The Fundamentals of Growing Gorgeous LavenderGrowing tips for this fragrant, easy-care plant that thrives in sunny locations
Lavender, an herb with many culinary uses, also makes a stunning addition to borders and perennial gardens, providing sweeping drifts of color from early summer into fall. With its silvery-green foliage, upright flower spikes and compact shrub-like form, lavender is ideal for creating informal hedges. You can also harvest it for fragrant floral arrangements, sachets, and potpourri.
COMMON TYPES OF LAVENDER
Botanical name: L. angustifolia
Bloom time: June to August
Height: 2 to 3 feet
Flower colors: Lavender, deep blue-purple, light pink, white
Despite its Mediterranean origin, English lavender was so named because it grows well in that country's cooler climate and has long been a staple in English herb gardens. The gray-green foliage and whorls of tiny flowers make this one of the most attractive lavenders in the garden. It’s one of the most cold-hardy varieties and the best for culinary use because of its low camphor content. Learn more about growing and harvesting English lavender.
Pictured: Sweet Romance® lavender from Proven Winners
Botanical name: L. dentata
Bloom time: Early summer to fall
Height: 36 inches and larger
Flower colors: Light purple
Also called fringed lavender, this showy variety is distinguished by narrow, finely-toothed leaves and compact flower heads topped by purple bracts. While the flowers have less aroma than English lavender, the fleshly leaves are more fragrant, with an intoxicating rosemary-like scent.
Botanical name: L. stoechas
Bloom time: Mid to late summer
Height: 18 to 24 inches
Flower colors: Deep purple
This variety is prized for its unusual pineapple-shaped blooms with colorful bracts, or “bunny ears,” that emerge from each flower spike. Although the flowers are not especially fragrant, the light-green leaves are very aromatic.
Botanical name: L. ×intermedia
Bloom time: Mid to late summer
Height: 24 to 30 inches
Flower colors: Dark violet, white
This popular hybrid combines the cold hardiness of English lavender with the heat tolerance of Portuguese lavender (L. latifolia). It typically starts blooming a few weeks later than most English lavenders and features long spikes of highly fragrant flowers. Although not considered edible (due to high camphor content), the flowers and foliage are often added to sachets and potpourris.
Although all lavender (Lavandula) is native to the Mediterranean, there are many varieties offering a vast selection of bloom times, colors, flower forms, and sizes. “Bloom time can vary drastically between different locations—where one lavender blooms at the start of June, only 20 miles away could be a very different outcome,” says Kristin Nielsen, president of the Lavender Association of Western Colorado.
Contrary to the name, not all lavenders are purple. Some hybrids come in other lovely pastel hues such as violet blue, rose, pale pink, white, and even yellow. The leaves can also vary in shape and color. To extend the bloom season as well as the color palette, consider planting several varieties.
Growing lavender is easy and rewarding. Lavender can be grown in garden beds or in pots. To grow lavender successfully it needs well-drained soil and full sun. In arid climates lavender grows well as a perennial, but in humid climates it is often grown as an annual.
Learn how to grow lavender:
- Purchase healthy lavender plants for your garden
- Bring them home and water them if you can’t plant them immediately
- Select a location for your lavender that receives full sun
- Set the potted plants in different spots to decide where they look best
- Unpot, plant and water your lavender
- Provide consistent watering until the lavender becomes established
- Prune back your lavender each spring
PLANTING & WATERING TIPS
Learn more about Sweet Romance® Lavender.
Planting and soil: All lavender varieties require well-drained soil, especially during the winter months. To ensure good drainage, mix some sand or gravel into the soil before you plant lavender or grow the plants in mounds, raised beds, or on slopes. Instead of applying moisture-holding organic mulches, consider using rock or stone, especially in humid climates.
