Print this page

Growing Lavender

LavenderI guess it is my love of the English countryside that makes me so fond of lavender. The fragrance of this plant always takes me back to some of my favorite gardens there.

It is one of those scents, like newly mown summer grass or a fresh snowfall that triggers an emotional response in me. If I had my way I would plant it with abandon, but unfortunately I've always struggled to grow it. Not to be defeated I have discovered that if I choose the right variety and plant it in containers I can have this cherished herb in my garden.

There are several species of lavender, with the most popular being English, Spanish, French and the lavandins. In my humid, mid-south garden I have had the most success with a lavandin called 'Provence'.

No matter what the type, all lavenders thrive in growing conditions similar to their native habitat along the Mediterranean coast. They prefer moist, cool winters and hot, dry summers. Well-drained soil and a full day's sun are also essential for robust plants and plentiful blooms.

Gardeners in the northern United States should select varieties that are cold tolerant. Some lavenders will survive temperatures as low as -10 degrees F. Another option is to plant your lavender in a container that can be brought indoors for winter. Just make sure that it receives plenty of light while indoors.

An additional perk to planting in containers is that you can control the soil quality. If your garden soil is like mine with heavy clay, potting up lavender is an easy way to satisfy this plant's need for good drainage. A soil mixture of 1/3 sand, 1/3 topsoil and 1/3 compost works well and if you place a few shards from broken terra cotta pots in the bottom of the container before you add the soil, you will improve the drainage even more.

In the humid South, try Spanish lavender or French lavender. Both seem to be more tolerant of the steamy climate. As an extra precaution, make sure your plants are located where they will receive good air circulation. This will cut down on disease.

Although lavenders are native to the Mediterranean, they are not all that drought tolerant. It is important to give them consistent moisture, especially during the first few years while they establish a strong root system. Water low to the ground to keep moisture off the leaves and in early morning, around 5:00 a.m. is good. If you water during the heat of the day, moisture tends to evaporate before plants can soak up an adequate amount. Many people water in late evening or at night, but I prefer early morning because it gives plants a chance to dry before nightfall. And this can help cut down on problems with disease.

Like most herbs, lavender requires little feeding. You may find that it is beneficial to apply an all-purpose fertilizer in early spring as new growth emerges. It is also a good idea to lightly prune them at this time to keep them in shape. You can cut them back again in summer after they flower.

Lavenders to Try

Lavandula angustifolia (English Lavender), 'Hidcote' - silvery grey leaves and deep purple-blue flowers, zones 5 - 9

Lavandula angustifolia (English Lavender), 'Munstead' - blue-purple flowers, compat grower, long bloom time, zones 5 - 9

Lavandula x intermedia (Lavandin), 'Provence' - light purple flowers borne on long wands, zones 5 - 9

Lavandula x intermedia (Lavandin), 'Grappenhall' - dark violet flowers, zones 5 - 9

Lavandula x intermedia (Lavandin), 'Grosso' - purple flowers, very fragrant, zones 5 - 9

Lavandula dentata (French Lavender) - dark purple, stocky flowers, long bloom time, zones 8 -9, good choice for Southern gardens

Lavandula stoechas (Spanish Lavender) - dark purple, stocky flowers, zones 8 -9, late spring bloom time, good choice for Southern gardens