It's hard to imagine a garden without at least one lavender bush it's so versatile. This wonderful plant is very drought tolerant and has such lovely flowers and of course a wonderful scent. It likes fun sun and does quite well in heat. Once established it takes very little care and maintenance, although a good pruning once a year keeps the bushes flowering more prolifically and gives them better shape. Deer and rabbits don't eat it. There are many different kinds of lavender plants. The one we sell here is English Lavender the one that's used in all the lavender bags and lavender products that you see on the market.
Lavender is a woody perennial plant that can also be described as a low bush or shrub which can grow up to five feet in height. The gray green leaves are narrow tapered oblongs attaching directly to the stem at the base in a spiral whorl around the stem. The flowers arise in late spring on stalks above the plant that can be anything from a few inches to two feet in length. The flowers can range from a deep purple blue all the way through to white.
Bushes vary a great deal. Some have a very compact habit forming small rounded mounds others are more sprawling and need to be pruned into shape.
Care and Placement.
Lavender is an ideal plant once established. It likes sunshine but will tolerate a little shade and made need more in hot sunny climates. It is very drought tolerant and needs very little water once established. In a prolonged drought I would recommend some extra water to ensure survival but the plants can survive.
It is hardy from zone 5-8, however colder damp winters may occasionally kill plants. We lost three bushes in the very cold snowy winter of 2008-09 out of about 550. We are in zone 6b. Lavender must have a well drained soil, it does not like it's roots to be continuously wet so take care if planting in a clay soil to improve drainage first.
Although many reference state that it's essential for he soil to be alkaline this is not essential. The soil on our farm is pretty acid (it was pH 5.2 when we first arrived) and the lavender does just fine. We do supplement the soil with lime but now the bushes are well established they don't get as much buffering so it pretty acid now considering that any irrigation water will also be acidic. It does not need much in the way of fertilizer and once established can be pretty much neglected. Leaner soils with less fertilizer produces a higher concentration of essential oils meaning you get a better scent.
Lavender grows very quickly once the small plants are planted. Our bushes grew from little seedlings to about two feet all around in two years and they continue to increase in size every year. When planting make sure you leave enough area around the plant for it to grow, and grow fast. If you want a lavender hedge still space the plants about three to four feet apart of they will grow together too quickly and not establish a thick leaf base. Most of my plants merged into a long 'hedge' in the third year after planting from seed with a spacing of four feet. Make sure you water well in the first year to ensure they are established, then watering can be reduced and even stopped.
Growing from seed.
Growing from seed is easy but it takes patience. Lavender is very slow to germinate. I don't care what other reference say it is. All the plants on our farm were grown from seed. Some seeds germinated quickly from seeding in early April others were still germinating come October of that year. Germination rate is often also quite poor, that I will agree on, often only about half the seeds germinate. However I suspect that some of this is because the grower is not patient enough and throws away the seed tray before all the seeds have germinated. Poor and slow germination accounts for the reason lavender plants are so expensive to purchase.
Early germinating seedlings need some care until they are large enough to move outside, then they will begin to grow rapidly. Many of ours bloomed in the first year, though not very profusely.
Expect to get a wide range of plants when you grow from seed. Flowers will range from white to deep purple some bushes will be compact while others are more sprawling. Some have short flower stalks while others can be very long. If you only want a few plants grow them on for a while and then discard the ones you don't like. Cuttings can be taken from bushes you really like to increase the number if you want.
Some light pruning always occurs if you are harvesting the flowers and this may be sufficient for some bushes. However taller or more sprawling bushes can be cut back to about one third their height if desired. Prune in spring before any flower stems arise. If you live in a colder area where dieback of bushes occurs do not prune until you see new leaf growth on the plant, then cut back the older dead portions. Do not cut back new growth or the plant may give up and die.
When you harvest your lavender will depend on what you want it for. For culinary use the flowers are usually picked when they are still in the tight bud stage, or in full flower depending on what you want.
For use as lavender bunches, wands or bags the flowers are usually allowed to open and begin to bloom this gives a fatter larger lavender 'flower' and thus is more 'filling'.
Harvest early in the day if possible on a dry sunny day when the dew has gone from the plants and the sun is not yet too high to decrease the oils in the plant. Cut to the base of the stem, don't worry if you get a few leaves as well, just consider it as a simple pruning.
Lavender has a myriad of uses. As a wonderful scent in the house. Lavender will keeps it's aroma for years. It is considered to be very calming and a good thing to have by the bed if you hare having trouble sleeping.
Don't overlook the culinary aspects of lavender until you have tried it. The plant has a subtle taste which is very pleasing and not at all what you would expect. Use in jams, jellies, butter, ice cream and other flavorings.
There are dozens of different varieties of lavender making it possible to grow lavender even in hot desert climates. Many look like typical English lavender while others can look a lot different. The main thing they have in common is the wonderful scent. Don't get confused by the name either. English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) like we grow is the one that's used in most of the cosmetics, lavender bags and wonderful lavender products available. NOT French lavender. This plant has a small tuft of flowers on the top of the stem and is a much deeper red/purple color. True lavender has a wand of flowers.
The confusion comes in the fact that most of the lavender grown for production in Europe is grown in France you may have seen photographs of the wonderful lavender fields in Provence. What they are growing there is English Lavender but it's called French lavender since that is where it is grown. It is NOT the plant that we call French Lavender.