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.

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. Lavenders do well in dry spots, ideal for Mediterranean planting schemes, gravel gardens. This also makes lavender ideal to grow 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 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. If the soil is heavy, dig a large hole and mix with horticultural grit, to aid drainage.

Growing Lavender in Wet conditions

lavender after wet winter growing in wet conditions

Lavender hates wet conditions especially over winter. You can add horticultural grit, (sold at garden centres.) If your ground is heavy or a clay soil, it can become waterlogged in winter. These conditions will necessitate a gravel trench to create a greater area of free draining soil. You many have more success growing Lavender in containers. 

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.

In one of my gardens the soil was very wet.  Even with 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, but some plants suffered 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. 

Best lavender for wetter gardens

Lavender 'Havana'
Lavender 'Havana'

Another possibility is to grow a Lavender said to be more tolerant of wetter conditions. Lavender 'Havanak' has been developed for wetter growing condtions and I have planted in a wet garden 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)

Growing Lavender in containers

Lavender growing in container

Lavender is ideal for growing in containers as it likes free draining soil and is drought tolerant. It is easy to be tempted to put the lavender in a large pot, thinking it will grow into all the space. Many plants do not do well if planted into a large pot, instead they should be potted up into a slightly larger, and then slightly larger pot, and then into its eventual large pot.

To do otherwise is called Overpotting. You may get away with it. Or it maybe the compost was a bit wet, the weather not ideal, it rained a lot, anything which will cause the plant problems getting established. As a result there is reduced aeration around the roots, which inhibits the take up of food and the plant doesn't thrive. 

Pot up in two/three stages and keep lavender on the dry side in a sunny spot. They make a great patio plant.

How to Prune Lavender

Grown in the right conditions, Lavender needs little care. It does not need feeding or frost protection. The only pruning required is a trim in late summer cutting off the spent flowers and 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 trim 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?

Lavenders which are commonly grown:-

1. Lavandula Angustifolia, known as English Lavender, shown in the above images left and right L. ( and below) varieties such as Hidcote and Munstead which are H5 which is down to-10-20.  Within this group are varieties in shades of blue, lavender, pink and white, and many sizes. 

2. Lavendula x intermedia group of Lavenders, also known as English Lavender. This group are hardy in most UK winters, and tend to be larger than L. Angustifolia ideal for hedging.  

3. Stoechas, known as French lavender and fat head lavender, is  described as H4 -5-10 but in reality is more borderline and may need winter protection, illustrated above centre. 

 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. 

 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.

8 popular varieties 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. 

page updated 15.12.2023

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.