Lavender: Secrets to Success
Unlock The Mystery Of Growing Great Lavender And End Disappointment Forever!
#1: Select The Right Lavender
There are over forty different species of lavender found world-wide, but only a very small number of those are suitable for gardens, and even fewer still suitable to cold climates. That’s why selecting the right lavender is so important! And we’ll let you in on a little secret – a lot of the beautiful lavender topiaries that are sold in stores are the tender Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) or French lavender (L. dentata) and while they’re wonderful to enjoy as a seasonal plant, they don’t stand a chance long-term in a garden colder than USDA zone 8. All of the lavender that we offer at Great Garden Plants are the two hardiest types: English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, and what’s known as lavandin, Lavandula x intermedia. Though both are hardy to USDA zone 5, those who have struggled with lavender in the past are advised to opt for lavandin over English lavender – its hybrid parentage imbues it with better tolerance to the cold, wet conditions that ring the death knell for most lavenders.
#2: Plant Properly
Where and how you plant lavender are crucial to the plant’s success:
- Sun: The spot you choose must get at least 6 hours of bright sun each day – flowering will be weak and the plant will be more prone to disease in any less sun than that.
- Soil: Equally important to the amount of sun is that the soil is well-drained. In other words, it never stays wet for long periods of time. Wet, soggy conditions are the fastest way to kill a lavender! If you have clay soil that drains slowly, you can still be successful with lavender if you avoid amending the soil (i.e., don’t add any compost, potting mix, etc., at planting time) and plant your lavender “high,” which is to say slightly above, rather than even with, the soil level.
- Water: Be very careful not to overwater lavender. If your plants are hit with an irrigation system, adjust your program or the individual sprinkler head(s) that hit them so that you can control how much supplemental water they receive.
- Mulch: We normally enthusiastically recommend a good 2-3″ layer of mulch on most perennials and shrubs, but plants that prefer life on the drier side like lavender and butterfly bush benefit from little to no mulch, as it can hold excessive moisture around the roots. If you do use mulch in the area where your lavender is planted, thin it out to just a light sprinkling as it nears the plant’s root zone.
- Winter: Lavender is most likely to be severely damaged in fall and late winter/early spring when the ground isn’t frozen and frequent cold rains and/or melting snow keep the soil wet. This is rarely an issue in sandy or rocky soils but merits serious consideration in clay soils.
#3: Prune Prudently
Yes, lavender can and should be pruned, but when you do it makes a huge difference in its health and survival. Prune lavender only in spring, and only once the new growth begins to appear on the stems. Be patient! It may take several weeks of warm spring weather before your plant shows signs of life, but it’s worth waiting for this cue, as it shows you exactly where the plant is alive, where any dieback occurred and lets you make your pruning cuts based on observation instead of mere guesses. Cut off the stems just above where a large, vigorous bud is emerging – this may mean cutting your plant back by half or even more. That may seem extreme, but this practice helps keep your plant producing productive young growth and ensures it flowers abundantly all over instead of just a few scraggly blooms at the top.
Never cut lavender back in fall or winter, as this can increase the potential for winter damage, and never cut it back to the ground, as this will kill the plant entirely. These are both lessons I personally learned the hard way, so let my experience save you the same heartbreak!