Plant and Grow Lavender
How to Plant Lavender
Lavender is an herb that initially only grew in France and the warm western Mediterranean region. Today it is cultivated world-wide mainly for the aromatic oil. Lavender is popular as a perennial plant in the garden; it is fragrant and offers a wide variety including annuals and shrubs, and consists of 39 flowering species in the mint family. Lavender is a beautiful addition to any garden and attracts bees and butterflies while repelling moths and mosquitoes.
It is helpful to mulch around the base of the plants shortly before winter and the best way to propagate is by root divisions. Lavender plants are tolerant of all types of soil, however it does best in dry, sandy and well-drained soils for the alkalinity it provides. Limestone can be used to neutralize acidic soil before planting to reach 6.4 to 8.2 pH level.
Starting Lavender from Seed
When starting from seed it's best to begin a few months before the last spring frost dates. Chill the seeds in the refrigerator for a few weeks keeping them moist, such as in a damp paper towel. This process helps to boost their germination rate. Plant each seed less than 1/4 inch deep and place in a sunny window. You may cover with plastic wrap to keep them moist, however remove it as soon as growth appears so they don't mold. Sprouts should occur from two to three weeks after planting. They can be transplanted outside in a sunny area after all danger of frost has passed.
Add compost to the soil and space seedlings one to three feet (30-90 cm) apart to ensure optimal growth and development. Water just enough so the seeds and sprouts set to assure they don't dry out, then water on a regular basis throughout the first year. Potted lavender can be helped along with the addition of liquid fertilizer or compost at regular intervals. Some varieties require up to six weeks to germinate and seedlings that grow very slowly.
Planting from Stem Cuttings
Propagating plants from cut stems in the spring or fall produces plant growth much quicker than from seed. It is also the easiest method and has a high success rate. Cuttings taken in the spring take much less time to root compared to cuttings taken in the fall.
Find a healthy shoot about four inches long and separate it from the main stem with pruning shears keeping the heel attached. Dip in hormone rooting powder and place in a pot of sandy compost one inch deep. Lightly moisten the soil and set it where the air circulates and out of direct sunlight. Signs of new growth should appear within six weeks and the roots by early autumn, after which it can then be transplanted in the final location.
Potted Lavender does well with no more than two inches of soil around the root ball. If your winters are harsh you may choose to set it indoors and transplant in the spring after the last frost. Throughout the winter months, add a little water as needed, and a bit of fertilizer or compost.
Homemade Rooting Helpers
Since most hormone rooting powders are synthetically produced from chemicals and may also be difficult to find, you may wish to make your own.
Make a tea using a young branch from a willow tree. Cut a handful amount of pieces and bring just to a boil in a saucepan with two cups of water. Cool and allow the tea to infuse for two to three days. Dip the rooting ends of the stem cuttings into the tea before placing them in the soil.
As a natural antiseptic and preservative, honey may help prevent diseases from forming on your plants. Dissolve one or two teaspoons in a cup of warm water. Set in a dark location until cool and use as a rooting dip for cuttings.
Place a little cinnamon in a container about the size of a shot glass or plastic cough syrup cup. Dip the cut end into the cinnamon about 1/3 of an inch deep. Place one inch deep in a planter containing sandy compost. Cinnamon acts to protect the stem from fungus and bacteria.
Gather seeds after the plants have dried in late summer on a dry sunny day. They are black or brown and oval in shape. Shake the flower heads into a paper bag. Place the seeds in a planter pot on top of sandy compost. Sprinkle over the seeds with a very thin layer of compost and set in a warm, dark location. As the sprouts grow into seedlings they may need to be separated and transferred into slightly larger container pots before the weather warms up in spring.
Store additional seed in an airtight container in a dark place and use within a year. Lavender seeds stored for over a year are less likely to germinate.
Pruning Lavender Plants
First year plants grow fuller when the floral spike is trimmed back shortly above the bloom. English lavender can grow up to two or three decades but becomes uneven and needs pruning in the spring and early in the fall. Spittle bugs and lepidoptera caterpillar species can invade and infect the lavender as well as leaf spot and other fungal diseases. Overly-moist and water logged soil can develop into root rot that may expose the plants to infection.
Chances for disease can be mitigated by improved drainage and raised soil beds. If your climate produces cold and windy winters, plant near a solid fence or brick wall for heat and protection. Pruning near the stem around the base of the lavender will increase air circulation. They can be further protected through the winter by covering the soil with mulch and straw or evergreen branches.
Lavender plants are resilient and drought resistant. Add a little garden gypsum to the soil in the spring for calcium. Taller plants can be pruned back leaving one third their height. Varieties that grow lower to the ground can be pruned either a couple of inches, or down to the new growth. Always check to make sure new growth is occurring before pruning your Lavender at the beginning of spring. If new growth has not appeared, it is best on Lavender plants to wait until they've come out of dormancy before pruning.
Harvesting and Drying Lavender
Lavender's purple or blue flower stalks are used for crafts, floral arrangements, aromatherapy and sachets. The time to harvest depends on the method used when planting. Stem cuttings take about three months to reach maturity from when they were transplanted in their final location. Lavender grown from seed may require five months before harvesting. They may be ready one or two weeks earlier or later.
Branches in full bloom have started drying and will not maintain color or fragrance. Shortly after the dew has dried, use scissors or pruners to cut stalks that are one half to two thirds in bloom. The cool temperatures of the morning help retain the essential oils and the fragrance is more intense. Both qualities dissipate during the heat of the day. Also, the bees are more active later in the day and they love lavender. Consider whether anyone has a bee allergy before cutting Lavender.
Avoid cutting lower than an inch into the plants foliage. Secure small bundles with a rubber band. Attaching Christmas ornament hangers or straightened and rebent paperclips to the rubber bands make them easier to fasten to a hanger in a closet or in the garage out of sunlight. Allow to air-dry upside down so the oils remain in the flower buds. Spread a sheet or drop-cloth underneath to collect the blooms that fall. Lavender flowers dry in a week in a well-ventilated area and longer with high humidity or air conditioning.
Lavender stems hold their fragrance and color for years as long as they are kept away from direct sun and moisture. Lay the dried stems in a cardboard box until ready to use. To release the blossoms, roll the stems back and forth in your hands over newspaper or place them in a paper bag and roll back and forth on a table top catching the petals in the bag.
Store blossoms in jars, plastic sandwich bags or amber color bottles when not in use. The stems can be thrown in with the firewood to freshen the air and used as BBQ skewers.
Lavender is used for a variety of purposes. Sachets are simple to make and maintain their fragrance for up to three years. Wreaths are beautiful and the scent from Lavender is calming. Planting and growing Lavender can serve a multitude of purposes both inside and out.
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