Growing lavender presents its own challenges and rewards. Read on to learn how you can grow lavender with success.
Preparations for Growing Lavender
All of our lavenders, with the exception of the spanish lavender, are zone hardy for 5-8. One of the best ways to find out if growing lavender will work well in your area is to see if your local greenhouse carries any variety. Place your lavender in the design that makes you happy and allows room for air currents around the plant when they reach maturity. Lavender loves the sun and hates to have its feet wet, so choose a position with good drainage and plenty of sun. They are adept candidates for rock gardens. Humidity can be an issue in the Southeastern and some Midwestern states. Lavender isn’t fond of damp, still air which makes the plant more susceptible to root rot and other maladies. This difficulty can be minimized by increasing the spaces between the plants so the air can move around them more easily. Grow lavenders with plants that have similar sunlight and watering needs. Select soil that is well worked, well drained and so loose you can dig it with your hands. Once established in a garden, lavender is a hardy and drought tolerant perennial. Select a variety appropriate to your area, and pay attention the size requirements for your variety. (Some get to 5 feet across!) Lavender likes a slightly alkaline soil so adjust accordingly. Some sand and well rotted manure or compost will get the plant off to a good start.
Carefully knock the plant from its pot, spread the roots, and place the plant in a hole that accommodates the spread roots. Mixing a little bone meal into the soil mix below the roots will slowly release organics that promote both root and leaf growth. Roots should not be placed directly on the meal, but on a mix of soil and meal. If the stems are long enough, give the plant a little shape by pruning, this will start the stems branching. When you water the new transplant for the first time, you can use a liquid fertilizer instead of plain water. A two-inch mulch of sand will moderate the soil temperature and reflect heat and light up to the plant. More heat creates more fragrant blooms.
Caring for Lavender in the Spring
Remove the blossoms in the fall. Prune your plant in the early spring to 2/3 its size, leaving a couple of inches of green above the woody stems. It seems drastic but this will stimulate new growth. Don’t be afraid to “give them a haircut.” They respond very well to being shaped because plants that are not pruned may have a tendency to fall open in the middle and sprawl.
Harvesting Lavender Flowers
When your lavender has blossomed, the flowers can be picked for many uses. If you desire a fresh bouquet, pick the blossoms when half of the flowers on the blossom head have opened. If you are picking to dry the bundle for crafting or sachet, pick when 3/4 to all of the blossoms are open.
Caring for Lavender in the Autumn
In early Autumn, cut the GREEN of your lavender back so about one or two inches of green remain. This will promote fuller growth for the next season and it will look better throughout the winter. Don’t cut into the wood if you can avoid it. It is difficult for the older wood to produce new shoots. It’s best for the plant if the pruning tool you use is sharp and clean. We use a sickle, but hand shears are good too.
Enjoy growing your lavender; it captures the essence of summer and is truly the sweetest of herbs.
Specific Solutions for Issues with Growing Lavender
Growing Lavender in Humid Climates
We get a lot of inquiries from people from the Southeastern states that are hopeful lavender will grow in their yards. Lavender isn’t fond of damp, still air, which makes the plant more susceptible to root rot and other maladies. This difficulty can be minimized by increasing the spaces between the plants so the air can move around them more easily. When you plant your lavender, make sure you are aware of how big the plant will be when it’s mature AND with full blooms. Good air circulation and proper drainage are the keys to a better chance of success. A lady named Madelene Hill has trialed about 50 varieties of lavender at her central Texas farm. She recommends SERIOUS mulching with pea gravel, crushed granite or sand to cut down the probability of fungal diseases. Hill has large, healthy foliaged lavandins, but they have never bloomed. She thinks it’s because they don’t get a winter time to be dormant and recoup. However, one species that does do well for her is Spanish Lavender (L. stoechas). The Spanish Lavender also does well in a container.
