Lavender is a traditional herb garden plant. Lavender flowers have a strong lemon-perfume flavor. Lavender flowers can be steeped for use in drinks, jellies, and ice cream. Petals can be used in salads, soups, and as a garnish. The taste of lavender is not for everyone; use it sparingly at first.
Get to Know Lavender
- Botanical name and family: Lavandula species is a member of the Lamiaceae—mint and sage family.
- Origin: Mediterranean region
- Type of plant: Lavender is a perennial woody sub-shrub.
- Growing season: Summer
- Growing zones: Lavender grows best in Zones 5 to 8.
- Hardiness: Lavender is resistant to both heat and cold; it does not grow well in humid hot climates.
- Plant form and size: Lavender is a sprawling, small shrub that grows 24 to 30 inches tall and wide; see species descriptions below under ‘Varieties’.
- Flowers: Lavender flowers on 18 to 24-inch spikes; flowers are lavender, purple, deep blue, pink, or white depending on the variety
- Bloom time: Lavender blooms early summer to end of summer.
- Leaves: Lavender has needle-shaped greenish-gray leaves along long square stems.
How to Plant Lavender
- Best location: Lavender grows best in full sun; it does not mind a hot sunny location.
- Soil preparation: Plant lavender in well-drained soil. Clay soils or soil too rich in organic matter will produce foliage growth rather than blooms. Lavender prefers a soil pH of 6.7 to 7.1. Lavender will grow in dry, light, gravelly soil.
- Seed starting indoors: Start lavender indoors 4 weeks before the last frost in spring. Refrigerate seed for 4 to 6 weeks before sowing. Sow seed in flats in full sun or under fluorescent lights. Seeds will germinate in 14 to 21 days.
- Transplanting to the garden: Transplant lavender outdoors in mid to late spring.
- Outdoor planting time: Sow lavender seed outdoors in late spring after the last frost or in fall. Fall planted seed will germinate the following spring.
- Planting depth: Sow seed ½ inch deep.
- Spacing: Space lavender plants 24 to 36 inches apart.
- How much to plant: Grow 2 lavender plants for kitchen and cooking; grow 6 to 12 plants for tea and preserving.
- Companion planting: Plant lavender with echinacea, winter savory, germander, hyssop, yarrow, and boxwood. Lavender flowers attract nectar-seeking insects, including beneficial insects, to the garden.
How to Grow Lavender
- Watering: Water lavender regularly until it becomes established then water when the soil becomes dry to an inch deep. Do not overwater.
- Feeding: Side-dress plants with compost tea every two months. Feed lavender a slow-release organic fertilizer each spring as growth starts.
- Mulching: Place a light mulch of aged compost around lavender in hot summer regions.
- Care: Removing spent blooms will spur new blooms. Trim back foliage after blooming to shape the plant. Prune plants back by half in spring; remove dead wood and shape the plant. If you prune old wood, it will not regrow. Plants can weaken over 5 years or so and new ones can be started from cuttings in summer. Rejuvenate the soil with aged compost or aged manure before planting new plants.
- Container growing: Choose a container at least 8 inches deep and wide; larger is better if you are growing lavender as a decorative perennial.
- Winter growing: Protect plants in cold winter regions by heaping straw up around plants; remove the straw in spring. Indoors grow lavender in a bright window. Do not overwater lavender growing in pots.
- Pests: Healthy lavender plants will be pest-free. Caterpillars sometimes attack weak plants. Spray caterpillars with soapy water or BT if the population is heavy.
- Diseases: Lavender can suffer root rot where the soil is not well-drained.
How to Harvest Lavender
- When to harvest: Harvest lavender flowers as they begin to open. Harvest flowers for drying before midday; that’s when the oils are most concentrated.
- How to harvest: Snip flowers and stems with a garden pruner. Remove flower stalks after they have faded if you have not taken them sooner.
Lavender in the Kitchen
- Flavor and aroma: Lavender smells floral and sweet with balsamic undertones.
- Flowers: Use fresh or dried lavender flowers in cakes, cookies, muffins, jellies, custards, flans, ice cream, black tea, vinegar, fruits, or eggs. Use lavender in the kitchen sparingly at first; it’s an acquired taste.
Preserving and Storing Lavender
- Drying: Dry flowers in a dark, airy place on a screen or by hanging bunches of stems upside down. Dried flowers will remain aromatic for a long time.
- Seed: Lavender seeds do not always produce plants identical to the mother plant. Seeds can be sown indoors or outdoors in late spring. Seeds should be stratified for 1 to 2 weeks. Germination can sometimes be slow; cuttings may be a faster way to start new plants. Cuttings are a better way to grow an identical plant.
- Cuttings: Lavender can be propagated by cuttings that are 3 to 4 inches long; strip away the lower leaves then dip the bare stem end in a rooting hormone and place in light potting soil; bottom heat will encourage rooting.
Lavender Varieties to Grow
There many varieties and cultivars of Lavandula; here are a few:
- English lavender (L. angustifolia) Grows to 36 inches tall and wide; narrow gray leaves about 2 inches long with smooth margins; pinkish-purple flowers atop slender, leafless stems about 24 inches long. ‘Munstead’ is a dwarf to 18 inches tall with deep lavender-blue flowers. ‘Hidcote’ grow to 1 foot tall has purple flowers. ‘Jean Davis’ has pale pink flowers.
- French lavender ( L. dentate) grows to 3 feet high and has bright green leaves with square toothed edges. Flowers are lavender-purple on short blunt clusters, each topped with a tuft of petal-like bracts; long-blooming.
- Spanish lavender ( L, stoechas) grows 18 to 36 inches tall, has short and narrow gray leaves. Flowers are dark purled growing in short flower spikes topped with a tuft of large purple petal-like bracts; blooms in early summer. A cultivar of Spanish lavender is ‘Otto Quast’ which has showy purple bracts.
- Hybrid lavenders (L. x intermedia) are crosses between English lavenders and Spike lavender ( L. latifolia)—which is a large English lavender. Hybrids include ‘Provence’ which is highly aromatic with pinkish lavender blossoms and ‘Grosso’ which is a compact plant with deep purple flowers.
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