Fields of lavender commonly brings to mind the rolling hills of Provence, but did you know Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States are also notable for their lavender producion? Not only does the versatile plant have an unforgettable aroma, it’s also easy on the eyes with vibrant hues that can add a dash of color to any landscape. Virginia McNaughton’s Lavender: The Grower’s Guide gives pointers on how grow and care for the plants—so why not get started on your very own south-of-France style backyard?
Growing tips: The two basic requirements for successful lavender growing are full sun and good drainage. Lavender is a hardy plant and will tolerate neglect, but for optimum results it will flourish best if these two requirements are met.
Soil requirements: The best soil for growing lavender is a gritty or sandy loam with a pH factor between 6.0 and 8.0, but a considerable range of light and well-drained soils are generally suitable. In wetter or more clay-based soils lavender can be grown successfully on mounds, but lime will need to be added to increase the pH level and friability.
Climate: Depending on what variety of lavender you grow, the plants are generally tolerant of cold temperatures, winds, rain or snow, providing they have good drainage. More sensitive plants can be grown in pots and moved to a sheltered position when autumn arrives.
Watering: Good irrigation or adequate rainfall is important to establish new plantings, while older plants are able to withstand dry conditions. Overwatering or high rainfall can stress plants, and leave them susceptible to root rot and other fungal and bacterial diseases.
Pruning: Keeping plants in shape is one of the best ways of maintaining a young, healthy and vigorous plant. Pruning should begin when the plant is still in the pot and continue at least once a year for the whole life of the lavender bush. Cut back at least one third of the plant. Pruning in spring will promote a late spring/early summer flowering. Plants pruned in spring will need to be cut back again in the autumn.
Humidity: Many lavenders will tolerate humidity and maintain a reasonably compact shape, but some are more prone to pests and diseases in such conditions, particularly those with prolonged damp periods. Spacing plants well apart to allow for adequate air movement around and between plants can overcome this problem.
Fertilizer: For the home garden, application of a well-balanced compost and some lime will benefit the plants. If this is not possible, lavender will grow happily without any externally added fertilizer for a while, but older plants may show signs of nutritional stress if the soil is poor.
Harvesting and Drying: Optimum timing for the cutting of lavender is determined by the end use for the spikes. Cutting is best undertaken in the morning once the dew has evaporated and before the heat of the day. If harvesting for dried flowers where the spike is to remain intact, cut when the first two flowers on the spike have opened. If picked at the first flower break, the flowers, once dried, will stay on the spike. The optimum time to cut for oil depends on the cultivar, but generally when half the flowers on the spike have withered. For drying, lavender stems are bunched together with a rubber band or tie that allows for shrinkage of stems as they dry. Lavender needs to be dried in a dark, dust-free place with good ventilation.