There are only a few secrets to keeping lavender alive in colder climates and the main one is well-drained soils. I’ve noted some of the others below but you can stop reading here if you haven’t solved the drainage issue in your garden or have very heavy clay soils.
I really like the smell of lavender and this may be partially explained by the usually reliable source that says there are two smells that elicit the greatest sexual response from the average male.
The first is the smell of freshly baked chocolate doughnuts and the second, the herbal fragrance of lavender.
The details are below
- Height: 8-24 inches depending on variety
- Width: Approximately the height
- Sun needed: Full hot sun
- Soils: Survives on sandy or decent soil – clay soils hold too much water over the winter. Well drained soils
- Hardiness: USDA zone 4 (L. angustifolia) to USDA 5 (hybrids- some) to USDA 7 (French)
- Propagation: By seeds or cuttings
Origin of Lavender
The word lavender indicates its historical use in cosmetics and toiletry because the Latin word ‘lavo’ means to wash. The ancient Greeks and Romans were heavy users of Lavender so the sweet fragrance and appeal of this plant is obviously not a recent discovery.
And as there is no secret to the name of the plant, there are no secrets to the successful culture of this perennial herb.
How to Grow
Full hot sun is the first ingredient in the recipe and this is a plant that thrives in the hottest part of my garden.
Excellent drainage is another ingredient in the recipe because any excessive wetness around the roots will lead to root rot. It is for this reason that growing lavenders on clay is not recommended. If you have clay soils, grow this plant in a container or in a raised bed with sandy soils in the raised bed.
I shot this video with a lavender grower and while the sound isn’t great from his side – it was a windy day and we hadn’t planned on doing it) he’s giving you a ton of great info
The plants should be spaced on 18 inch centres to give them expansion room.
The recipe is complete with a shovel of compost spread around the plant in early spring and yearly spring pruning to remove all the winter-killed branches.
Spring pruning encourages thicker growth and more flower production so do trim the plant in the early spring just when the buds start to swell on the stems.
Over feeding leads to soft growth and poor fragrance; you have to be tough on this plant and serious growers will eliminate even the single shovel of compost
While lavender is relatively easy to start from seed, named varieties do not come true from seed so the better varieties are always propagated from tender cuttings.
And propagate them we do because this is one of the longest blooming plants in the garden; if deadheaded, Lavender will continue to produce flowers in a range of blues, violets, pinks and whites from mid summer right up until a hard frost.
How Long a Plant Lives
And speaking of frost, commercial growers find that a plant lasts approximately 5 years before it starts to “run out” and decline in health. They take cuttings and propagate the plant so that there are always new ones coming along to replace those that die.
Some garden experts say that you can expect a garden plant to last up to 10 years before it starts to die. Mine have tended towards the five or six year mark but that is hard to say whether it is winter doing the killing or simply the plant getting weaker, or even a combination of the two factors.
While there are essentially two lavender families grown in most gardens, (French and English) the tender French forms are not hardy for me (they need a zone 6 or 7) and I have been disappointed every time I tried to overwinter them outdoors. Although plants such as ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ are wonderfully fragrant.
The English lavenders on the other hand have returned my enthusiasm by growing and self-sowing in the garden without a care for winter cold.
A hybrid form known as Lavender x intermedia or Lavendin is marginally hardy here and I tend to either heavily mulch it or grow it in containers for wintering in a cold frame.
Plants to Grow
L. angustifolia is the classic English lavender plant and there are some wonderfully hardy and heavy blooming plants on the market.
Look for ‘Blue Cushion’, at 12 to 18 inches tall, its deep blue-violet flowers are held above a compact mounding plant, ‘Jean Davis’is 18 inches tall with pale pink flowers and marginally hardy in my garden.
‘Lavender Lady’ is a mid-lavender blue and blooms first year from seed.
‘Lavender Lady’ is one of the few lavenders that will come true from seed. ‘Loddon Blue’ is a more compact grower than ‘Hidcote’ at 18 inches tall but the flower color and form is a comparable deep violet.
This brings me to the observation that both ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’ are now seed generated in the nursery trade and as they don’t breed true, the plants you’ll likely obtain from your local nursery only superficially resemble the original plant.
The Lavender x intermedia plants are hybrids between L. angustifolia and L. latifolia and while all are tender, they are wonderful plants. Their tenderness has not stopped me from growing them by any means possible.
‘Grosso’ has deep violet blooms on a thickly branched plant. It is one of the most fragrant and is the main variety used in commercial production in both France and the USA.
‘Hidcote Giant’ grows to 24 inches tall with deep rich purple flowers. It has a more open, coarse growth habit and requires regular and heavy pruning to keep it looking attractive. My favourite in this class is ‘Provence’. It grows to 24 inches tall and has dark purple flowers. I fell in love with the fragrance of this variety when I saw and smelled it in France.
‘Twickel Purple'(aka ‘Twinkles’ or ‘Twickes’) is also 24 inches tall but it has broad flat leaves flushed purple in winter. It needs heavy pruning after blooming to thicken it up otherwise it can become leggy. It has deep purple flowers and is another of my favourites. It has the distinction of being used most often in cooking and candy making.
I have had miserable luck trying to get the delightfully variegated lavenders to overwinter. Goldburg with its gold and green striped leaves has proven itself to be quite fickle as has ‘Walburton Silver Edge’ with white and green stripes. Both are x intermedia forms and on the tender side.
And by the way, chocolate doughnuts are a poor second.:-)