Grow Your Own

Cultivating Lavender

Cultivating lavender is a pleasurable pursuit as it is a garden plant par excellence, needing little in the way of water or fertilizer to produce beautiful displays of green, silvery, or blue-green foliage with fragrant flowers ranging from sky blue to lemon yellow to dark violet to lavender.

Select a site in full sun with good air circulation and well-drained soil.

To grow and flourish, lavenders need excellent drainage, so avoid heavy, soggy clay soils. You can add 1 inch round stones to the soil before planting to increase drainage, which is vital because lavender will not tolerate excessive soil moisture or humidity. To further improve drainage, plant lavender in a raised bed, along a wall, or near the top of a slope. In an herb or perennial bed, ensure good drainage by planting lavender on a small mound.

Lavender prefers alkaline soil, with a pH somewhere between 6.7 and 7.3, easily measured with a simple soil test. If your soil is too acidic, add lime to boost the pH.

Plant lavender by creating an 18- to 24-inch mound with well-cultivated soil and two heaping shovelfuls of 1″ round stone worked into the mound. Using a trowel, dig a hole just deep enough for the plant in the center of the mound. Blend together equal parts of bone meal, lime, and well-composted manure. Add ½ cup in the bottom of hole and mix well. The stone will allow the soil to drain, the lime will improve the pH, the bone meal and compost provide a healthy start.

Water plants deeply but infrequently, when the soil is almost dry. Overwatering leads to root rot which will cause lavender to die. Once it is well-rooted, lavender is tolerant of heat and dry spells. In non-humid Mediterranean climates, you can cover the ground with any attractive mulch to minimize weeds; in more humid climates use a light-colored mulch of sand or gravel to reflect light and help deter fungal problems.

Prune in early spring or at harvest time. For low-growing varieties, trim back foliage 1 to 2 inches. Starting in a plant’s second year, all three- to four-foot lavender plants should be cut back by about a third to keep the plant from getting overly woody. If a plant becomes woody and open in the center, remove a few of the oldest branches; take out more when new growth starts. If this doesn’t work, it’s time to dig out the plant and replace it.

Harvesting lavender is one of the most enjoyable pleasures in the garden! Lavender is a gorgeous fresh-cut flower you’ll want to harvest once the  flowers have opened and the color is bright and vivid. Cutting for dried flowers you’ll want to harvest earlier when the lower one-third of the flowers are opened.  In both cases, cut with hand shears during the cool of the morning after the dew has dried.

Drying lavender is a great way to preserve this plant. To dry lavender, use rubber bands to bundle no more than 100 stems together and hang the bundles in a dark, dry place with plenty of good air circulation. Dried lavender can be used for floral bouquets, potpourri, or culinary uses.

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