Easy and Fragrant: Growing English Lavenders
The sweet scent of lavender has been beloved for centuries. This aromatic herb is used in perfumes, soaps, sachets, and even culinary dishes. While many people purchase dried lavender buds, growing your own lavender plants allows you to enjoy their beauty and fragrance fresh from your garden. With proper care and conditions, it's easy to grow these delightful perennials.
When to Plant Lavender
Lavender originated in the sunny Mediterranean, and these plants thrive best in full sun and well-drained soil. They grow as perennials in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9, surviving cold winters with mulch or snow cover and flourishing through the summer.
Spring planting is ideal in most regions. Start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last expected frost date. Harden off young plants for 7 to 10 days before transplanting them outdoors after danger of frost has passed. Nursery-bought potted lavenders can also be planted in spring once the soil has warmed up.
Fall planting works well in zones 7 or warmer. Plant nursery lavenders in the cool temperatures of autumn to allow roots to establish before winter dormancy. Mulch new plantings for insulation.
Choosing Types of Lavender
With over 40 different lavender species, finding the right types for your region and needs can be confusing. Here's an overview of popular varieties:
English lavenders (Lavandula angustifolia) are the most fragrant and cold-hardy type for zones 5 to 8. They have pretty blooms on long stems, perfect for cutting. English lavender varieties include:
Hidcote - Dwarf, bushy purple-blue flowers on 10-inch stems.
Munstead - Compact mounds to 18 inches tall with abundant lavender blooms.
Miss Katherine - One of the most cold hardy; pretty gray-green foliage.
Spanish lavenders (Lavandula stoechas) thrive in hot humid climates in zones 7 to 9. Their showy blooms are topped by purple "bunny ear" bracts. Madrid Purple and papillon are two popular varieties.
French and Fringed Lavenders
Butterfly-attracting fringed lavender (Lavandula dentata) and French lavenders like grosso feature showy purple bracts and strong aromas. Zone 8-9.
Wooly lavender (Lavandula lanata) has gray-green woolly foliage and purple flowers. It tolerates drought well. Zone 8-9.
How to Plant Lavender
Lavenders flourish in full sunlight - at least 6 hours per day. They require very well-drained soil; soggy wet roots will cause rot and death. Amend clay or heavy soils with sand or gravel to improve drainage. Lavenders prefer slightly alkaline to neutral pH levels between 6.7 and 7.3.
Dig holes the same depth and twice as wide as the pot or root ball. Set plants at the same level they were growing in pots, keeping the crown just above soil level. Refill holes, gently tamping soil around roots. Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart.
Water thoroughly after planting, then allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings. Apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch like wood chips, pine straw, or pebbles around plants to retain moisture and moderate soil temperature.
Caring for Growing Lavender
With proper care, lavender plants can thrive for 20 years or longer. Here are some tips:
Water 1 inch per week - less in rainy periods, more in drought. Soil should dry slightly between waterings.
Prune annually after flowering - cut back by 1/3 to maintain shape. Never cut into woody growth.
Fertilize lightly in spring with a balanced organic fertilizer. Too much nitrogen causes excessive foliage over flowers.
Watch for pests and diseases like root rot, fungi, or lavender beetles. Improve airflow and avoid wet leaves.
Mulch plants yearly with gravel, wood chips, or compost.
Divide large plants every 3 to 5 years to rejuvenate growth; replant divisions 12 inches apart.
When Does Lavender Bloom?
Lavender blooms in mid to late spring through early summer. The specific lavender flowering time depends on your climate and variety:
English lavenders bloom in late spring (May/June)
Spanish and French lavenders bloom in early to mid summer (June/July)
A second smaller autumn rebloom may occur in warm climates
Deadhead spent flowers regularly to encourage more blooms.
One of the joys of growing lavender is harvesting armloads of fragrant blossoms and foliage. You can use fresh lavender in cooking, crafting, and relaxing aromatherapy. Here's how to harvest:
For buds, cut stems when the bottom florets on spikes start to open.
For flowers and stems, cut when half the spike is open.
For foliage, cut leaves as needed. Avoid cutting woody growth.
Cut lavender in the morning after dew dries for best oil content.
Spread bundles loosely to air dry out of sunlight before storing.
Enjoy experimenting with wreaths, sachets, teas, culinary dishes, soaps, and more with your homegrown English lavenders!
Common Problems Growing Lavender
Even when cared for properly, lavender plants can sometimes struggle with issues like:
Dying Lavender Leaves
Yellow or browning leaves often indicate too much moisture. Improve drainage and cut back on watering. Fungal leaf spot diseases can also cause leaf dieback.
Leggy Lavender Plants
If plants become lanky and floppy, it usually means too much shade or nitrogen. Move to full sun and prune annually.
Lavender Not Blooming
Lack of sunlight, over pruning, and overfeeding nitrogen causes lavenders to have foliage growth instead of flowers.
Lavender With No Fragrance
Insufficient sun exposure, high humidity, overwatering, and poor soil drainage reduce a lavender's aromatic oils.
Uses for Homegrown Lavender
The uses for fresh lavender blossoms and foliage are endless! Here are some favorites:
Lavender sachets for closets and dresser drawers
Soaps, lotions, shower gels, and bath bombs
Lavender wreaths, bouquets, and potpourri
Lavender lemonade, cookies, jelly, and ice cream
Lavender essential oils for perfumes, candles, and aromatherapy
Decorative lavender plants for your garden, pots, and walkways
Get Growing with Lavender!
With proper planting and care, homegrown lavenders can perfume your garden for years of enjoyment. Their pretty purple blooms and heavenly fragrance are wonderful additions to outdoor spaces, DIY crafts, and culinary recipes. Lavender's old-world charm evokes romantic English cottages and sunny Mediterranean landscapes. Let these versatile, scent-sational perennials transform your personal spaces with natural beauty and fragrance. You're sure to love growing, harvesting, and crafting with armloads of English lavenders from your own garden.
Lavenders bring elegance, fragrance, and old-world charm to gardens and living spaces. Their pretty blossoms and aromatic foliage have graced English and Mediterranean landscapes for centuries. With some basic care, these sun-loving perennials can be easily grown in many temperate climates. Planting English lavenders like Munstead and Hidcote along borders, pathways, and containers will allow you to enjoy their beauty up close. Harvesting homegrown lavender for wreaths, potpourri, and culinary dishes provides year-round enjoyment. Let lavenders infuse your personal spaces with their timeless, intoxicating scent through homemade soaps, sachets, and oils. Growing your own English lavenders ensures you'll always have an abundant supply of these delightful purple blooms on hand to use in crafts, recipes, and relaxing aromatherapy.