Black Mold on Lavender
“I just have 10 lavender bushes in my back yard in the San Francisco Bay area. About 2 years into the growth of my bushes, I saw that the bushes had black mold growing on them. I have lost one bush altogether. I have been to every garden nursery in the area. I have even resorted to using Green Light Fung-Away (another recommendation by a Nursery). It did nothing to help. I believe that they have grown too large and are not getting enough sun. I have severely trimmed half of the bushes back in hopes that it may help. I love these bushes and my family and friends love them too! I really would like to find an organic way to fix this problem.”
Solutions for Black Mold on Lavender
We get a lot of questions that are similar to this one. This person is right, her lavenders do sound like they’re not getting enough sun. Lavender needs at least eight hours of light a day.
There is also a good chance the drainage is poor and that the plants are too close for them to have adequate air flow.
If there is indeed too little light, the lavenders should be transplanted. If and when you move your plants, MAKE SURE you account for the lavender’s size when it’s full grown and then calculate a bit more to make room for the blooms.
We would suggest heavy mulching with sand or pea gravel and aggressive pruning leaving about 2″ of last year’s growth.
It’s also a good idea to spray with a compost tea to rid yourself of the fungus. Many “earth friendly” nurseries have a compost tea maker these days. Take some time to find one. Compost tea is wonderful for your whole garden.
“Our lavender has opened in the middle and has sprawled out. We can actually see into the middle of the plant and can see the woody stems. The lavender looks quite ugly other than on the tips where it is green and flowering. Can we save the plants, or should just pull them out and start again? It seems such a shame to throw them out if we can save them.”
Solutions for Sprawling Lavender
The reason why lavender sprawls is that the plant has to be pruned at least once a year. The weight of the yearly growth and blooms causes the shrub to fall open and break in the middle.
It is generally suggested that a sprawling lavender over three years old isn’t worth saving. You have two choices:
1) Prune it back in small increments. In spring, cut the foliage back by 1/3 to get the new growth going. When the foliage grows back in, cut it back 1/3 again. This is supposed to stimulate new growth at the base of the plant. IF new growth comes up at the base, prune the plant back to JUST above the new growth. Yes, this will take a growing season, but it may well be worth the time and attention.
Growing Lavender in Containers
Growing Lavender in containers can be done, though it is a little tricky. First get a really, really big pot; a lavender’s root system is a lot bigger than the plant is. Lavenders need about eight hours of sun, so make sure you have that. Now consider drainage, water, pruning and feeding; the Four Horsemen of Container Gardening.
Drainage: Make sure the pot you’re using has really good drainage holes. I’d put about a 1/2 inch – 1 inch of loose gravel at the bottom of the pot to ensure the water won’t sog up the container. It’s best if you can find a good soilless mix for potting material. A mixture of peat, vermiculite and perlite is one of the best, but well aerated, “fluffy” soil is fine, too.
Water: During the summer, lavender in a container is going to need more water than lavender in the ground. If you let a lavender get dehydrated you may find it difficult to bring it back to its former glory. So: not too wet and not too dry. Try to water the lavender at the base of the plant, rather than getting the foliage wet.
Pruning: Following the same methods we described in our growing lavender section. You and your lavender will be pleased with the results.
Feeding: There are a couple schools of thought on this. Probably the easiest is to mix in some time-release fertilizer in the spring. It’s a good idea to repot then, so it’s a good time to fertilize, too. If you have a Spanish Lavender (L. stoechas), the kind with the “rabbit ears” or Candicans (L. dentata var. candicans), then regular fertilizing is recommended. During the growth season give these guys a liquid fertilizer shot of a 20-10-20 mix once a month.
Lavenders that are gangly and all spindleshanks probably aren’t geting enough sunlight. These plants really do need about eight hours of sun each day.
Lavenders transplant well if you keep in mind there is a HUGE, GIGANTIC, sprawling root ball under this demure, smell-good plant. Give yourself time to work.
The best time to transplant is in very early spring and in late autumn/early winter. Try not to transplant when the ground is frozen. Water the plants well before moving them to a new position and trim off any flowering material (you want the plants to concentrate their energy on root development). After you dig the plant up, cut back and trim any damaged roots.
Transplants usually won’t flower much the year they are transplanted, so use this to your advantage; keep trimming off any flower spikes and you will get a larger, fuller plant the following year.