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Lavender: How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Lavender Flowers | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Lavender

Botanical Name
Lavandula angustifolia
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How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Lavender

The Editors
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Lavender is a bushy, strong-scented perennial plant from the Mediterranean. In warmer regions, its gray to green foliage stays evergreen throughout the year, and the herb thrives in some of the toughest of garden conditions. Here’s how to plant, grow, and harvest lavender in the garden!

About Lavender

Prized for its fragrance, medicinal properties, and beautiful bluish-purple color, Lavandula angustifolia, or English lavender, is a valued plant across the world. It also attracts pollinators to the garden.

Called “English” because it proliferates in the English climate, lavender’s main requirements are lots of sun and good drainage; it is not fussy about soil, and its presence lures bees and butterflies. Plant lavender along a walkway or near a seating area.

Planting

Plant lavender in a spot that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day (“full sun”).

Lavender thrives in most soil qualities, from poor to moderately fertile. Lavender makes only one demand of soil: It must drain well. Standing water and wet areas could encourage root rot. Amend compacted or clay soil with compost or aged manure to improve drainage. Learn more about soil amendments and preparing soil for planting.

When to Plant Lavender

  • Lavender is best planted as a young plant in the spring, after the soil has warmed up to at least 60°F (15°C) and the threat of frost has passed.
  • If planting in the fall, choose larger, more established plants to ensure their survival through the winter.

How to Plant Lavender

  • Lavender isn’t easy to grow from seed; we recommend purchasing small starter plants from a garden nursery or taking a softwood cutting from an existing plant. Seeds may take up to three months to germinate and seedlings will need to be overwintered indoors in cool climates. 
  • Plant lavender 2 to 3 feet apart. Plants typically reach between 1 and 3 feet in height.
  • Add mulch (rock or pea gravel work particularly well) to keep weeds to a minimum. Keep the mulch away from the crown of the lavender plant, however, to prevent excess moisture and root rot.

Check out this video to learn how to plant lavender:

Growing

How to Care for Lavender

  • Water once or twice a week after planting until plants are established. Water mature plants every two to three weeks until buds form, then once or twice weekly until harvest. (Yellowing leaves are often a sign of overwatering.)
  • In colder growing areas, plants may need extra winter protection. Cover the plants with a winter mulch of evergreen boughs or straw, which will insulate from freezing winds and temperatures. Read more about winter care of lavender plants.
    • Another option for cold areas is to grow lavender in a pot, keeping it outdoors in the summer and indoors in winter. While indoors, place the pot in a south-facing window with as much light as possible. Water sparingly, as the plant will be dormant at this time.

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Pruning Lavender

In cooler climates: Prune established plants in spring when green leaves start to emerge from the base. Remove about one-third of the top to keep the plant from becoming leggy and bare at the base, but do not cut back into old wood, as it will not regrow.

In warm climates: All pruning can be carried out in autumn.

The flowering stems can be harvested while in bloom or snipped off after the flowers fade to keep the plant tidy.

Harvesting

How to Propagate Lavender from Cuttings

  • Take a softwood cutting of several inches of stems with no flower buds immediately following the plant’s bloom.
  • Remove foliage from the bottom half of each stem and insert each into sterile potting soil or horticultural vermiculite.
  • Rooting hormone is not necessary, but moisture is: Water well and mist regularly.
  • Allow 3 weeks for roots to appear.

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Harvesting Lavender Flowers

Lavender is a wonderful herb for drying. Here’s how to harvest it:

  • Harvest in the morning hours when the oils are the most concentrated.
  • Snip off stems when about half of the flower buds have opened, cutting the stems as long as possible.
  • Gather into bundles and secure them with rubber bands.
  • Dry the bundles of lavender by hanging them in a sheltered, cool, dark place with good air circulation.
  • After a few weeks, the flowers will have dried fully and can be shaken gently from the stems into a lidded jar. Store the flowers in a cool, dark place.

Use your dried lavender to make lavender sachets—a lovely gift. Lavender sachets can help to keep your sheets or towels smelling sweet, to repel moths and insects, and even promote a restful night’s sleep. 

Storing Lavender

Store lavender flowers in a lidded jar somewhere cool and dark, or pop them straight into a sachet to keep towels, sheets or clothes smelling sweet and to repel moths. If you suffer from insomnia, try inserting the sachets into a pillow so the calming scent can help you drift off to a restful slumber.

