Growing Lavender: Complete Guide

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Grown more for its intoxicating fragrance and less as a culinary herb, lavender finds itself in the gardens of many people across the United States.

During the summer, the upright stems blossom, displaying tiny flowers in shades of lavender, vibrant bluish-purple, light pink, and white.

Plants are grown for their revered essential oils and flowers, which promote relaxation when used for aromatherapy. It is thought to help alleviate anxiety, stress, and insomnia.

Growing these plants in the garden gives you a supply of fragrant flowers and flowers all throughout the warmer summer months. In our article on the Green Pinky, we’ll teach you what you need to know!

General information

In most areas of the country, lavender plants are grown as perennials, coming back year after year. They are grown as annuals in some Southern regions of the eastern US where high humidity levels aren’t conducive for optimal growth. Plants are part of the mint family and naturally attract pollinators to your yard.

Types of Lavender

Belonging to the genus Lavendula, there are about 40 different species and over 450 different varieties of plants to choose from. The different varieties have unique characteristics ranging from flower color to the intensity of the aroma. These plants can be classified into one of the following main types: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Lavandin.

  • English Lavender is the most common, with the best cold tolerance. Upright clumps grow 2 to 3 feet tall and are aromatic when brushed against.
  • French Lavender isn’t as fragrant, has compact flower heads, and grows 12-36 inches tall.
  • Spanish Lavender tolerates higher humidity levels. The flowers are not fragrant and grow in pinecone-shaped clumps.
  • Portuguese Lavender has the strongest, most aromatic scent and is the most heat tolerant.
  • Lavandin is a hybrid of English and Portuguese, with long spikes of highly fragrant flowers.

Timing

If you opt to sow seeds, start them indoors in late winter, about eight weeks before the last frost date. In USDA growing zones 1-6, aim for planting outside in the spring or early summer. In zones 7-10, plant in the late fall to allow the roots to establish over the winter.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Lavender seeds are very slow to start indoors — taking 1 to 3 months to germinate –, hence why many people purchase plants instead. If you start seeds indoors, use a very light potting soil or even straight vermiculite in your containers. Place seeds on top of the growing media and don’t cover them; they need light to germinate.

After planting, you can set containers on a heat mat designed for seed starting to help speed germination. Keep the medium moist without waterlogging it and place the containers where they receive bright, indirect light for 6 to 8 hours a day.

Soil Preparation

Plan to work the soil 8 to 12” deep about a week before moving plants outside. Lavender prefers moderately fertile to low fertility soils with neutral or slightly alkaline pH levels. Well-drained soil is a must. If you have heavy soils, amend the planting area with sand, but do not add organic matter as you do with other plants.

Planting

When it’s time to put plants outside, dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and slightly deeper. Space plants one to three feet apart to allow for good air circulation. When putting them in the planting hole, the soil level should come up a bit higher than in the container but not touch the foliage.

Care Guide

Lavender plants are funny in that they almost like to be neglected. Especially compared to plants like tomatoes or broccoli that need a fair amount of attention through the growing season. Regardless, try to give them full sun, go easy on the water and fertilizer, and keep plants pruned, and they’ll stay happy.

Purple flowers make a striking contrast against the backdrop of a sunset

Sunlight

These plants love the sun. Pick a spot in your yard or garden where they will receive a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of full sun every day. It is even better if they get a little bit of afternoon shade when the sun’s intensity is at its strongest, but the shade isn’t necessary.

Watering

Mature lavender plants are incredibly drought tolerant once the root systems are established, and they do not like to be overwatered. Once a week, water juvenile plants well the first growing season but scale back after the first year of growth. With established plants, water every two to three weeks until buds form, then every week until harvest.

Fertilizer Requirements

Historically, these plants are known for growing in the rockiest, unfertile soils, so they don’t need to be fertilized often. Do not feed your young lavender plants the first growing season. Established plants benefit from a low dose of fertilizer once a year, but it’s not necessary. A liquid seaweed extract or compost tea is a good option.

Pruning

Lavender plants produce the best, most fragrant foliage on new, green foliage that grows in the spring. After the plant starts to grow when temperatures warm up in the spring, remove one-third to one-half of the length on the woody stems to encourage new growth. Always make sure your pruning tools are sharp and clean.

Lavender can benefit from having their stems trimmed from time to time.

Weed Management

Try to keep the soil around your plants free of weeds to prevent competition for resources. You can add a layer of rock or pea gravel instead of mulch to keep weeds to a minimum. Mulch holds too much water in the soil — which is beneficial for many plants — but is despised by lavender.

Pest & Disease Management

Similar to other herbs, most insect pests, as well as deer and rabbits, avoid this type of plant because of its strong aroma. In areas of high humidity, problems with powdery mildew and other fungal diseases can be problematic. Avoid issues with infections by spacing plants further apart, allowing for good airflow through the branches.

Harvesting

Your plants bloom in the mid to late summer when the season is hot and dry. Using scissors or pruners, cut off the flower stalks well below the blooms, leaving a long stem. The stems and flowers can then be used fresh or dried. Once flowers fade, deadhead the spent blossoms to encourage a second round of blooms.

Growing Tips

Compared to other plants, lavender is somewhat short-lived, so don’t expect it to grow forever. Even under the best care (which, as reviewed above, borders on neglect) your plants will begin to decline and die off after about ten years. The following growing tips can help extend the life and longevity of your plants.

  • In areas where plants die back in the winter, don’t prune in the spring until you see new growth at the bottom of the plants. If you prune too quickly, the stress may trigger them not to develop new growth.
  • If your soil holds too much water, try growing plants in containers. They thrive in pots, especially terra cotta that let the potting soil dry out quickly.
  • When you see your plants begin to decline, propagate new plants through hardwood or softwood cuttings to avoid the cost of buying new.

Companion Plants

The best companion plants are ones that have similar growing needs —

 i.e., lots of sun and little water. This helps prevent your lavender from being overwatered during the season. Avoid planting next to plants that develop edible fruits such as tomatoes and peppers to avoid a weird taste from developing due to the intense aroma.

The best companion plants include:

  • Echinacea
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Roses
  • Sage
  • Thyme

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About the author: Carley Miller is a horticultural expert at TheGreenPinky. She previously owned a landscaping business for 25 years and worked at a local garden center for 10 years.

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