Justin Claibourn of Cowlitz Falls Lavender Company in Randle, Washington also recommends checking your soil’s pH: "If it’s too acidic you can kiss your lavender goodbye," he says. They will look great at first, but after a few years you may notice plants dying off randomly. Once the roots grow out into the native, un-amended soil trouble can begin. Most universities will check your pH relatively cheaply or some hardware stores for free. You can amend your soil with lime to better accommodate your lavender plants.
Watering: Cowlitz also advises against overwatering. "As a large-scale grower, we typically irrigate twice a year—that’s it," states Claibourn. Give your lavender a long soak to promote root growth, short and frequent watering cycles result in unhealthy roots that may rot.
Illustration by: Olga Akbarova
HOW TO PRUNE LAVENDER
Once established, lavender is very low-maintenance, but should be pruned annually. Plants that aren’t pruned have a tendency to get woody and sprawl, leaving a hole in the middle.
- In Zone 7 and colder, pruning should be done after flowering in the spring.
- In Zones 8 and above, prune back after summer flowering.
- Prune lavender back by 1/3 to 1/2 its height to stimulate new growth. As plants mature, the lower stems become woody. Find the woody part of the stem and go up about 2 inches to cut; do not cut into the woody base.
- Throughout the blooming season, clip faded bloom stalks back to encourage repeat blooming.
- See the reader question below for more on how to get a leggy lavender back in shape.
Lavender is a perennial that will last for several years under the right conditions. Because of its Mediterranean origin, lavender loves blazing hot sun and dry soil. If your lavender doesn’t thrive, it’s most likely due to overwatering, too much shade, and high humidity levels.
English lavenders and their hybrids are the best varieties for cooler climates, since they are cold hardy north to Zone 5. However, they will grow best in a sheltered location with winter protection. For southern gardens in extremely hot, humid climates, Spanish and French lavenders are more tolerant of the moist conditions, but should be spaced apart to allow good air circulation.
If your winters are too harsh or your soil is heavy and dense, consider growing lavender in containers. They will flourish as long as they receive at least 8 hours of direct sunlight a day and are planted in a high-quality potting mix with good drainage. In winter, bring your container plants indoors and place them in a sunny window. See these recipes for ideas of how to use lavender in containers.
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POPULAR LAVENDER VARIETIES
Photo by: Proven Winners
Sweet Romance® — Buy Now from Proven Winners
This variety grows 12 to 18 inches tall and blooms from early summer into fall. Its grey-green foliage is topped with rich purple flowers that are perfect for fresh or dried bouquets.
Photo by: Proven Winners
Phenomenal — Buy Now from Proven Winners
Lavandula x intermedia
Good drainage is critical for this fragrant mid- to late-summer bloomer. Grows 24 to 30 inches tall and 48 to 54 inches wide. Use in containers or garden beds and borders.
This compact cultivar grows 12 to 18 inches tall and features slender flower spikes with tightly bunched dark purple-blue flowers and aromatic silvery foliage. Because of its low profile, you can use it as a tidy hedge plant around herb or perennial gardens or alongside walkways.
This popular lavandin hybrid is the most fragrant of all lavenders and the one most often used for scenting perfumes and sachets. It produces an abundance of exceptionally large deep-violet flower spikes that stand well above the mounded silver-green foliage. Growing to 3 feet tall and wide, this heavy bloomer needs ample space to accommodate its vigorous growth habit.
This early-flowering English lavender is tolerant of tough growing conditions, including heat, humidity, and drought. It grows to a compact height of 12 to 18 inches and produces masses of lavender blue flowers from late spring well into summer. Use as a border accent, in mass plantings, and in containers.
Lavandula x intermedia
'Provence' is one of the tallest of the lavandin cultivars and gets its name from the area in southeastern France where it is commercially grown for the perfume industry. It grows to a height of 3 feet with heavily scented flowers and foliage. Pale purple blooms on upright stems appear from June through August.
True to its name, ‘Thumbelina Leigh’ is a dwarf English lavender ideal for containers, low borders, and rock gardens. It produces a profusion of strongly fragrant, violet-blue flower spikes that will bloom continuously from early to mid summer.
