Growing Lavender

growing lavenderThere’s a lot to like about lavender. Known for its rich, luxurious scent, the lavender plant is a stunning perennial evergreen, which originated in southern Europe and the Mediterranean. Long ago, the early Egyptians used lavender oil to help embalm their mummies. Additionally, the Greeks used it to treat a wide variety of ailments from muscle aches to treating insomnia. Today, many are growing lavender. Both for its intoxicating scent and lovely coloring that attracts plenty of beneficial pollinators to your garden.

Start Growing Lavender

Once you get it established, growing lavender couldn’t be more simple. Plus, the endless scents and varieties you can experiment with ensures you’ll never tire of it. If you have a passion for growing plants that are as useful as they are beautiful, lavender is an herb that can’t be missed.

When and Where Should You Grow Lavender?

With a little planning, lavender can be grown just about anywhere. Lavender is a sun loving plant that thrives in well-drained soil. Though it’s an herb that likes lots of water, it prefers not to be stuck in puddles for days on end. If you have naturally alkaline soil, little needs to be done to get your beds ready for this sweet smelling herb. Best of all, so long as your winters aren’t too severe your lavender should come back year after year without problems.

Growing Lavender From Seed

Though it’s certainly possible to grow lavender from seed, be ready to exhibit plenty of patience. Germination rates for lavender are notoriously low, so plan on planting far more seeds than you actually need.

It’s best to sow your seeds early, usually two months before the last frost date. Lavender seeds are light dependent, meaning that they need to be covered with only a thin layer of soil in order to sprout. Once the seedlings have a few true leaves, they can be transplanted into larger containers and planted outside once the temperatures warm above the risk of freezing. Make sure to “harden” the plants off for outdoor temperatures by taking them outside for a few hours at a time before planting them. Once lavender has been planted in the garden from seed, it usually takes about three years before the plants grow large enough to be harvested.

Growing Lavender From Cuttings

Because of the time and difficulty involved in seeding lavender, most gardeners rely on cuttings instead. This both speeds up the growing process and ensures your new plants are genetically identical to the parent. The easiest method is to take cuttings from a mother plant variety that you like.

To make a cutting, snip off a piece of lavender at least six inches long. Pull off the bottom three inches of leaves and dip the end in an organic rooting hormone solution. Put the plant in potting soil and watch for new growth to form. This is a sign that the cutting has rooted, meaning you can transplant it into your garden without risk.

Growing Lavender in Containers

A movable container is a great place to grow lavender, especially if you are short on space or have intense winters. Make sure to choose a container that’s several inches bigger in diameter than the root ball. Clay tends to allow for better circulation than other materials, making it ideal for lavender. Keep these pots in full sun and check the soil regularly to ensure it stays damp, as lavender is less likely to flower without consistent water.

Preparing a Lavender Bed

When your lavender is ready to be planted outside, select a garden bed that has decent soil and a pH level between 6.5 and 7.5. Chalky, alkaline soil produces the best smelling flowers, and lavender tends to rot if its roots sit in water for too long. When planting, make sure to space out your plants so that they have room to grow several feet in each direction. Dig each hole to be twice as wide as the root ball of each plant, and add a small level of organic compost to each hole to make the transition process easier for them.

Patience is essential when growing lavender, because it generally takes lavender three years to reach full size.

Watering and Mulching Requirements

Lavender has the benefit of being an easygoing plant once you get it established, but the first year of growth is notoriously tricky. After your initial planting, be sure to water your lavender plants without saturating the soil, allowing it to fully dry out before re-watering. Once or twice a week is optimal. If you have soil that’s prone to holding onto water, it’s a smart idea to mulch around your plants with gravel to create conditions similar to lavender’s native Mediterranean climate.

Once established, lavender is fairly drought resistant, though flowers grow bigger when the plant is watered frequently.

Organic mulches tend to be a bad idea for lavender because they increase the chance of it getting infected with mold or fungus. Black landscape fabric, sand and stones are a smart way to keep the weeds at bay while reducing the risk of rot and fungus.

