How to Grow Lavender


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Lavendula (Lavender)

Lavender "Avon View"Lavenders are a sun loving perennial ideal for planting in a rock garden, in front of a shrub garden, in a perennial garden, or used as a hedge. Gorgeously fragrant, invigorating, and rich with healing properties, lavender has been cultivated from the beginning of recorded civilization. The word 'lavender'  is thought to have derived from the Latin word "lavare" meaning to wash since the Romans had a habit a perfuming their baths with Lavender. The flowers grow in fragrant spikes and come in colours ranging from deep purple and lilac to white, cream, pink, sky blue, red-violet and even green.

The genus Lavendula consists of over 30 species of small shrubs or herbs. Lavender belongs to the Labiatae (Lamiaceae) family of mints (Menita spp.), Sages (Salvia spp.) and Thymes (Thymus spp.) a botanical grouping that are distinguished by their characteristic rectangular squared stems.

Spanish (L Stoechas) lavender is the most popular variety and can be identified by the large, petal like sterile bracts (rabbit ears) at the top of the flower spike. Stoechas can be grown on it's own or used as a hedge. The foliage is grey-green and has leaves between 2-4cm long. In good conditions it can grow up to 1m high but 70cm is a typical height. Stoechas favour a free draining slight acidic soil. In summer they are covered with masses of 3cm long flower spikes. Prune after flowering in autumn and in the middle of summer to keep it in shape and stop it going woody. Stoechas is sometimes sold under the name Italian Lavender.

French (L. Dentata) lavender is often referred to as the toothed lavender. This variety has greener foliage than the stoechas variety and is a very vigorous plant. In warm climates it can grow to 1m tall and does well in a sunny corner, a warm wall, in a container or grown as a hedge. In warm climates it is covered for most of the year with light purple flowers. It is recommended to prune it three times a year to keep it looking it's best in autumn, at the start of summer and in late summer.

English Lavender (L. Augustifolia) is a hardy variety suited and can generally survive cold winters temperatures around 10 degrees centigrade or lower if kept dry over winter. L. augustofoila has a different form from the others as it has no sterile bract at the top of the flower head. It typically grows between 60-80cm and produces masses of long flower spikes up to 15cm with violet flowers. It makes a nice hedge and needs to be pruned at least three times during the growing season. L. Augustifoila 'alba' has white flowers and grows between 40-60cam. L. Angusifolia 'Hidcote' makes a nice border plant or pot specimen with dark purple flowers and should be pruned to keep it in a compact round shape.

Lavender likes a soil that is slightly alkaline with a pH factor between 6.0 and 8.0 and grow best when their is adequate calcium in the soil. The soil should be well worked and well drained as lavender will not tolerate wet feet for any length of time. Heavy clay soils can be improved by raising the beds and adding compost and humus. Mixing a little bone meal into the soil below the roots (but not touching the roots) before planting will slowly release organics into the soil and promote root and leaf growth. Lime may be added in autumn or before growing. Some growers mulch with crushed shells to reflect the sunlight and promote healthy growth.

How to Grow Lavender

Young plants can be purchased from garden nurseries, grown from seed, layered (it will sometimes self-layer from old, well established plants) or propagated from cuttings.

Seed. Seed can be sown in spring either sown in seed trays and left outside for a few weeks for an early start, or sown directly into the soil about two weeks before the last frost if it requires cold to start the germination process.

Cuttings. The quickest way to get new plants is to take softwood cuttings 5-10cm in length at any time (with summer to early autumn being the best time) from a main stem that has new growth on a well established plant. Cuttings can set root in water or use a rooting hormone and plant the cutting directly into a sterile potting mix.

Lavender can be planted at almost any time from spring to autumn well spaced apart to allow plenty of air circulation as lavender is prone to developing mildew.

The best time to plant is in the early morning or evening, or on an overcast day. Gently knock the plant from its pot, spread the roots and place plant in a hole that accommodates the root spread and fill with soil. Tamp the soil down firmly around the plant making sure the plant is well supported. A little mulch around the plant can help maintain soil moisture while the plant is getting established in its new home. Water the newly transplanted lavender with a liquid fertiliser to give it a good start. If the stems are long enough gently prune and this will start the stems branching.

Caring for Lavender

To keep your plants in good health remove spent flower heads and give a light tip pruning to help during the growing season to prevent the plant from spending itself and dying out. At the end of the season - after flowering has finished - give a hard prune cutting back to one-third to keep a good shape and to stop them becoming woody. Do this well before cold weather to allow the new growth to "harden".

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