How to grow Lavender!
My all time favorite garden plant is the Lavender. It is not just a great color in between the other perennials but it has this heavenly scent that I just can’t get enough of. I have four different types growing in the flower beds under the window and I hate to close the windows as I then miss that fantastic scent. It smells so wonderful and is so calming. It's like a touch of Heaven.
Lavender hardy in Zones 4-7!
Lavender really is a hardy little plant. It can be grown in zones from 4 to 10 quite easily. Naturally some of the types are better suited for the colder temperatures then others. Some aren't hardy to frost at all, now that does not mean that they can’t be grown in cooler climes it just means that they need to be grown in either pots or in protected areas. ( that said I have to confess that I have never had success with a lavender in a pot, my Gramps had several and he grew them in a zone 3 year after year, one of his oldest was so huge that it ones took three of my cousins to move it into the house in the early fall) Now protected area I can do, as long as the plant gets lots of sun is not shaded by trees or other plants, lives in well drained soil and is well mulched in the fall with lots of leaves and eventually snow in the winter it will live and prosper quite happily. Other then mulching growing lavender does not take much work. I’m not sure of the spelling but I think it the hardy plants are called Monsteed or Munstead. I looked it up in my gardening books but couldn’t find it. (I will keep looking then add the name in here with the correct spelling).
Lavender attracts Butterflys and bees!
In ideal growing sites a lavender mound can usually give 12-14 years of love to the garden. Eventually the woody centers will dry up but the new outside shoots will live on almost like separate plants. I have had luck splitting a couple of plants like that and separating them. Also it’s important to remember that the roots circumference is wider the visual upper plant.
All summer long the lavender attracts many different butterflies and bees. When in full bloom I’ve even seen a hummingbird or two on the plants.
Lavender makes great hedges and borders. The ‘Old English Lavender’ can grow up to 3 feet high producing fragrant grey-ish leaves and purple/blue flowers. While the dwarf variety ‘Hidcote’, has darker blue flowers and will grow only to about 8-9 inches high.
As I said before, lavender loves sunshine and but will become stunted with sparse blooms if it gets too much shade from other plants and trees nearby. It likes well drained sandy soil and can even survive brief droughts without much worry. If watering gets to be necessary remember to water the lavender in the early morning before the sun gets to be too hot. Also try to water the soil without it splashing onto the leaves as that could cause a fungus that will make the plant lose its leaves and eventually the bloom spears too.
Mulching and Soil!
It is important to have the lavender planted with space around them so that air can circulate around and dry away humidity which is a bigger problem then drought. The plants do not like or need much fertilizer and actually prefer a low grade soil and will produce more flower spears. Just a small amount of well rotted manure once a year will be more then enough. It likes a low acidic soil with medium to high ph levels (7-8.5). Avoid mulches that stay wet like sawdust, straw or leaves during growing season especially in humid areas. (Leaves and straw are okay for fall mulching but should be removed once the danger of frost has passed). The constant damp can cause a fungus which will spread quite fast and cause browning of the stems and black spots on the leaves. (Remove sick plant and burn do not put into the compost heap as the disease can live on in the soil and spread to other plants as well.
Lavender... bulb savior?
I have been experimenting with planting my spring bulbs in between the lavender. The rabbits and squirrels do not much care for lavender and for the third year in a row have stayed away from all my bulbs. The oils on the lavender plant seems to deter bugs, slugs and arachnids from making homes in the clumps, which as far as I’m concerned is another bonus.
Starting from seed or cuttings
You can start lavender from seeds or softwood cuttings in the spring but it is less hassle and faster to buy small plants (one year old) from a good nursery. These small potted plants seem to take root much better and will become ‘show-ey’ and most likely produce a few bloom spears in the next season. My Gramps used to layer propagate but again I haven’t had much luck with it at all. I started some from seed and it was in the third season that it finally started to grow well. Since then I cheat and buy 3-6 4” potted plantlets every spring.
Planting and pruning
In colder climates you need to wait until all danger of frost is passed and the ground is warm. (In my neck of the woods, south western Ontario, I wait until after our May 24th long weekend). Dig a hole and loosen up the dirt and mix in a scoop of sand to lighten up the soil. (The more clay in the soil the more sand) To assure great drainage make 10” or so high mounds. Carefully loosen up the roots to make sure the baby-lavender isn't root bound, don’t bury the plantlet any deeper then it is in the pot. Gently water after planting and for the next few days.
Older overgrown lavender plants benefit from a light pruning in early autumn remember to try these clippings dipped in a growing medium then potted.However these cuttings will have to either go inside over the winter or in a protected winter frame. I have done just that this past season and so far so good (I'm whispering this because I do not want to jinx the whole process by bragging too much.) If it works out I should have at least 36 new plants. Sooner or later I will have my lavender hedge...
A quick recap:
To grow healthy hardy and drought tolerant lavender plants you will need to choose an area with plenty of sun, low moisture with good drainage, in mounds of light sandy or gravel soil.
Cut the flowers spears when the buds are just starting to open, hang in bunches upside down in a dry warm place. Use in cooking and household items. (The hub with lavender based recipes is in the works and will be published soon)
Do a good pruning after 4-5 years of growth and then every second year after that. Don't waste the cuttings as they can be used to make more plants OR dried and put into small netting or muslin baggies and used as a drawer or closet fresheners also added to potpourrie.
pictures courtesiy of www.sxc.hu
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