Its Mediterranean origins mean that lavender isn’t well equipped for handling freezing temperatures, so it’s a smart idea to protect your plants with heavy mulch or row covers if you have harsh winters.

Companion Planting and Rotation Considerations

Lavender tends to do well with just about any type of plant, so feel free to plant it where ever you like. Keep in mind that the fragrant blooms tend to attract bees and other pollinators, so it’s smart to keep your lavender close to plants that require pollination to fruit.

Common Pests and Diseases for Lavender

When grown in the proper conditions, lavender tends to grow without problems from pests and diseases. However, fungal problems often occur when the plants are kept to too wet. Root rot and wilting lower foliage is a sure sign of a fungal problem, and your best way forward is to remove the infected stems (the whole plant if necessary) and ensure that each plant has enough space to be well ventilated.

Harvesting and Storing Lavender

Once your lavender is a year or two old, you can harvest it whenever the flowers are in bloom in order to make stunning flower arrangements or even your own essential oil. The best time to harvest the flowers is early in the morning on a warm, dry day. Use a pruning shears to snip off stems, but be sure never to take more than one third of each plant.

In order to dry lavender, you can make bundles of about fifty stems and bind them with string or a rubber band. Hang each bundle upside down in a cool, dry place out of sunlight until they have completely dried, which usually takes about a month. At that point, your dried lavender can be displayed in flower bouquets, crushed into herbal sachets, or used for a wide variety of different uses.

How to Use Culinary Lavender

When grown organically, dried lavender can make a zesty addition to many different recipes. It only takes a little to get plenty of potent flavor, so be careful with your measuring. This unique herb can add interesting flavor to pound cakes or be mixed into an Herbes de Provence blend for a savory chicken seasoning.

Saving Lavender Seeds

Lavender seeds might be hard to germinate, but they are certainly easy to collect. Simply allow some flowers to go to seed and dry out on the plant. If you can gently shake each plant and have seeds fly out, you know it’s time to start collecting the seeds. In order to collect them, just clip the flower heads off the plant and shake them in a paper bag until the seeds separate off them. When stored in a cool, dry place, these seeds should last for several years, though the germination rate will never be great.

Choosing the Best Lavender Seeds for Your Climate

There’s a wide variety of different lavender plants available to grow depending on your preferences. Below are some of the top options.

English Lavender: As the quintessential lavender variety, English lavender is actually the most popular as well. It’s hardiness levels make it ideal for growing throughout the United States, and the fragrant flowers dry well without losing their scent. For this reason, English lavender is the kind most commonly used for fragrances and perfumes.

Spanish Lavender: With a strong, pungent scent, Spanish lavender can add a real punch to any dish you make it with. The defined shape of its fat flowers make this form stand out. Common varieties include Tiara, Blueberry and Hazel.

French Lavender: Known for its distinctive teeth along the edges of the leaves, French lavender has a rosemary-like scent and grows best in warmer climates, making it better suited as a perennial in the United States.

Food-grade Lavender: All lavender is edible, but not every tastes as good as others. If you’re more interested in using your lavender for cooking than flower arrangements, there are plenty of food grade varieties that produce potent flowers, including Provence, Melissa, and Royal Velvet.

Additional Growing Tips for Organic Lavender

If you need some extra help getting your lavender to glow, these extra suggestions might help you out.

  • Keep your plants healthy all year long by sprinkling some bone meal around their base every fall.
  • To improve your seed germination rate, you can mimic a natural winter for the seeds by placing them in a plastic bag full of peat moss and placing it in the fridge for five weeks or more. At that point they can be warmed to room temperature and planted like normal.
  • Be sure to prune your lavender plants back into a bush every year to ensure the plants don’t get too leggy. This also encourages new growth and keeps your plant healthy longer.
  • Even the best kept lavender plant starts to slow down flower production after five years, so replace your older plants with new cuttings to get a fresh start.