Most lavenders are started from cuttings
taken from Mother plants. This is both fast and accurate, producing an
exact replica of the original plant.
Starting Lavender from seeds sounds like a great inexpensive way to get all the
lavender you desire but it can have some major drawbacks.
The first obstacle is finding the seeds. Even though Spanish, Yellow, and other species
Lavenders can be started from seeds, it is
usually only the Lavandula angustifolias--Hidcote, Vera, and Munstead-- that are available as seeds.
The second drawback is what we call 'low and slow' germination.
seeds have a short shelf life, and therefore the germination rate (how many seeds
out of 100 come up) is usually pretty low. They can also take a long time to
sprout (two weeks or more) and this invites fungus to the seed tray, often causing the seed to rot
before it can sprout. Seeds benefit from light, so cover lightly when sowing.
The germination temperature should be around 70 degrees and spring seeding is
more successful than fall seeding. Those seeds that
do sprout will take one to three months before they have enough roots and top
growth to allow successful transplanting. Adding fertilizer to the sterile
medium used in the seed tray can help the little plants get off to a better start, but it can
also invite fungus in cool, humid situations.
The third disadvantage is the time it takes for the seedlings to get
to a good size. After they are
transplanted into small pots, the plants will be about three inches tall and
have a single stem. It will take another three months or more to make a plant
substantial enough to transplant to a larger pot or to the garden.
The fourth inconvenience is the difference factor. Because little care has been
taken over the years to insure that the seeds have not crossed with each other,
the plants will be varying shades of color. They might also vary some in height
and width. This was the surprise our customer had. The perfect hedge of
Hidcote Lavender she had dreamed about and worked so hard to grow the plants for
turned out to be more like a cottage garden: still beautiful, but irregular in
form and color.
And, lastly, the most popular Lavenders (the Lavandula x
sometimes called Lavandins), either do not make seeds or the seeds are sterile, so you will never see a seed packet
The most important factor to get right with Lavender is drainage.
Soggy areas should definitely be avoided. Incorporate organic matter if
necessary to make a loose friable soil. Compost is the best amendment because it
is fertile and has uneven particle sizes. Uneven particles in the soil create
better air spaces and give the roots better anchors to attach themselves to.
Check the soil's pH (potential hydrogen) to make sure it falls
somewhere between 6.5 and 7.5. If the soil is too acidic the Lavender will
not thrive. If the soil is too alkaline, the nutrients are 'tied' up in
the soil and the plant cannot use them. Yellowed growth can be indicative
of a soil that is out of balance. Adding compost can help to balance
If you are going to plant a hedge or a massive amount of
Lavender, make sure the ground is cleared of weeds.
works to remove not only tenacious weeds, but also kills weed seeds. Small
Lavender plants cannot compete with aggressive weeds, and weeding after they are
planted can be a huge hassle. Weeding often becomes such a chore that Lavenders
are overrun and eventually die in
a neglected field.
Mulching with a small particle mulch or compost after planting helps with the weed control,
but avoid mulching right up to the stem of the small plant. Instead, leave a
collar about two inches wide around the plant.
If you are in hot, humid areas,
try planting Lavenders in a raised bed or on a mound. Leave plenty of
room between plants for air circulation. Lavenders are not ideally suited to
heat and humidity, so be prepared for problems, such as fungal disease and rot.
For ultimate show, space plants according to their
height measurement. For example, a Grappenhall Lavender is listed at 3 to 4
feet. By spacing these 3 or 4 feet apart, the effect when the plant is blooming
is spectacular. If it is more important that the plant make a tight row or
hedge, then plant closer together.
If planting in pots, make sure to repot every spring into a
larger container with fresh soil to allow the plant to continue to mature and to
provide as many flowers as possible. A good, coarse, sterile
soil with organic fertilizer mixed in works best.
In the ground or in a pot, full sun is a must. If the garden is
crowded, plant near a south-facing wall. Even the Lavender at the north end of
the row will be shorter and bloom later. In hot areas, some late afternoon shade
can be tolerated without sacrificing the glorious mounded shape and rising
pincushion effect of the flower wands.
Lavender in the field rarely needs fertilizer, especially if
compost is applied as a mulch. More often, problems arise because the soil
is not healthy. Avoid chemicals in pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that
kill or starve the beneficial organisms in the soil.
In arid regions with no summer water, irrigation will be
necessary for the survival of the plants. While Lavender is extremely drought
resistant once established, it grows larger and produces more blooms with regular watering. This means
that when it is dry, water it. While this may sound obvious, it is important to let
it dry out a bit before soaking it again. In humid areas, this can be difficult and
the excess moisture often causes death.
The Gardener's Minute
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Zones 8 and up can plant Lavender in spring and fall, but
other zones are better off with a spring planting after the last frost. If
fall planting is to be tried, plant at least two months before the first
frost. It is important that the plant actually make good root development into
the native soil before severe winter weather occurs. Lavender grows slowly in
the fall and often plants are not sufficiently established to get through winter
rains and cold.
