Know Before You Grow: Lavender

Lavender is such a joy in garden and home that every gardener should grow at least a containerful, and the lucky among us will be able to blanket driveways, sunny borders, and meadows with this fabulous herb. Popular since ancient times (it was used in the mummification process by the ancient Egyptians, and scented the Greek and Roman baths), it is used as a seasoning, fragrance, and home remedy, among many other things.

Lavender is not the easiest herb to grow. It needs exceptionally good drainage and prefers light, dry soils in low-humidity climates. But with the range of available varieties on the market today, you can find a Lavender that suits your climate, your soil, and your gardening style!

Choosing a Variety

With nearly 40 species and countless exciting varieties within those species, Lavandula is treasure-trove of possibilities for the gardener. Here are just two of the most popular species for American gardens:

Lavandula angustifolia, the beloved English Lavender, is renowned both for its flowers and foliage fragrance. It is used in cuisine and potpourri, besides as a spectacular fresh or dried cutflower. Among the classic cultivars are Munstead and Hidcote Blue.

Lavandula stoechas, Spanish (formerly French) Lavender, blooms earlier than its English cousin and sports a different bloom form as well as fragrance type. The flowerstalks are topped with several large, wing-like bracts known as "rabbit ears," very showy in garden or vase. The scent is more pine-like than sweet. To try a superb L. stoechas for containers or small spaces, give Sancho Panza a whirl.

When to Start

Lavender can be sown indoors in late winter or outdoors in early spring or late fall. Wherever it is sown, it will germinate in about 15 to 20 days.

How to Start

Indoors, place one seed in each bio sponge of your Bio Dome or, if you are using a seed flat, on top of the starting medium (the seeds need light to germinate). Best results are when temperatures alternate between about 55 and 72 degrees F.

Outdoors, scatter the seeds onto the soil and then cover with a row protector or very light sprinkling of soil.

Lavender can also be started from cuttings. Dip the cut end of the stem into a rooting hormone and pot it up in a sterile soil-less medium. Keep the cutting away from full sun until it has rooted.

Planting Out

Lavender seedlings are ready to transplant when they have at least two sets of true leaves. Space the plants 12 inches apart in full sun in a neutral to alkaline, light, rich, sandy, well-drained soil. Drainage is critical for Lavender's success.

Special Considerations

To dry Lavender, just stand your cut stems in a dry vase, or harvest the flower spikes when the buds just begin to open and hang them upside down by their stems in a shady, cool, dry location.

Growing Tips

  • Growing Lavender in a lean soil will encourage a higher concentration of oils. An alkaline and especially chalky soil will enhance Lavender's fragrance.
  • Prune your Lavender plants in early spring to keep them from looking ragged. This will also improve their branching ability.
  • Keep in mind that although Lavender has a large, spreading root system, it prefers growing in a tight spot. If you are growing your plants in containers, select those that are just a few inches larger in diameter than the rootball. Too large a pot will only encourage excessive dampness.

Pests and Problems to Watch For

The enemies of Lavender in the garden are moisture and heavy soils. Humid, damp summer weather can cause the plants to rot.

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