Questions Answered Series: Lavender (Lavandula)

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Your Questions on Lavender, Answered!

Lavender (or Lavandula) is one of our top-selling plants for a good reason. Its fragrant foliage and flowers are delightful additions to pollinator, cut flower, herb, or even children’s gardens. Better yet – lavender is drought tolerant, heat tolerant, and resistant to pests. But that doesn’t always mean it’s easy to grow! Whether you’ve already planted lavender or are planning to buy some soon, you can find the answers to all your questions here. See what others are asking and learn how to make lavender feel at home in your garden.

English lavender with classic purple blooms

What are the different types of lavender?

While there are almost 40 different species of lavender (Lavandula), Great Garden Plants carries three main types that are most notable for their popularity, garden performance, and hardiness. There are a few distinguishing characteristics to familiarize yourself with choosing one for your garden. We’ll spell it all out for you here:

  • English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): the tried-and-true classic that has gained popularity in Europe and the US for its fragrance and hardiness. It includes best-selling cultivars like ‘Hidcote’, ‘Munstead’, and Sweet Romance® from Proven Winners. If you’re envisioning massive fields of lavender flowers, it’s likely English lavender.
  • Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia): as a hybrid of English and Portuguese lavender, Lavandin is cold tolerant, heat tolerant, and a vigorous grower. It’s widely known to be the most fragrant, which is why it’s commonly used in the perfume industry. 
  • Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas): the showiest of the bunch with prominent and colorful bracts. These petal-like bracts at the top of the flower resemble butterfly wings (and attract pollinators), earning the name “butterfly lavender.” It’s heat tolerant but not cold hardy, so we recommend growing it in zones 8-11.

Which lavender is the most fragrant?

All of our lavenders are fragrant, but lavandin (or Lavandula x intermedia) is known to be the most fragrant lavender on the market, which is why it’s commonly used in perfumes and essential oils. English lavender (or Lavandula angustifolia) is prized for its sweet fragrance as well. Here’s a list of our most fragrant favorites:

How do you grow lavender?

Lavender is known to be relaxing, but gardeners know that growing it can be a little stressful. How you care for it is crucial for its 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 less sun than that.
  • Soil: Equally important to the amount of sun is that the soil is well-draining. 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 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 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.

For even more information on how to grow lavender, read our Lavender: Secrets to Success blog!

Which lavender is best for cooking?

English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) tends to be the most popular for culinary purposes, thanks to its sweet fragrance. While you may think a more fragrant lavender is better (like lavandin), choosing a lavender with too much fragrance can lead to a soapy or overly floral taste. The type you choose really depends on your personal preferences! Here are a few of our favorites for cooking:

Lavender can be used in dishes, either fresh or dried. Typically, the buds are harvested before they even bloom. Remember that dried lavender buds are more potent than fresh ones. 

Close up of Hidcote lavender with deep purple blooms

Can lavender grow in shade? How much light does it need?

Unfortunately, lavender cannot grow in shaded areas (or even in part sun). They require full sun, or more than 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, for the best performance. Growing in too little sun can reduce growth and make lavender more prone to diseases.

Can lavender grow in pots?

Yes, lavender grows well in pots or containers. There are a few things to keep in mind when growing your lavender in pots.

  1. Proper drainage. Lavender requires well-draining soils, so select your potting media accordingly. The pot or container must have drainage holes to prevent standing water.
  2. Pot size. Select the right size pot when growing lavender in containers. A pot that is too large will hold on to water for too long, while a pot that is too small will dry out quickly. Choose containers that are equally deep as they are wide.
  3. Lighting. Place your pot in an area that receives full sun (6+ hours direct sunlight each day) for the best growth and blooms.

Can I bring my lavender indoors?

No, we do not recommend growing lavender indoors as houseplants. The cultivars we sell should be grown outdoors. However, if you live in a zone where lavender is not hardy, you can move them to an unheated and sheltered location over winter.

Why not the heat? Most lavenders require a dormancy or chill period to grow and flower the following season. Entirely skipping a winter season can be stressful for your plants!

Lavender has silver fragrant foliage

Why isn't my lavender flowering?

While we love the fragrant foliage, we all know gardeners grow lavender for their flowers! If your lavender isn’t blooming, here are a few reasons why: 

  • Not enough sun. Lavender requires full sun (more than 6 hours of direct sunlight daily) to bloom to their full potential. If your lavender is not receiving enough sun, you can always transplant it to a sunnier spot.
  • Fertilizer. Overfertilizing your lavender, especially with a high-nitrogen fertilizer, will cause your plant to push out leafy growth but no blooms. Lavender prefers growing in low-nutrient soils, so we suggest you skip the fertilizer. 
  • Water stress. If your lavender is overwatered or underwatered, your plant may produce few to no flowers until the problem is resolved. 
  • Improper pruning. Lavender should be pruned in early spring to encourage new growth and subsequent flowers. If you prune too heavily, too early, or not at all, there is a chance your plant won’t flower.