It takes about three years for a Lavender to reach full size.
Plants should be pruned every year immediately after bloom. Pruning should not be confused
with harvesting. Pruning is necessary to extend the life of the plant. Lavender
flower wand stems are usually a bright green while Lavender leaves are gray. Cut
back not only the flower stem, but also about a third of the gray-leaved stems
as well. If the plant has been neglected, it can be cut back further, but
avoid pruning back so far that only woody stems with no leaves are showing.
pruned into the wood may push out latent (sleeping) buds or it may die.
Harvesting Lavender is one of the most enjoyable
pleasures any gardener can have. Lavender flower heads look gray
before the flowers open. They are devoid of most color and it is easy to
become impatient waiting for them to burst into bloom. Once the
color is bright and vivid, that is the time to start cutting. Cut the
flower stems during the cool of the morning after the dew has dried. In
humid areas, try to cut on dry days. For arrangements,
it is easiest to arrange the Lavender while it is fresh and supple. This
can be done in the garden if it is not too hot. If the weather is very
warm (even in the morning), take a bucket of water, filled about a quarter of the way, and
submerge the cut end of the stems into the bucket. Remember that the plant
cools itself by releasing its fragrant oils, so the more heat they are
exposed to the less oil, and fragrance, for you. Arrange out of direct
sun as soon as possible. Stand them in a dry vase and the fresh flowers
become dry ones. Or use fresh in small groups as an accent for a fresh
herbal wreath. If the flowers are to be used later, dry in small
groups by tying with a twist tie and hanging in a dark dry place or
individually by spreading them on a screen and drying out of the sun. Once
dry, the buds can also be stripped and used as bulk for potpourri, sachet,
or even cooking. Some Lavenders hold their buds better than others. Grosso
Lavender is preferred for wand making and dried arrangements because
the flowers stay on the stem better. This is something to consider if your primary focus is to
REMOVE the dried buds for bulk use, such as potpourri. Provence Lavender is more suited
to this because the buds release easily from the calyx (too easily for dried
bouquets or wands).
The further along in the bloom cycle, the more fragile
the flowers seem to be. Actually, what happens is that the little flowers
fall out and what is left is the calyx and any unopened buds. Most
Lavenders bloom for about 5 weeks, so do a little experiment in your
garden to see when the harvest is best for your needs.
If you are harvesting a lot of Lavender, try this tip
from the Lavender experts at Purple Mountain Majesty.
Hand harvest by sticking your left thumb in the flowers
to be cut while simultaneously hooking the flower stalks in front and
below your left hand with a Chinese sickle.
You pull and cut the first bunch into your left hand with one
motion. The process is
repeated without removing the cut material until you have completely cut
counterclockwise around the plant essentially twisting the cut stalks
around the center uncut stalks as you go.
This keeps even the largest bundles under control because the whole
bundle winds around the center uncut stalks creating enough friction to
keep everything together and eventually captured under your left arm.
If the bundle is too big for your grip, then it is kept from
falling apart by your thumb and the center stalks, which you cut in a
final cutting motion starting with a reversed sickle in front of your left
leg and vectoring in a direction that is away from the harvester.
Lavender smells like it should taste wonderful, but the
taste of most Lavenders is a little like turpentine. The flavor is not one
that can be easily defined nor is it one most people like right away. It
is like a fine wine with many subtleties. Both fresh and dried flowers and
leaves are used in culinary preparations. Recipes using Lavender are
generally on the sweet side but Lavender can be used to replace Rosemary and
other strong tasting herbs. Or, it can be blended with other herbs, as in
herbs de Provence. This mix, used in many savory
dishes, often finds dried Lavender leaves and flowers
mixed with other members of the mint family, like Rosemary, Sage, Oregano,
Thyme and Mint.
Used not only to make life smell richer and more tolerable, but also as
a medicinal relief for ailments from headaches to insomnia, Lavender oil has
always been a prize. In times past, most Lavender oil was distilled from the
angustifolia species of Lavandula.
Often referred to as English Lavenders, these
Lavenders are native to the western half of the Mediterranean. Now
cultivated in many countries, it was thought the finest Lavender grew in
England and thus the common name English Lavender evolved and is still the
name most folks use when referring to Lavender products.
Lavandula angustifolias are small, and because they are pretty particular
about where they grow, it takes a lot of plants to produce one ton of oil;
so most Lavender oil now comes from the Lavandins. These are hybrid Lavenders that have the English Lavender as one parent and the
Spike Lavender (Lavandula latifolia) as another. These Lavenders tolerate a more
diverse climate, and, since they are larger, produce more oil per acre. This oil,
while less expensive, is not as good for medicinal purposes as English Lavender
oil, but it is widely used in the perfume and craft industries.
And, when you hear the term French Lavender Oil, don't be confused. The
French nom de plume refers to where it is grown and not which plant it is from.
French Lavender oil is really English Lavender oil produced in France!