Lavender (genus Lavandula) is a classic flowering garden plant/herb because it’s easy to grow and has many different uses. Lavender can be used for beautifying the garden, soap making, medical applications, plus it’s edible. The spikes of purple flowers also attract pollinators to your garden such as bees and butterflies, and fills the air with a lovely fragrance. Whether planted in pots, or grown as hedges, lavender is an excellent herb for both beginner and serious gardener alike.
Use these tips for growing and using lavender in your home garden so you can enjoy the multitude of benefits this perennial classic has to offer.
Lavender grows best in full sun (6-8 hours per day) and well-draining soil, but the plant is quite hardy and can adapt to less than ideal growing conditions. That said, you should avoid soil that can get saturated for any substantial length of time (especially during the colder months), such as clayey or clay-loam soil. The plant will grow equally well in containers or planted in-ground.
How to Plant Lavender
Generally speaking, lavender is propagated from cuttings taken from a mother plant rather than planted from seed, so that the new plants are identical to the parent plants. But they can certainly be grown from seed. Certainly, growing lavender via seed is cheaper. In previous years, lavender seeds were inconsistent in growth; some seeds grew well, others did not. But nowadays, lavender seeds are mostly of good stock.
Lavender prefers slightly alkaline soil (pH 6-8). If you are planting lavender from seed, till the soil to 8-10 inches deep and work in 2 inches of compost. Sow seeds directly into the prepared soil in early spring when all danger of frost has passed. February to July is the optimal time for sowing them. Cover the seeds with a 1/2 inch layer of compost and water well. Depending on the daily temperature, seeds will germinate in about 14 days, but sometimes germination can take nearly a month – one of the challenges of growing lavender from seed.
Lavender seeds can also be sown and grown indoors initially, and then transplanted outdoors. If grown indoors, sow the seeds on the surface of prepared moist seed compost. Cover the seeds lightly. Keep the temperature at 21-25°C; a greenhouse can definitely work for this. The seed compost should be kept moist yet exposed to generous sunlight to help with the seed germination. When the seedlings are larger, gradually acclimatize them outdoors or move them to containers until they are established.
For planting cuttings in pots, choose a container that allows room for your lavender to grow. Anything over a foot wide in diameter with a hole in the bottom should be adequate. Small stones at the base of the pot helps with drainage.
Sandy potting mix that is slightly alkaline is perfect for lavender. Fill the pot ¾ full and plant your lavender so that an inch of the crown sticks out from the soil. Add mulch over the soil surface if desired. Place the pot in a sunny spot that is shielded from strong wind.
Types of Lavender
- English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most common/popular species and is hardy in almost every growing zone. English lavender will reach a mature height of 12-18 inches with spikes of fragrant purple flowers. This type is easy to dry and used in fragrant sachets, perfumes, and bath oils, plus the flower petals are used to flavor jams, ice cream, and meat marinades.
- Provence lavender (also called lavandin or French lavender) has the stronger fragrance, reaches a mature height of 2 feet and produces easy-to-dry flower spikes. It flowers during July to August on long stems, and is a vigorous growing plant.
- Grosso lavender (hybrid of L. angustifolia and L. latifolia) forms a fragrant 2-3 feet tall mound of purple flowers with silver foliage that are easy to dry.
- Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) will produce fragrant purple and pink blooms in the spring. The plants will reach a mature height of 3-5 feet tall.
For mature plants, water only when the soil has dried out, but not to the point that the plant wilts. Prune plants as needed in the spring and apply a fresh layer of compost or other plant food immediately after pruning. Mulch is good for protecting lavender during the winter months, with small wood chips or small gravel being suitable – keep the mulch material from touching the stems of the plants.
Watch out for plant diseases that affect lavender, such as Phomopsis lavandulae, a fungus that kills the stems of lavender plants. This fungus is seen as little black spots growing on the bark of infected plants, which causes affected plants to wilt. Remove plants that are infected.
Lavender has relatively few pests; it actually repels some bugs like mosquitoes and fleas, but it also has pests of its own, such as spittle bugs, rosemary beetles, whiteflies, and aphids. Larger animals like rabbits and deer avoid lavender. The use of organic pesticides (in limited amounts), removal by hand, and reflective mulch like aluminum foil laid on the soil to reflect sunlight towards the undersides of leaves, are all useful in repelling those aforementioned pests.
NB: Pesticides can work, but if you are going to use your lavender as edible produce, you should avoid using them. Avoid pesticides when your lavender is flowering, as pesticides will also end up killing pollinating insects like bees and butterflies.
The best time to prune lavender is late summer. Why do you need to prune lavender? Pruning prevents lavender from growing sparse and woody. Using shears, prune them back to within an inch of the previous year’s growth. Leave some current growth intact to allow for regeneration, while removing old, woody plants.
How to Dry Lavender
Lavender is most fragrant just before the flowers reach full bloom. Snip individual flower stalks right at the point where the leaves and stalk meet.
Lay the stalks out in bunches of six or more, gather stem ends together and secure by wrapping a rubber band around the ends of the stems. Tie a length of string around the rubber band and hang the lavender flower bundles upside down in a warm, dry area away from direct sunlight. The flowers will be dry and ready for use in 2-3 weeks.
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