The genus Lavandula is a favorite group of ornamental herbs native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean, a region with plenty of sun and dry, rocky soils. These fragrant plants have been cultivated for centuries and prized for their aromatherapeutic qualities. These plants are an outstanding addition to any waterwise garden, as their fragrance also makes them deer and rabbit resistant, while attracting pollinators to their nectar-rich blooms. Learn how to plant, prune, and feed lavender plants.
Where To Grow Lavender
Lavender are at their very best in the more arid climates found west of the Mississippi, where heat, sun, dry growing conditions and poor soils predominate. Humid heat and compost-enriched, water-retentive soils are the enemies of Lavender.
Back East, full sun hillsides, sloped beds, and raised beds with sand or gravel soils will offer the best growing conditions for long-term success. Growing Lavender in containers is also a good option.
Getting The Soil Right: An Essential Step In Growing Lavender
As you might expect from its Mediterranean roots, Lavender thrives in hot weather, and must be planted in full-sun locations with good air circulation and fast-draining, alkaline soil. Lavender is not a hungry plant and does best in low nutrient soils. Heavy, poorly-drained clay soils can be fatal.
In the West, they'll grow well in a wide range of soils, even compost-enriched garden loams, as long as they are well drained. Lavender will tolerate clay and clay-loam in dry climates. In the Eastern US and Midwest, sandy and sandy-loams are a must!
- Ample coarse-textured compost can be added at planting time to "open-up" heavier soils.
- Add lime in acidic soils.
- In wetter climates, plant on a slope or in a raised bed to facilitate faster drainage.
Learn More: How To Create Well-Drained Soil
Mulching is helpful in dry climates, but not recommended in areas that get more than 18-20" of annual precipitation.
A 1-2 inch thick layer of small crushed (angular) gravel is the best mulch for Lavandula. Other coarse-textured mulches such as pine needles and crushed nutshells are also a good match for mulching these plants. Avoid straw, bark, compost, and other water-retentive mulch materials. This will keep the crown drier, and promotes healthy plants in all climates.
Lavender plants are actually small woody shrubs, that once established, thrive in dry growing conditions. However, during their first growing season in the ground, they need regular irrigation several times per week to establish. Their preference for dry conditions begins their second year in the ground as they begin to mature. Once established, much less frequent, but deep watering is their preference. Plants will reach their full size by the end of the third year in the ground.
Pruning Established Lavender Plants
Pruning is desirable to the health and appearance of Lavender. Prune Lavender plants in spring as needed. When plants begin to show signs of new growth, cut back the old stems by no more than one third to re-invigorate the plant and encourage more flowers. I recommend waiting until mid-spring to prune out any winter-damaged branches, and gently shear off a few inches of the branch tips to shape a round, mounded plant. Deadheading will also encourage more flowers, especially for twice-blooming English types like 'Sharon Roberts', 'Pastor's Pride,' and 'Buena Vista'. Fortunately, harvesting the flowers each year helps maintain plant vigor.
Lavender plants need very little fertilizer. They will suffer when fertilized frequently with chemical fertilizers, especially when applied in the late summer and fall. This delays them from hardening off for winter and can result in freeze damage or death come next spring.
Instead, keep their soil healthy and well-drained by fertilizing with natural or organic soil builders. Top-dress with Yum Yum Mix© and Soil Mender Mineral Boost Fertilizer once a year in mid-to-late fall or mid-spring as the plants begin to show new growth. Both are slow-acting nutrient sources for the soil's microbial population to support healthy lavender plants.
General Growing Tips
- Lavender plants will be taller and wider when grown in climates with mild winter and hot summers. The same varieties, when grown in cold winter climates (zones 5-6), tend to be more compact.
- Lavender plants are long-lived perennials, and they require 2-3 growing seasons to reach mature size.
- Companion plants: there is hardly a plant combination that doesn’t look great with Lavender in it. Just be sure that companion plants also like poor, fast-draining soils with plenty of sun and heat.
- Deer resistant gardening: Lavender is a wonder-repellent to keep deer and rabbits from nibbling their neighboring plants.
Choosing The Right Lavender For Your Garden
Wondering which Lavender plants will perform best in your garden? To learn more about English, French, and Spanish Lavender varieties, and for tips on choosing the right one, read our article below!
Learn More: Lavender Bliss: Exploring Lavender Varieties