Beginner’s guide on how to grow lavender in your garden

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Lavender is a favorite among gardeners, with its beautiful purple blooms and calming fragrance. Planting lavender in your kitchen garden is a good idea! Lavender is an easy addition to your flower bed. It will attract pollinators, repel pests, is a beauty to see in your vegetable garden, and, as a bonus, when lavender blooms it is a fragrant plant.

But what is the best soil to plant lavender? How much water does lavender need? And when or how often do you need to prune lavender? Follow this guide to ensure yourself of a beautiful flower in your garden!

Choosing the right types of lavenders

Before you start planting, you must choose the right species of lavender. In general, lavender thrives in warm climates, and sandy, rocky soil, and doesn’t need much attention. So if you live in an area with hot summers, and sandy soil, this flower is for you!

Lavender on a rocky surface
Lavender thrives in sandy, rocky soil

There are several types, including English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), French lavender (Lavandula dentata), and Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas). English lavender is the most common and hardy type, making it a good choice for most gardens. French and Spanish varieties are more suited to warmer climates. Here are the main types of lavender:

English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

English lavender is the most widely grown and commonly known type. It’s appreciated for its strong fragrance and hardiness. This type of lavender can survive cold climates and is therefore perfect if you live in a somewhat colder climate.

  • Varieties: ‘Hidcote,’ ‘Munstead,’ ‘Vera’
  • Characteristics: Narrow, dark green leaves and dense flower spikes
  • Best for: Cold climates (USDA hardiness zone 5-9)
  • Uses: Culinary use, ornamental, essential oils
English lavender
English lavender

French lavender (Lavandula dentata)

French lavender is known for its highly fragrant leaves and slightly less hardy nature compared to English lavender.

  • Varieties: ‘Grey French,’ ‘Allardii’
  • Characteristics: Serrated, toothed leaves and short, dense flower spikes with a pine-like scent
  • Best for: Mild climates (USDA hardiness zone 8-11)
  • Uses: Ornamental, potpourri, essential oils
French lavender
French lavender

Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas)

Spanish lavender stands out with its unique flower heads, which have colorful bracts resembling rabbit ears.

  • Varieties: ‘Otto Quast,’ ‘Silver Anouk,’ ‘Ballerina’
  • Characteristics: Pineapple-shaped flower heads with vivid purple bracts and grey-green leaves
  • Best for: Warm climates (USDA hardiness zone 8-11)
  • Uses: Ornamental, potpourri, essential oils
Spanish lavender
Spanish lavender

Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia)

Lavandin is a hybrid between English and Portuguese lavender, bred for its robust growth and high essential oil content.

  • Varieties: ‘Grosso,’ ‘Provence,’ ‘Phenomenal’
  • Characteristics: Larger plants with long, sturdy flower spikes and a strong fragrance
  • Best for: Various climates (USDA hardiness zone 5-9)
  • Uses: Essential oils, ornamental, commercial cultivation
Lavendin with a few honey bees
Lavendin

Portuguese lavender (Lavandula latifolia)

Portuguese lavender, also known as spike lavender, is notable for its broad leaves and high camphor content.

  • Varieties: ‘Spike Lavender’
  • Characteristics: Broad, grey-green leaves and tall, slender flower spikes
  • Best for: Warm climates (USDA hardiness zone 7-9)
  • Uses: Essential oils (especially for medicinal purposes), ornamental

Woolly lavender (Lavandula lanata)

Woolly lavender is named for its woolly, silver-grey leaves, making it appear distinct.

  • Varieties: ‘Woolly Lavender’
  • Characteristics: Soft, woolly leaves and dense flower spikes
  • Best for: Warm, dry climates (USDA hardiness zone 8-11)
  • Uses: Ornamental

Egyptian lavender (Lavandula multifida)

Egyptian lavender, or fern leaf lavender, has deeply divided leaves that give it a fern-like appearance.

  • Varieties: ‘Egyptian Lavender’
  • Characteristics: Deeply lobed leaves and small, bright blue flowers
  • Best for: Warm climates (USDA hardiness zone 8-11)
  • Uses: Ornamental, medicinal, essential oils
Egyptian lavender
Egyptian lavender

Each type of lavender offers unique features and benefits, making it important to choose the one that best suits your garden conditions and personal preferences. Whether you’re looking for hardiness, fragrance, or ornamental beauty, there’s a lavender variety for you.

Planting lavender

Location

Lavender thrives in sunny spots. Choose a location in your garden that receives full sun or at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Lavender also prefers well-draining soil, as it doesn’t do well in waterlogged soil conditions.

