cold-hardiness of English lavender and the heat-tolerance of Portuguese lavender. It blooms in mid to late summer.

Growing Zones for Lavender

Cold hardiness varies among lavender species. In regions outside their hardiness range, lavenders can be grown in planters and moved to protected locations as needed. In addition to cold hardiness, summer humidity and overly moist soils are limiting factors in determining where lavender will thrive. 

English lavender (Lavendula angustifolia): USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8

French Lavender (L. dentata): USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10

Spanish lavender (L. stoechas): USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10Portuguese lavender (L. latifolia): USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9

Lavandin (L. x intermedia): USDA Hardiness Zones 5-10

Choosing a Site to Grow Lavender

True to their Mediterranean heritage, lavenders grow best in full sun and prefer light, well-drained soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. Test your soil pH and, if needed, add limestone to sweeten acidic soils. Raised beds are a good choice, especially if you have heavy soil, because you can fill them with the light, sandy soil the plants require. Lavender won't tolerate heavy clay or overly moist soil, especially in winter. If your conditions are less than ideal, you can also grow lavender as an annual, replanting each spring. Once established, lavender plants are relatively drought-tolerant. Bring the lush lavender fields of Provence to your landscape by grouping your plants in drifts to create a swath of color. Lavender also grows well in containers where you can enjoy the fragrant blooms up close. 

Planting Instructions for Lavender

Space plants at least 2' apart; avoid overcrowding, which limits air circulation and can lead to disease problems. The plants grow best in sandy soils with low fertility; you can add some compost at planting time but don't overdo it. In dry climates, a layer of organic mulch such as shredded bark helps conserve soil moisture. In regions with plenty of summer rainfall, skip the bark mulch to avoid root rot; instead, apply gravel mulch if desired.

Fertilizer for Lavender

Lavender likes lean soil and needs little or no supplemental feeding. A thin layer of compost applied beneath plants each spring is generally adequate.

Lavender Pests and Problems

When grown in ideal conditions, lavender plants are generally pest-free, and they are resistant to browsing by deer and rabbits. In overly wet soil or shady conditions, root rot can be a problem. 

Ongoing Care for Lavender

Besides a spring application of compost and occasional watering during dry spells, lavender needs little care. If your soil tends to be acidic, an annual application of limestone will keep the pH neutral. 

To harvest, cut the stems as soon as the first flower buds begin to open, secure them with a rubber band, and hang them up upside-down in a warm, dark place with good air circulation. 

To prepare plants for winter, prune the stems back in late summer and remove dead leaves around the base of the plant to promote air circulation. In ideal conditions, lavenders can live for many years; however, in most home gardens the plants may need replacing every few years.

Some popular Lavenders photos:
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