In today’s post I’ll be sharing everything I’ve learned so far about lavender plant care, and all the reasons why I’ve come to love having this easy-to-grow perennial in my garden over the last few years.
I grew my first lavender plant in our herb garden a few years ago and I thought it was a very nice, well-behaved plant. I loved the pale, silvery, grey-green foliage and its habit of growing in tidy mounds that don’t really get out of hand. Since lavender is quite drought-tolerant, I just kind of ignored it for a couple of years. I grew a few plants in my porch planters and they were lovely there as well, but I wasn’t particularly wowed by this purple flowering plant’s performance in any area of my gardens. It was just nice and reliable, but I wasn’t about to start a lavender farm any time soon. Since lavender is a perennial, it continued to grow and mature in the herb garden over the course over the next few years and when we reached year three, the real show started.
Ever since I realized how amazing established lavender is once it has had the chance to mature, I’ve been in a hurry to add it into gardens all around the property. The sooner it’s planted, the sooner it can reach maturity. 🙂 In today’s post I’ll share everything I’ve learned so far about growing lavender and taking care of it to encourage beautiful, healthy plants full of showy, fragrant blooms.
Reasons to Love Lavender
The first thing you may think about when lavender comes to mind is the beautiful fragrance of the aromatic flowers, cultivated all over the world to be used in lavender essential oils, perfume, bath salts, and home scent products, but there are so many other benefits to growing lavender plants. I think my very favorite thing about them is that they’re actually beautiful all year long, not just during the growing season. They do go dormant in the winter, but lavender plants don’t die back completely and maintain their lovely mound shape throughout the colder months, almost acting like a dwarf evergreen hedge and bringing beauty and structure to your garden beds throughout the year. I think I may actually love them most in the early-spring before they bloom, when their frosty green leaves start to pop up and their delicate buds first appear. They’re such a nice element in a spring garden with all the other bright greens and colourful blooms everywhere.
Another wonderful thing about lavender that you might not know is that you can almost ignore them completely once established. They’re one of those flowers, like peonies, that actually just prefer a little neglect. They’re happy with poor, rocky soil, and if you forget to water them for an extended period of time, even during hot weather, they don’t even flinch.
Lavender will become a hub of pollinator activity in your garden and you’ll often see bees, as well as butterfly and other insect activity from spring right through to autumn, which we all know is so important.
Where to Grow a Lavender Plant
Lavender plants can be grown as a perennial in USDA plant hardiness zones 5-8, and as an annual in cooler zones. There are different varieties of lavender, and varieties marked as “French” or “Spanish” are generally a little happier in climates that are on the warmer side, while the English varieties are generally hardier in cooler areas.
For best results, lavender needs full sun if possible, but it will do just fine in areas with part-sun as well. The most important thing to remember when choosing a planting location is to make sure that wherever you plant has very good drainage. Lavender plants do not like soggy roots, as they’re quite well-adapted for rocky, sandy, dry areas. Pictured below is a young lavender plant during the first season, a few months after planting.
Lavender also does beautifully in planters or a raised-bed situation, but be sure the planter you choose has proper drainage holes. I’ve grown lavender in my all-weather square planters fitted with grow bags in the past, which drain very well from all areas, and my plants were quite happy. One little trick that works well is to use a cactus potting mix in planters to ensure good drainage.
How to Plant Lavender
Planting is very simple and straightforward, no matter where you’re planting lavender. Plan to space your lavender plants about two feet apart to allow good air circulation, as they can eventually grow to about 18 inches tall or 24 inches tall and just as wide. Dig a hole about twice as wide and twice as deep as the root ball of your plant. Fill the hole in about 1/3 full with rich garden soil or compost before adding in your lavender plant, ensuring that the plant isn’t sitting too low in the hole to provide good drainage. Fill in around the plant with more nutrient-rich garden soil and pat down firmly to keep the plant in place. Although lavender doesn’t mind drying out, adding a bit of mulch can help the young plant from becoming too dry too quickly and can ease a bit of the transplant shock that lavender can sometimes experience.
Pictured below is lavender during its second growing season, looking quite well-established and beginning to grow in size and number of blooms.
Lavender Plant Water Requirements, Feeding Schedule, and Maintenance
When it comes to caring for a lavender plant, as I stated before, there isn’t too much work to be done. As for watering, you’ll want to water regularly during hot, dry weather for the first few months after planting your lavender. Aim to water every second day or so if you don’t get any rain. After that you can consider your lavender to be established and you will only need to water very sparingly. In fact, you’ll probably only need to water it once a week at most in the hottest, driest conditions.
Just a note on the specific water needs of lavender vs. the water needs of other common perennials a gardener might commonly grow in their garden: If you’re used to looking at a plant for signs of dehydration, just know that lavender behaves almost the opposite of how you would expect. If you happen to see things like brown, crispy leaves, or overall drooping and wilting of the plant, you might think that this means your plant is thirsty, however these things are typically signs of overwatering. When you over-water your lavender or when you have drainage issues, root rot can occur pretty quickly.
As for feeding, this is one of those rare occasions where I won’t suggest that you feed your plants more often. Actually, this plant is a bit of a botanical wonder because over-feeding lavender can lead to issues like weak, spindly flower stems with small blooms, a plant that simply won’t bloom, or a lack of fragrance in the lavender flowers. I’ll typically only feed my lavender once or twice in the spring, just to give it a little early boost, and then I mostly ignore it for the rest of the season and it’s quite happy that way.
The only other important thing to know when it comes to lavender maintenance and care is to prune your plants back regularly to encourage full, lush growth instead of thick, old wood stems. Pruning the plants back by about 1/3 in the fall will definitely be enough, but you can also prune back spent blooms after your first round of blooms in late spring if you like. I typically skip the spring pruning because at that point, the plants are usually still half in-bloom and all our local pollinators are still quite enjoying them. I don’t want to rain on their parade and make them wait for a whole new set of blooms, so I just let the lavender and the pollinators do what they like for the rest of the summer season and just watch the process unfold.
Harvesting Lavender Flowers
Whether you’re harvesting for decor or culinary purposes, lavender can be harvested anywhere from spring until late-summer, but you’ll want to think about how you’re going to use the lavender to decide when the best time to harvest will be.
All lavender you harvest can be enjoyed for its scent and beauty, but if you grow a cultivar like Munsted or Hidcote, these are actually considered to be types of culinary lavender, and you can use them to make teas or in baked goods like my favorite Lavender Chocolate Chip Cookies. If you’re harvesting lavender for baking or tea, you’ll want to harvest early, before the buds are fully-opened. Allow them to dry completely like any other herb before using them.
If you’re hoping for dried lavender flowers to make bundles for decor, you’ll want to harvest when about half of the buds are blooming, then hang the stems to dry in a cool, dark place. Additional buds will continue to bloom after harvesting and this way you’ll get the best color without any flowers having the chance to turn brown and be past their prime before becoming fully-dried and preserved.
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.