Soil preparation

Lavender plants prefer alkaline, sandy, well-drained soil. If you have clay soil or heavy soil in your garden, consider amending it with sand or gravel to improve drainage. You can also add a bit of lime to raise the soil’s pH if necessary.

Planting lavender

  1. Dig a hole: Dig a hole that is twice as wide as the root ball and just as deep.
  2. Plant the lavender: Place the lavender plant in the hole, ensuring the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface.
  3. Backfill and water: Fill the hole with soil, gently firming it around the plant. Water the lavender well to help it establish roots.

Caring for lavender

Watering

Lavender is drought-tolerant once established, but it requires regular watering during its first growing season. Water the plants deeply but infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings.

Pruning

Pruning lavender is essential to keep the plant healthy, promote vigorous growth, and maintain its shape. Proper pruning can also extend the lifespan of your lavender plant and enhance its blooming. It is a small, and easy, gardening job. The only thing you need is your pruning shear. Here’s a detailed guide on how to prune lavender:

When to prune lavender

1. Spring pruning: This is usually done in early spring to mid-spring after the danger of frost has passed and new growth begins to appear. Spring pruning encourages bushy growth and helps shape the plant.

2. Summer pruning: This is typically done right after the main flowering period, in late summer or early fall. Summer pruning tidies up the plant and prepares it for the next growing season.

Spring pruning

  1. Identify new growth: Wait until you see new green growth starting to emerge from the base of the plant. This indicates that the plant is coming out of dormancy and is ready to be pruned.
  2. Cut back deadwood: Remove any dead or woody stems. Cut these down to where you see new growth starting. If there’s no new growth on a stem, cut it back to the base.
  3. Trim the plant: Shape the plant by trimming about one-third of the height of the green, leafy part of the plant. Avoid cutting into the woody stems, as lavender has difficulty producing new growth from old wood. Aim to create a rounded mound shape.

Summer pruning

  1. Deadhead spent blooms: After the lavender has finished blooming, cut off the spent flower spikes. This can be done throughout the blooming season to encourage more flowers and maintain a neat appearance.
  2. Cut back growth: After the main flowering season, trim back about one-third of the plant’s height. This includes removing any remaining flower stems and some of the leafy growth. Again, be careful not to cut into the woody stems.

Tips for pruning lavender

  • Regular maintenance: Consistent annual pruning is crucial for maintaining a healthy lavender plant. Neglecting pruning can lead to a leggy, woody plant that is prone to splitting and has fewer flowers.
  • Avoid over-pruning: Never cut back lavender to bare wood. Lavender does not regenerate well from old wood, and severe pruning can damage or kill the plant.

Pruning different types of lavender

  • English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): This type benefits from a more substantial pruning in spring and a lighter pruning in summer.
  • French lavender (Lavandula dentata) and Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas): These types are less hardy and should be pruned more conservatively. Light shaping and deadheading are usually sufficient.
  • Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia): This hybrid can handle more aggressive pruning like English lavender but still should not be cut into old wood.

Fertilizing

Lavender doesn’t require much fertilization. In fact, too much fertilizer can lead to leggy growth and fewer blooms. A light application of compost in the spring is usually sufficient.

Mulching

Mulching with gravel or small stones around the base of the plant can help improve drainage and prevent weeds. Avoid using organic mulch, as it can retain moisture and cause root rot.

Harvesting lavender

Lavender flowers are typically harvested in mid to late summer. The best time to harvest is when the buds are fully formed but not yet open. This is when they contain the most essential oils which causes the typical lavender fragrance.

  1. Cut the stems: Use sharp scissors or pruning shears to cut the stems just above the leaves.
  2. Dry the lavender: Bundle the stems together and hang them upside down in a dry, dark place to preserve the color and fragrance.
harvested bundles of lavender

Common problems and solutions

Although lavender is a fairly easy plant to maintain in your garden, there are a few common problems you should be aware of to ensure your plants thrive.

Pests

Lavender is generally pest-resistant, but it can occasionally attract aphids or spider mites. Spray affected plants with a mixture of water and a few drops of dish soap to deter these pests.

Diseases

Root rot is the most common disease affecting lavender, usually due to poor drainage or overwatering. Ensure your soil drains well, and avoid overwatering to prevent this issue.

Winter care

In colder climates, protect lavender plants during winter by applying a layer of mulch around the base. You can also cover them with burlap to shield them from harsh winds and frost.

Growing lavender in your garden is a delightful and rewarding endeavor. By choosing the right variety, planting in a sunny location with well-draining soil, and providing proper care, you can enjoy the beauty and fragrance of lavender year after year. Whether you use it for its aromatic qualities, culinary uses, benefits to your vegetable plants, or simply to beautify your garden, lavender is a versatile and valuable addition to any garden!

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