How to grow Lavender

It's hard to imagine a plant which is more evocative of summer than lavender with its intensity of colour and scent. Looking at the images you can almost hear the bees which are attracted to Lavender flowers because of their high nectar content.  Like so many plants Lavender is easy to grow in the right conditions, and hopeless in the wrong conditions. To do well, Lavender needs sun, well-drained soil, and it dislikes wet, especially winter wet, which it will not tolerate. The cold may kill lavender, but it is much more likely winter wet will. It is essential that Lavender is grown in the right place, dry with plenty of sun.  

Thought of as a quintessentially English plant, Lavender is part of the genus Lavandula with about 25 species many found in the Mediterranean and warm climates. Given its origins Lavender prefers, in fact needs, good drainage and a sunny spot. It the ground tends to be wet, even the hardiest lavender (see below for which are the hardiest) will struggle to survive a winter with roots in wet. Lavenders do well in dry spots, ideal for Mediterranean planting schemes, gravel gardens and in containers on a patio or balcony, always provided there is sun.

To plant Lavender dig a hole about 3/4 inches bigger than the plant you have purchased and tap out the plant from the pot, tease out the roots, which means put you hand in the roots and gently free a few. Water and plant so that the level of the soil from the potted plant is the same as the earth, and firm it in so it's secure and no air pockets.

lavender after wet winter growing in wet conditions

If your soil or garden conditions are not ideal, you can help by improving drainage  which is best achieved by adding horticultural grit, (sold at garden centres.) If your ground is particularly heavy, with clay, tending to be waterlogged in winter, it will be necessary to dig a trench to create a greater area of free draining soil where you want to plant the Lavender. 

Those gardeners in the South and East, with drier gardens and free draining soil will be reading this wondering what and earth I am on about, recommending all these trenches and grit.

My garden is exposed to wet winters and even with this preparation,  at the end of the Winter my lavender is per the image left, which is one of my plants. This is a good lavender, and it will pick up over the summer, others suffer so badly they become compost. I persist in growing them because I love the scent of Lavender but now they are all in containers and a wall.

If your soil is wet, grow Nepeta in the borders and plant Lavender in containers. 

How Hardy is Lavender?

How hardy is Lavender depends in part where it is planted because in wet conditions it is significantly less hardy.

There are three types of lavender commonly grown and widely available: Lavandula Angustifolia above images left and right L. varieties such as Hidcote and  Munstead (see images below) which are H5 -10-20.  Within this group are many varieties in shades of blue, lavender, pink and white and many different sizes. It is worth thinking about what sort of effect you want to create with the Lavender as the different varieties all have a different look. Also, if you have planted a series of Lavender for a repeat effect, or as a hedge and have any die back you will want to replant the same variety.

For colder areas there is also Lavendula x intermedia group of Lavenders, known as English Lavender. This will survive quite well in our gardens being hardy H5 it will tolerate English winters well in most parts of the country except where very it is exposed, or wet.

The last group widely on sale is  Stoechas known French lavender which is H4 -5-10 and will need winter protection, illustrated above centre. 

If your garden conditions a long way from the Mediterranean ideal the best Lavender to plant would be one of the Lavandula  x intermedia varieties.   English Lavenders are all described as H5 hardy (explanation about hardy plants)  and the French lavender is  described as H5 it is in truth border line in areas of cold and wet winters. If you don't have ideal conditions, with ground which can get waterlogged, but would love to give Lavenders a try, your best chance is careful soil preparation to drain away as much water as possible, or plant in pots/walled garden to create drier conditions. 

 Lavender plants tend to be a short-lived perennial; up to 10 years in perfect conditions but often become leggy, woody and with bald spots after a few years in less than ideal conditions, and are best replaced. 

Types of Lavender

Lavendula angustifolia 'Hidcote'

Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote'

This is a newly planted Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote' it has one of the best colours and on the hardier side also illustrated above centre.

Lavendula ' Munstead'

Lavender munstead

This is more mature Lavendula 'Munstead' similar to Hidcote is shape and size, also in terms of hardiness, although a pale colour.

Lavendula x intermedia

lavender intermedia

A tall variety of Lavender, with lovely scent it has long stemmed pale mauve flowers. It has a loose formation and it height of up to 1m+ makes it ideal for hedging and paths. 

Nepeta a Lavender alternative

Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote'

If conditions are not suitable for Lavender and you want soft blue spires of flower Nepeta is a good standby. Very easy to grow and tolerant of everything including being chewed by cats and loved by bees.If it gets too tall Nepeta responds well to the Chelsea Chop.

Perovskia Russian sage

Perovskia 'Blue Spire' Russian sage

This is Perovskia ' Blue Spire' another great alternative to Lavender. It has a more upright shape than Nepeta and is taller growing to around 1m with tall blue upright spikes of aromatic flowers which the bees go mad for. 

Plant a Lavender path

lavender path

Planting lavender alongside a path makes a lovely scented walkway. As the passerby walks along the lavender is brushed which causes the scent to be released. Equally good is to plant the lavender in a low wall to release scent.

How to Prune Lavender

When Lavender is provided with the correct growing conditions, it needs little care.  It does not need feeding or frost protection.   Gardening guides do advise a trim in late summer cutting off the spent flowers and into the green growth of the plant to create a good shape for next year. This will also help to prevent the plant from getting leggy.

This is good advice, but I am very reluctant to trim lavender after flowering as I like the sight of the fading flower heads. If you don't trim back in the summer, prune in April the same way, (not too early or the frosts can damage the pruned stems) just trimming off the spent flower heads and into a nice shape. Always avoid cutting into the old wood which is the established part of the plant unless it is looking very bare when you may want to prune away old wood to improve shape and appearance.


Updated 30.09.2019