An herb prized for its soothing fragrance, dainty purple blossoms, and medicinal properties, lavender is a fairly low-maintenance plant but does have some specific needs to thrive.
“It’s not very different from a lot of other plants,” said Elizabeth Inman, owner of Purple Adobe Lavender Farm in Abiquiu, New Mexico. “In many cases, it needs less soil and requires a lot less fussing over. You don’t have to spend a lot of time in your garden with it. That’s the beauty of lavender.”
Selecting a variety of lavender
More than 45 species of lavender are recognized by the United States Lavender Growers Association and are broken up into 450 varieties.
“[Different lavender varieties] grow in different zones, produce different flowers and are good for different things,” said Inman, who grows 14 different varieties of lavender. “There are certain varieties that are good for distilling, for botanical use, or for culinary use. Others are good for wedding bouquets and crafts. It’s good to know up front what you want to do with it, then find the variety.”
Certain varieties of lavender will only thrive in certain plant hardiness zones, and within those zones, certain climates. For example, English lavender varieties tend to be more tolerant of moisture than French lavender varieties, Inman said.
The U.S. Lavender Growers Association provides an online list of some of the most common lavender varieties and divides them by suggested uses: landscaping, dried buds, culinary buds, crafting, fresh cut, and essential oil.
In the Northeast, Marie Kirven grows five different varieties of lavender at her Sweet Dreams Lavender Farm in St. Albans, Maine. These varieties — with the common names of Grosso, Seal, Provence, Twinkle Purple, and True English — grow relatively well in her state’s cold and often damp climate. However, these varieties differ greatly and what they are best used for so she can make a wide variety of products, including soap, oil, scented pillows, teas, bath salts, and body powder.
A good way of ensuring you’ve selected a variety that’s right for your region and intended use is by purchasing your lavender plants from a local nursery.
Tips to help Lavender thrive
Lavender is a plant that needs good drainage and plenty of sun, said Inman, who recently authored Growing Your Lavender Garden: Book One
, released in 2018.
“It’s not difficult to grow lavender,” Inman said, “but there are a few specific things lavender needs in order to be successful.” Lavender grows best in full sun (at least 6 hours a day) and should be watered sparingly. In fact, managing moisture can be one of the biggest challenges lavender gardeners face. Too much moisture on the plant or in the soil can cause the lavender to rot and die. Because of this, in humid regions, such as the Southeast, lavender can be difficult to grow, Inman said.
To combat this problem in Maine, Kirven places white sand underneath her lavender plants. The sand reflects the sun and helps dry dew and rain from the plant’s woody stems. Other gardeners use shells or light-colored stone.
In addition, lavender is often grown on mounds or raised garden beds so water can drain away from the plants. And to increase drainage, some lavender growers add small round rocks to the mounds of soil in which they grow their plants. “You have to keep them high and dry,” Kirven said.
When you’re ready to plant your lavender, Sunshine Lavender Farm in North Carolina suggests adding a mixture of bone meal, lime and compost into the bottom of the hole before inserting the plant. Lavender thrives in soil that has a neutral pH or is slightly alkaline. Your lavender plants should be spaced far enough apart for air flow between the plants when they reach maturity. Different varieties grow to different heights and widths, from 1 to 5 feet.
When you water your lavender, Inman suggests watering the plant at its base, not overhead, which could flatten out and damage the plant’s long stems.
Each year, lavender should be pruned to maintain its round shape and stays productive. “One thing people won’t do is cut back their lavender, as many times as I’ve told them,” said Kirven. “If you don’t, they become so leggy and the moisture gets in. In a couple years [if you don’t prune your plants], you’re going to see them dying off. So cut them back. Give them a haircut.”
The best time to prune lavender is in fall or winter, depending on the plant hardiness zone you live in. It can also be pruned before it displays new growth just prior to the start of the growing season. Cut about ⅓ of the plant’s foliage, which should leave about 2-3 inches of soft green growth. Do not cut into the woody part.
A perennial plant, lavender should do fine in the winter granted you selected a variety for your plant hardiness zone. In the coldest regions of the country, snow acts as a natural insulator, keeping the plants at a fairly consistent temperature until spring.
Aislinn Sarnacki is a staff writer at Hello Homestead.