How to Grow Lavender: A General Gardening Guide

When you hear lavender, you can probably almost smell it wafting through your nose. It’s a sweet, pleasant and relaxing plant whose most common use is in cosmetic products, such as bath soap and perfume. It is also used quite a bit in cooking, adding the smell to already tasty food. With so many uses, lavender is a great plant to grow in your garden or yard. If you aren’t sure how to grow lavender, continue reading for some steps to get you started.

Types of Lavender

As with many things, there is a variety of lavender from which to choose. The three most common are French, Spanish and English varieties. You want to select the best type of lavender to suit your needs and your climate region. Not all lavender grows the same in every climate. Let your climate zone help you choose which one of varieties to grow.

  • Zones 5 through 8: If you live in the north and experience a cold winter, mild spring and warm summer, English lavender is your best bet. It is used mostly in cooking, and it will grow to produce strong, tight and small clusters of flowers in contrast to blue-green leaves. This particular type of lavender is hardy and does well in colder climates, so it may be the perfect one to fit your needs.
  • Zones 5 through 10: Variety is the spice of life, and if you reside in zones 5 through 10, you have a couple of choices when it comes to growing sweet lavender. You may opt to try English lavender as stated above, or you may try an English lavender hybrid called Lavandin. It is known for being fast-growing and having a high essential oil content.

Also in these zones is French lavender, which is more of an ornamental than its English cousin. It grows well in milder winter climates. It works great as a decorative flower in rock gardens and containers, as well as down driveway paths. The leaves are needle-like, and they grow best in full sun.

  • Zones 7 through 10: Finally, Spanish lavender makes its appearance in the zones known for little to no winter frost, but highly humid conditions. This variety of lavender has the largest flower and emits a scent similar to eucalyptus. Spanish lavender grows very well in containers and small garden areas.

Now that you may have an idea of the type of lavender that will grow the best in your area, it’s time to dig into what needs to be done to make the planting a success.

Best Time to Plant Lavender

The time of year you should plant the lavender depends again on the zone in which you live. If you live in an area that is colder than zone 6, the best time to plant is spring through early summer to have a decent amount of lavender during the warm months and into the fall.

If you live in a climate warmer than zone 6, the best time to plant is late summer and early fall, giving the roots plenty of time to develop and acclimate before the rainy and damp winter season.

Some other basics to keep in mind are:

  • Light: Lavender loves the sun, so the more sun it gets, the better. If you live in zones that are hot and humid throughout the summer, some afternoon shade would benefit the lavender and keep it from wilting. However, the rule of thumb is to keep it in direct sunlight a majority of the day.
  • Soil: You have the best shot at successfully growing lavender in soil that isn’t overly fertilized. The soil should be tended to before planting, and it may be slightly alkaline for the lavender to thrive. If needed, add lime to cause the pH to settle around 7.0. The soil should be able to drain well and not be too close to a sprinkler head or roof runoff. Too much standing water could rot the roots and cause the plant to die or not grow at all. If utilizing a container, be sure the bottom has adequate holes to allow excess water to wash through.
  • leafSpace Apart: If you are planting a bed of lavender plants, be sure to have them spaced at least a foot apart. The closer they are, the denser they will become. If you want to allow them to spread out more and possibly grow better, give them up to 3 feet of space.
  • leafSeedlings: Experts recommend that you start planting lavender from seedlings that have an established root system. These small plants increase your chances of being successful and having the lavender come back year after year (it is a perennial, after all).

Now that you have the what and the where, it’s time to get to the how.

Steps for Planting Lavender

1. Ready the Soil

Dig a hole that is approximately twice the depth and width of the lavender plant. Be sure to loosen the soil at the bottom and sides of the hole.

2. Ready the Plant

Carefully remove the plant from the container. You should not yank the plant out or use anything sharp to jab at it. If the roots are sticking to the container, you can gently tap the sides of the pot and turn it upside down until the plant begins to slip out. If you do need to apply force, try to do so at the soil’s surface and not by the plant itself.

After you’ve removed the plant, you have to take some time to loosen up the roots. Do this by carefully pulling and “mussing up” the roots with your hand or a small trowel. It is crucial to get them to unravel a bit so they will re-root in the ground and spread out instead of staying concentrated. You may have to carefully snip at some of the roots to help spread apart those in the middle. Shake the dirt off to help speed the process up.

3. Plant

Insert the lavender into the hole you’ve prepared. Make sure the plants winds up sitting level with the ground and not too far below or above. In either case, remove soil as needed or add soil back in. It is crucial that the plant winds up even. If it is too far down, water will pit and collect on top, causing it to rot and die. Too high above means the roots may become exposed and either spread in an odd direction or die due to exposure.

4. Watering

Do not water your lavender plants just because you transplanted them. As tempting as it is, watering immediately after moving a plant from one place to another (as you did by removing it from the pot and placing it in the ground) can kill it. Unless both the plant and the ground you put it in are very dry, do not water it. Do not purposely give it water for a couple of days. The plant will look withered, but this is expected. Any roots that were cut or untangled have to heal and start re-rooting into the new soil. After a few days, go ahead and begin your watering schedule. Lavender does not need gallons of water a day to survive.

Congratulations on planting your first lavender plant! You’ve just done something great for the environment. Butterflies and bees are profoundly attracted to the sweet smell of lavender. Since both are pollinators and essential for the growth and development of all plants, you are doing your part in keeping the cycle going. Your garden and yard will thank you for that.

Keeping Lavender Growing

Lavender is a perennial, which means even when it seems to die in the changing of the seasons, it isn’t ever gone. It is dormant in the winter in cold-weather temperature zones. If properly cared for, it will start to grow again in the spring.

The lavender plant, when fully grown, looks more like a bush. It stands from 1 to 3 feet off the ground in warmer areas. In the colder zones, it will resemble ground cover.

To help ensure your lavender comes back, take the following measures:

  • Watering and Fertilizing: Once the lavender has passed the “baby” stage of being a plant, it will not require much watering or fertilizing. Even as a young seedling, it may demand more water, but do not saturate the soil on a regular basis.
  • Mulching: Unless you live in cold-weather zones, there is no need for mulch to keep in the water. Mulch can hurt plants in warm climates because it can suffocate them if kept too tight to the base of the stalk. Try to only use mulch on cold climate varieties in the fall and then when the plant goes dormant, try to keep it warm underground. Place about a foot of mulch over the top of the plant area when it dies in the winter.

Different types of lavender thrive in different climates, making it easy to choose what is going to work for your needs. Now that you know how to plant lavender and in what conditions it grows best, you need only take the time to give it a shot. Your reward might be the sweet smell of success.

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