Silvery white blooms with a light-blue blush distinguish this attractive English lavender cultivar. The large aromatic flower spikes bloom all summer and attract butterflies. A compact bushy form makes it an excellent choice for containers.
Here’s an unusual pink-flowering English lavender that harmonizes beautifully with purple-flowering varieties. It has silvery foliage like other English lavenders but produces delicately scented light-pink flowers that gradually fade to white. It can grow to a height of 27 inches and blooms from late spring to early summer.
This rare twice-blooming English lavender cultivar flowers in late spring and again in September, with a few flower spikes appearing in mid-summer. It produces bi-colored purple and deep blue flowers on stems that fan out around the plant, so the form is not as tidy as some other cultivars. Grows to a height of 18 to 24 inches with a similar spread.
'Royal Velvet' English Lavender is a real showstopper, producing velvety, richly colored navy and purple flower spikes on tall 2 to 2.5 foot stems. It blooms from late spring to early summer and is one of the best lavenders for use in dried arrangements because the flowers retain their gorgeous color.
DESIGN IDEAS FOR LAVENDER
- Use lavender along walkways and garden paths where you can enjoy their scent and where they can benefit from the heat reflected off the pavement.
- Plant in formal or informal herb gardens, where the cool, gray-green foliage sets off other green herbs and plants.
- Create aromatic hedges or borders along fences and garden walls as shown in this video for Sweet Romance® lavender.
- Use lavender as a natural pest repellent near patios and porches. The scent deters mosquitoes, flies, fleas, and other problem insects while attracting butterflies and bees.
- Plant with drought-tolerant companions such as coneflower, sedum, black-eyed Susan, roses, and shasta daisies.
IDEAS FOR USING LAVENDER IN THE KITCHEN
A member of the mint family, lavender has been used for centuries as a versatile, unexpected flavoring in both sweet and savory foods. English lavenders are the best varieties for culinary purposes, and both the buds and leaves can be used fresh or dried. Because the flavor of lavender is strong, use it sparingly so it won’t overpower your dishes. The buds are best harvested right before they fully open, when the essential oils are most potent.
- Immerse a few dried lavender buds in a jar of sugar to give it a sweet aroma. Use the sugar for baking and in desserts.
- Chop the fresh buds and add to a cake batter or sweet pastry dough before baking.
- Add flower buds to preserves or fruit compotes to give them subtle spicy notes.
- Sprinkle fresh lavender on a salad as a garnish.
- Use fresh lavender to infuse teas, cocktails, and other beverages.
- Use chopped buds and leaves to flavor roast lamb, chicken, or rabbit.
- Make Herbes de Provence by blending dried lavender with thyme, savory, and rosemary.
For more ideas, check out these 15 lovely lavender recipes from Boulder Locavore.
Q: My ‘Provençal’ lavender plants are a few years old and very leggy, which is not so good since they line a walkway. How can I get them back into shape? - Holly Dietor, Glen Arm, Md.
A: All lavenders should be pruned once a year to keep them low and full. Since you haven’t pruned for a year or so, renovation will require several steps. Start this spring, when the plants begin to regrow. First, brush the branches with your fingers to knock off any dead foliage. Then, shorten half the old, gray stems — roughly every other one — to within a few inches of the base. If you see green buds sprouting near the base of an unpruned stem, cut to a quarter-inch above a bud. This thinning will admit more light, awakening buds that are low on remaining old stems. When green buds form near the base of these stems, cut the old wood back to the lowest emerging bud. By early summer, you will have shortened all the old stems to a few inches above the base. In midsummer, use hedge clippers or hand pruners to shape the plant into a symmetrical mound, like a shallow bowl turned upside down. Next year, you will have bushy lavender, which will need to be pruned only once. In zone 7, where you live, and northward, you can perform that annual haircut in early spring or in midsummer, right after heavy flowering. In milder climates, pruning should follow summer bloom.
Last updated: 1/19/2022