Lavender’s more than just your grandmother’s sachet. This versatile plant makes a beautiful hedge, helps keep deer away from your roses, and can even liven up your lemonade.
Read on to learn how to grow, harvest, and propagate lavender; and some of the most popular types available.
What’s so Lovable About Lavender
Lavender’s delicate stalks of purple, pink, or white blooms make beautiful edgings, groupings, or flower box features. Lavender’s foliage can also be quite lovely, sometimes taking on a silvery color.
But the biggest reason to love lavender may be its status as king of the garden multitaskers.
Lavender isn’t just another pretty face—it also makes gorgeous wreaths and dried floral arrangements and sweet-smelling sachets.
In addition, you can use lavender’s essential oil to make everything from soaps to lotions to linen sprays.
Some types of lavender are even edible* and are delicious in recipes such as ice cream, cheesecake, and sparkling lavender lemonade.
Lavender even attracts butterflies to your garden, so the gorgeous blooms and foliage won’t be the only colors that this multi-purpose beauty will bring to your garden.
All in all, no flower gives you more bang for your buck!
How to Grow Lavender
Lavender is pretty easy to grow, and the results are more than worth it! Here are the basics:
- Buying Lavender Plants: It’s best to buy a young lavender plant from your local garden center rather than growing lavender from seed, because you’re much more likely to get healthy plants this way. Common English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 5a to 9a, but be sure to check the hardiness range of the plant you buy if you’re planning to grow your lavender outdoors as a perennial.
- When to Plant Lavender: You can plant lavender from spring until fall as long as there is no danger of frost. If you’re planting in the fall, choose larger plants.
- Soil Requirements: Lavender grows best in well-drained, sandy soil with a pH between 6.7 and 7.3. It does not grow well in heavy, clay soil.
- Sun Requirements: Lavender does best when planted in an area that receives full sun.
- Planting Lavender: Space lavender plants 12″ to 18″ apart when planting. Since lavender requires well-drained soil, raised garden beds are a good option since they provide good drainage. You can also grow lavender in containers; but don’t use an overly large container, since lavender likes to keep a tight root system.
- Weed Protection: Lavender isn’t a very competitive plant, and it can easily be overcome by weeds. Use mulch or a weed barrier to help protect lavender from weeds.
- Watering Lavender: Lavender is drought-tolerant, but it will flower best if you don’t allow the plants to dry out. Water lavender as needed for your climate conditions.
- Propagating Lavender: If you want to share with family and friends, the best time to propagate your lavender is right after it has bloomed. To propagate, select stems that don’t have any flower buds on them. Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the stem and insert it into a pot of horticultural vermiculite or sterile potting soil. Water and mist the cuttings regularly. The cuttings should grow roots within about three weeks, with no need for any rooting hormones. Once the cuttings have developed roots, transplant them into pots 2″ to 4″ in diameter. They will be ready for transplanting into the garden once they have developed a full, healthy root system.
How to Prune and Harvest Lavender
Pruning helps keep your lavender looking good and growing well, and harvesting your lavender will let you reap the benefits of its multiple uses. Here’s how:
- Pruning Lavender: Prune lavender in the spring when green leaves start to emerge from the base of the plants. Prune off approximately 1/3 of the top of the plant.
- Harvesting Lavender: Harvest in the morning when about half the flower buds have opened, since this is when the oils will be the most concentrated. Use clean pruning shears, and cut the stems as long as possible. Secure bundles of 50 to 100 lavender stems with rubber bands, and hang them to dry in a cool, dark place with good air circulation.
Different Types of Lavender
There are 39 known species of lavender, and each has its own qualities. Your main purpose for growing lavender, as well as what you’re looking for appearance-wise, will help you decide which type is right for you. Here are some of the more popular types:
The English lavenders are often called “true lavender.” They do well in cooler climates, and not as well in hot, humid areas. Some popular English lavenders are:
- Munstead: This is a good cooking lavender with a nice flavor. It’s relatively easy to grow. It’s more petite than most lavenders, reaching only one to two feet tall. Its purple blooms are more open than most other types of lavender.
- Hidcote: This lavender is wonderful for crafts such as wreath-making or dried flower arrangements. Its buds dry to a lovely deep purple and are known for staying on the stems. This is also a shorter lavender, with a mature height of 12″ to 15″
- Coconut Ice: This English lavender is also popular with decorators because of its soft-pink blooms that fade to white, and its silvery foliage. Combined with other types of lavender, Coconut Ice can form a striking multi-colored bouquet.
- “True” Lavender: This is Lavender angustifolia with no subtype. Its mature height is 24″ to 36″, and it is hardy in zones 5b to 8a. It is excellent as a garden shrub, border plant, or for landscape massings. Its sweet smell is both soothing to your guests and unattractive to deer, which makes lavender a great companion plant for roses or other treasures.
These flowers are hybrids of English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia). They are very hardy and strongly-scented, and grow quickly. The lavandins have long, gray leaves. Most lavandins are ideal for hedges and for harvesting essential oil. Popular varieties include:
- White Grosso Lavender: This evergreen shrub grows to two to three feet tall and produces beautiful white flowers that stay snowy even after drying. It’s hardy in zones 5 through 11.
- Grosso Lavender: This evergreen shrub needs little water, and produces lovely purple flowers. It also produces lots of heavenly-smelling oil, so this is the perfect plant to get if you want to make soaps or other lavender essential oil products. It’s hardy in zones 5 through 11.
- Provence Lavender: This evergreen shrub grows to a mature height of two feet and has sweet-smelling purple flowers. Provence lavender’s buds are very easy to strip, so this lavender is perfect for making sachets or potpourri.
There’s also Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas), which has a bloom that’s unusual-looking enough to have earned it the nickname “rabbit ears.”
Whichever type of lavender you choose, this multitasking bloom is sure to satisfy your eyes, your nose, and your taste buds!
*Note: Never eat lavender from a flower shop. If you plan to grow lavender for consumption, don’t use any poisonous insecticides or other dangerous products on your lavender.