Why is my lavender dying?

There are a few reasons why your lavender may be dying:

  • Poor drainage. Lavender must be planted in well-draining soils, or soils that don’t stay wet for prolonged periods. Sandy soils typically have the best drainage, whereas clay soils have the worst. If you know your soil has poor drainage, plant your lavender with the crown slightly above the soil line to encourage water to drain away from the base of your plant.
  • Overwatering. Even in well-draining soils, it’s possible to overwater your lavender. And if you do so, it’s basically a death sentence for your plant. Lavender that is overwatered will quickly develop root rot, yellowing leaves, and defoliation (leaf drop).
  • Underwatering. While lavender doesn’t like too much water, it also can’t live without it. Young plants that are not yet established need to be watered frequently, but with a light hand, until they develop larger root systems. If your plant is drooping and the soil feels bone dry, you’re likely underwatering!
  • Winter damage. Areas with cold winter rains or frequently melting snow are not ideal for lavender unless the soil is well-draining. It’s not uncommon for gardeners with poorly draining soils (like clay) to see some winter damage from wet soils. We recommend you skip mulching your lavender over winter to ensure soils won’t stay too wet. 
  • Humidity. High humidity isn’t ideal for lavender, which prefers growing in dry Mediterranean climates. It’s rare that humidity outright kills your plant, but it is possible, especially in shipping.

Is lavender safe for cats and dogs?

Lavender contains a small amount of linalool, making it toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. Thankfully, your pets will need to ingest a very large amount to feel the effects (vomiting, reduced appetite, fever). Ingestion is not usually lethal.

Spanish lavender with reddish-purple bracts at the top of the flower spikes

When does lavender bloom?

Lavender typically starts blooming in late spring or early summer, followed by additional flushes in mid to late summer. The exact timing varies between cultivars and heavily relies on climate.

Should I prune lavender in my garden?

Yes, we recommend pruning your lavender to improve its garden performance. The best time to prune is early spring, but wait until new growth emerges! Cutting any earlier may increase the potential for winter or frost damage. Cut the stems above large emerging buds, even if that means cutting your plant back by half or more. However, avoid cutting it all the way to the ground!

Why is my lavender getting woody?

Lavender develops woody tissue from the base of the plant as it matures, similar to shrubs. This isn’t necessarily bad for your plant and is completely natural! If your plant becomes too woody, it can look unsightly and produce fewer flowers. Don’t fear; there’s an easy solution. Prune your lavender in early spring to rejuvenate it! See the question above for more details.

Which lavender is best for hot or cold zones?

All of our lavender are labeled with their recommended growing zones, so use that as your guide when purchasing! English lavender and lavandin are generally best for cooler zones, while Spanish lavender performs best in hotter zones (up to 11).

Is lavender evergreen?

Yes, lavender is evergreen in warmer zones and keeps its silvery foliage through the winter. Colder zones (like us in zone 6a) can expect the foliage to drop in the winter. But don’t worry! It’ll be back in the spring like other deciduous perennials and shrubs.

Fields of lavender

Should I deadhead my lavender?

Yes, you should deadhead lavender! Deadheading your lavender will encourage another flush of blooms. Most lavenders will have 2 or 3 flushes of flowers through the summer.

How much should I water my lavender?

It’s hard to say, as it depends heavily on the growing conditions! In general, lavender prefers growing in dry to average soils. It’s drought tolerant once it’s established, but still needs to be watered while it’s young. Water newly planted lavender two times a week to ensure the soil doesn’t dry out. When your plants are established, reduce the frequency to once a week or every two weeks. Water deeply each time you irrigate your plants to encourage deep root growth. 

These are just general suggestions. Hotter climates may need to water more, while cooler climates water less. The best way to tell if your plant needs water is by feeling the soil. If it feels wet to the touch, skip watering until it dries out. 

Which lavender has the largest flowers?

Sensational!® lavender (or lavandin, Lavandula x intermedia) boasts the largest flowers of all the lavender we carry at Great Garden Plants. Each inflorescence (or grouping of flowers) averages 4.3 inches long, totaling 50 flowers per inflorescence.

Will deer or rabbits eat lavender?

Deers and rabbits avoid eating lavender, thanks to its fragrant foliage. Rutgers gives lavender an A-rating for deer resistance on their landscape plants rated by deer resistance list. This means that they are “rarely damaged” in the landscape.

Written by: Miranda Niemiec, click here to read bio.

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