How to grow Lavender

Lavender is a shrubby, small to medium perennial. Typically evocative of an English summer, lavender comes in shades of blue, lavender, white and pink and is highly scented. Like all aromatic plants it is attractive to bees.
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. It dislikes wet conditions, especially winter wet, which it will not tolerate. The cold may kill lavender, but it is much more likely winter wet will. 

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.

How and Where To Plant Lavender

 Given its origins, Lavender needs good drainage and a sunny spot. If the ground tends to be wet select one of the hardiest varieties of lavender, see below for info about which are the hardiest. 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 tease out the roots. This means using your hands  to gently loosen the roots. Plant at the same level so that the soil from the potted plant is the same as the earth. Water well and firm it in so it's secure with no air pockets.

lavender after wet winter growing in wet conditions

Planting lavender in wet conditions.

If your garden conditions are not ideal, you can improve the drainage,  by adding horticultural grit, (sold at garden centres.) If your ground is heavy with clay it can become waterlogged in winter. These conditions will necessitate a gravel trench to create a greater area of free draining soil. Even so you many have more success growing Lavender in containers. 

Those gardeners in the South and East, with drier gardens and free draining soil, will read this wondering what an 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 looked very sorry for itself as per the image. This lavender picked up over the summer, others suffer so badly they become compost. I persist in growing Lavender  because I love the scent of Lavender, but now they are all growing either in containers and a wall.

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

Lavender 'Havana'
Lavender 'Havana'

A lavender for wetter gardens

One other possibility is to grow a Lavender said to be more tolerant of wetter conditions.Lavender 'Havanak I have planted in my garden, which has streams and is close to the water table. I planted it in a raised walled area.  It did emerge from the winter wet in better shape so worth a try, and a nice-looking lavender.

Available from Thompson and Morgan (affiliate link)

How to Prune Lavender

Grown in the right conditions, Lavender needs little care. It does not need feeding or frost protection. The only pruning it needs is 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.

If you miss this window, or like me are sometimes reluctant to trim lavender after flowering as the fading flowers look good, you can prune in April. Pune in the  same way, (not too early or the frosts can damage the pruned stems) just trimming off the old flower heads and pruning into a nice shape. It is best to avoid cutting into the old wood, unless it is looking very bare when you may want to prune away old wood to improve shape and appearance.

How Hardy is Lavender?

There are three types of lavender commonly grown.

1. 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 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.

2. For colder areas, there is Lavendula x intermedia group of Lavenders, known as English Lavender. This group will survive 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.

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

If your garden conditions are 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 also described as H5, but it is much more 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 are a short-lived perennial; up to 10 years in perfect conditions, but they often become leggy, woody and with bald spots after a few years in less than ideal conditions.

page updated 08.08.2023

Images of the different 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 a lovely scent it has long stemmed pale mauve flowers. It has a loose formation and its 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.