Lavender is amongst my favorite flowers and what is there not to love, since they are so pretty and fragrant. It is not so easy to grow lavender compared to other herbs. But this guide will help you keep your plants alive.
This herb has been used since the times of the Romans (77 AD) who used it to repel insects and soothe insect bites. Many place lavender sachets in drawers or closets to repel moths. Lavender has medicinal properties and it has a natural calming effect. Lavender essential oil is used to induce sleep. It is also included in so many beauty products and perfumes.
How to Take Care of Lavender
Did you know there are many types of lavender for you to choose from? Which every type you pick, it is best to grow lavender in the spring after the soil has warmed and there is no chance of frost. This plant needs to be more established to survive winter. You can grow lavender for 10 years before the plant begins to decline. So it is a good idea to keep starting new plants periodically. Although lavender grows quickly, it will not bloom the first year, usually it blooms the second or third.
Many think only of the lavender fields in Provence, France, but it is also possible to grow lavender in other places. You can purchase varieties that grow well in your climate in a local nursery. Make sure to do your research to pick a variety of lavender that is suitable, otherwise the plant will not survive.
Species like Hidcote or Mustead can live in colder and weather climates. Sweet and Provence are two hybrid varieties that can tolerate humidity. Another variety you can plant is Spanish or butterfly lavender. Most prefer mild winters and dry, hot summers. Your plants will survive if the weather cooperates, but they may die if the winter gets too damp and cold or the summer too wet and humid.
This bushy perennial is native to the Mediterranean, so it needs a lot of sun (at least eight hours). Without enough sunlight it will not produce many flowers or grow bushy. It also needs shelter if planted outside, since strong winds can blow the plant over. To grow lavender you need dry and sandy soil (just like the Mediterranean seaside) so the roots don’t rot. Tilt the soil and add some sand if you have soil that drains poorly. It is also possible to grow lavender in a pot or a raised bed.
If you grow lavender in a pot make sure to pick one that is just larger than the size of the root ball. Pots that are too large will encourage dampness. Also pick a container that has holes for drainage. Terracotta or clay pots are good choices as they keep the moisture away from the soil.
Lavender needs soil that is alkaline with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5. Add a little lime if you soil does not have this pH level. Alkaline soil will enhance the fragrance of the flowers.
This herb does not need much fertilizer; placing compost and bone meal once per year should be enough. Soil that is too fertile only encourages green growth, so your lavender will not flower. Make sure you have good air flow between plants if you live in an area with high humidity.
Lavender is quite tolerant to droughts, so do not over water your plants. Wait till the soil is dry and water deeply to make sure that the roots are completely soaked. Skip watering in the summer if the soil is wet because of rain.
Lavender is a good companion plant for many species including cabbage and roses. This plant is toxic to pets like cats and dogs, so make sure they stay away.
How to Grow Lavender from Cuttings
It is a lot easier and faster to grow lavender from cuttings rather than from seeds. The main advantage of growing lavender from cutting is that the new plant will be exactly like the parent plant.
Your plant may have both softwood and hardwood cuttings. As you can imagine, the difference between both is how hard is the stem. This has a lot to do with what type of lavender you are growing and the time of the year.
Softwood cutting are the new growth of the plant and they are soft and pliable. They are available in the spring (for people who have seasons). Since they are plentiful, you can gather as many as you want without destroying the parent plant. Growing lavender from softwood cuttings is not as reliable as hardwood cuttings, even though they root faster.
Hardwood is the more established part of your lavender plant. It is thicker and will snap if you force it to bend. These cuttings can be taken from spring to fall. Whatever type of cutting you choose, it is best for it not to have flowers as they drain energy from the plant. Some varieties of lavender bloom freely, so it is hard to get a blossom free stem. In this case it is best to pick a hardwood cutting.
Grow lavender from cuttings using straight and vigorous stems. Make sure they have good color and no flower buds (if possible). Use gardening scissors or a sharp knife to take a cutting that is between 3-4 inches (8-10 centimeters) in length. Hardwood stems should be cut below a bump that indicates a leaf node.
Remove about the bottom half of the leaves from the stem and gently scrape the skin off one side of the lower portion with a knife. Get a container filled with half perlite or vermiculite and half peet moss. You can add a bit of bark for drainage. It is possible to dip the cutting in rooting hormone, although not necessary and it will make your plant stop being organic.
Place the bottom half of the cutting (the part with no leaves) into the soil and compact the soil so the cutting is straight. Softwood cutting will root in two to four weeks, while hardwood cuttings take longer. Give the cuttings a gentle tug to see if they have rooted. Resistance shows that they have. Do not do this too often as it can damage the roots.
Transplant your new plant to a bigger pot or outside in the garden. Sunlight is necessary to grow lavender, so pick a sunny location, and water your plant when the soil is dry. Commercial potting soil has a lot of nutrients, so fertilizing is not necessary unless you transplant it outside.
How to Grow Lavender from Seeds
You should have a lot of patience if you want to grow lavender from seeds. I did this once and the process took about two months. My seeds did grow but the plants didn’t survive for long. It is a lot easier to buy a lavender plant or to propagate from cuttings. If you grow lavender from cuttings the new plant will be just like the parent plant. However, if you grow lavender from seeds there is a chance that the new plants will be different, even if you harvest your own seeds.
If you live in a cold climate, then you should start your seeds inside about six to twelve weeks before the warm weather. This way they have plenty of time to grow during the warm season if you are going to place them outside.
Lavender seeds need to go through a processes called “cold stratification” which mimics winter. Place your seeds between two wet paper bags and put them in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag for at least three weeks. Make sure the paper towels are always moist. Those who purchase seeds should ask the company if the seeds have gone through this process.
After you remove your stratified seeds from the refrigerator, place them in a seed tray or in a shallow container. Put the seeds on top of the soil and sprinkle a small layer of soil on top of them. Keep the tray in a sunny (use fluorescent light for plants if you do not have enough natural sunlight) and warm spot. Make sure the soil is moist, but not damp since this will cause fungus to grow which will destroy the seeds. It can take between two weeks to a month to sprout.
For you to grow lavender in a container or in the garden it is best to wait until the plant has several sets of leaves. If you are going to grow lavender outside it is best to wait till it reaches a height of 3 inches (7.6 cm). Then you must harden the plant by exposing it to outdoor conditions for a few hours per day for about a week.
How to Prune and Harvest Lavender
Make sure your plant stays clean by removing dead or dying pieces with pruning shears. Pruning encourages new growth, so it is recommended to cut 1/3 of the plant early spring. Smaller varieties of lavender can be cut just a couple of inches. This will make the plant bigger and thicker each year.
Harvest flowers just as they begin to open, early in the summer. Gather a bunch of lavender flowers and cut the stem. Try not to cut the woody part from where the shoots emerge, as this will damage your plant. Usually you will get two harvests in the growing season.
If you plan on drying lavender, then you should cut stalks before the flowers open, just as they turn purple. Tie them and hang them upside down in a dry, dark place for a week. Lavender flowers have many uses from medicinal to culinary. Flowers can be brewed in tea or added to cocktails, desserts, salads, soups or stews.