Wit and Wisdom
  • Ancient Egyptians used lavender in the embalming process. They wrapped the dead in shrouds that had been soaked in lavender water.
  • The Romans, all the way back in A.D. 77, are documented to have used lavender to repel insects and soothe insect bites. Add a lavender sachet to your towels, sheets, or cloths to repel moths.
  • The herb is also known for its calming effects. If you suffer from insomnia, try slipping a lavender sachet into your pillow. Lavender oil is used to naturally induce sleep.
  • Learn more about the benefits of lavender!
Pests/Diseases

Lavender Pests and Diseases

Pest/Disease Type Symptoms Control/Prevention
Aphids Insect Misshapen/yellow leaves; distorted flowers; leaf drop; sticky “honeydew” (excretion) on leaves; sooty, black mold Knock off with water spray; apply insecticidal soap; inspect new plants carefully; use slow-release fertilizers; avoid excess nitrogen; encourage lacewings, lady beetles/bugs, spiders
Fusarium wilt Fungus Plants wilt (sometimes one-sided) in daytime; later, entire plant wilts/dies; stunting; yellow leaves; poor flowering; roots rot; stem cross-section reveals brown discoloration Destroy infected plants/ roots/surrounding soil (do not compost); remove plant debris regularly; disinfect tools; resistant varieties; avoid excess nitrogen; in acidic soils, raise pH to 7.0; weed; 3- to 5-year rotation
Leaf spot (bacterial) Bacteria Varies; water-soaked rust/black leaf spots between veins later dry/fall out, leaving holes; leaves yellow/distort/wilt/die; stem cankers Destroy infected parts/severely infected plants (do not compost); remove plant debris regularly; disinfect tools; prevent plant stress/injury; good air circulation; avoid overhead watering
Phytophthora crown and root rot Oomycete Leaves discolor/wilt; dieback; oozing cankers near base; reddish brown discoloration of inner bark/wood; roots rot; plants slow-growing/ stunted/die Destroy infected plants/surrounding soil (do not compost); prune out branch cankers; for woody plants, remove soil near infected crown to dry tissue/replace afterward; remove plant debris regularly; resistant varieties; prevent plant stress/injury; provide good drainage/do not overwater
Pythium root and stem rot Oomycete Plants stunted/yellow/may wilt in day but recover at night/die; dieback; stem bases brown/blacken; crown rot; root tips die; outer root tissue easily pulls off Destroy infected parts/ plants/surrounding soil (do not compost); remove plant debris regularly; disinfect tools; solarize soil; avoid overhead watering; provide good drainage/do not overwater
Rhizoctonia root and stem rot Fungus Yellow/brown leaves; reddish brown lesions/sunken cankers on lower stem/roots; roots rot; plants wilt in day and recover at night/stunted/die Destroy infected plants (do not compost); good air circulation; prevent plant stress/injury; provide good drainage
Root-knot nematodes Nematode Typically, roots “knotty” or galled; plants stunted/yellow/ wilted/weakened; leaves and other parts may distort or die; poor flowering Destroy infested plant debris after flowering season, including roots (do not compost); disinfect tools; choose resistant varieties; solarize soil, if possible; plant French marigolds as a trap crop
Thrips Insect Stunted plant growth; stippling; leaf drop Knock off with water spray; use sticky traps; shake foliage/flowers; clip off unopened/infested buds and shoot tips; submerge in mixture of 7 parts water to 1 part isopropyl alcohol and discard; plant resistant cultivars and those adapted to local conditions; water adequately, avoid excess nitrogen; deadhead flowers
Viruses Virus Varies; leaves with yellow/light green mottling or rings; distorted leaves/stems/flowers; flowers streaked; stunting Destroy infected plants (do not compost); remove plant debris regularly; disinfect tools; resistant varieties/certified virus-free plants; control sap-sucking insects; weed
Whiteflies Insect All stages suck sap on leaf undersides; leave sticky “honeydew” (excrement), sooty, black mold; yellow/silver areas on leaves; wilted/stunted plants; adults fly if disturbed; some species transmit viruses Remove infested leaves/ plants; use handheld vacuum to remove pests; knock off leaf undersides with water spray in morning/evening; set yellow sticky traps; apply insecticidal soap; invite beneficial insects and hummingbirds with native plants; weed; reflective mulch
Cooking Notes

Although edible, lavender is little used in recipes. It’s occasionally included as a constituent of herbes de Provence mixes, and leaves can be chopped and added sparingly to some sauces or used in shortbread biscuits. If you have any great lavender recipes, feel free to share them in the comments below!

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