For good reason, lavender is one of the most cherished plants in the garden. This adaptable plant not only looks nice and smells well, but it also does well in harsh garden environments.
English lavender, or Lavandula angustifolia, is so resilient that it grows well in my windswept Scottish yard. Lavender needs three things to thrive: well-drained soil, lots of sunlight, and a warm climate.
Where to Grow Lavender
The wild lavender thrives in the thin soil found in the limestone landscape of the Midi, as described by Geraldene Holt in her book Diary of a French Herb Garden. The rocky, precipitous slopes are covered in wild lavender and thyme. As they battle the weather by pushing and twisting their wiry roots into gaps between the rocks, they produce tiny, highly perfumed leaves.
Domesticated lavender requires certain specific conditions for optimal growth. My own lavenders are planted in a spot of light, stony, unimproved soil where many other plants would perish, against a south-facing wall exposed to the prevailing breeze. In terms of soil, lavender is surprisingly tolerant, so long as it doesn’t become soggy. However, for optimal growth, a well-drained, fairly fertile soil is recommended. When kept in a container, it does quite well.
English lavender, especially the compact variety ‘Hidcote,’ is a great choice for a low informal border hedge or windbreak due to its tolerance of exposed, windy locations. It is customary in cottage gardens to have a lavender hedge that extends from the front door all the way down the path to the ground. Lavender plants adjacent to outdoor chairs are a good example of this.
Gertrude Jekyll, the legendary cottage gardener who popularized the kind of lavender known as “Munstead,” recommended planting lavender next to roses because it conceals the plants’ lanky branches in the colder months. Lavender, with its muted hue and loose growth habit, is ideal for softening modern gardens’ hardscaping. You can discover white-flowered variants like ‘Alba’ and its smaller brother, ‘Nana Alba,’ (both of which are excellent for border edging), and pinks like ‘Hidcote Pink’ and ‘Loddon Pink,’ if the traditional bluish-purple hues don’t work with your color scheme.
How to Grow and Care For Lavender
Growing lavender from seed requires patience because the germination process might take several months. Propagating lavender via cuttings is easier than other methods, because the resulting plants are genetically similar to the originals. To learn more about how to successfully take cuttings of herbs, check out our page here.
Lavender requires a two-step pruning process in cool areas, both for individual plants and for hedging. The blooming stems can be cut down during peak bloom or afterwards to maintain a tidier plant. To avoid the plants from becoming lanky and naked at the base, leave the foliage during the winter to shield the new growth from frosts, and then give them a good trimming in the spring. However, you should avoid sawing through older branches because they won’t grow back.
All pruning can be done in the fall in warm areas.
Lavender’s short shelf life is a drawback. Maintaining a bushy appearance requires annual trimming in the manner outlined above, but even with the best of care, most plants will need to be replaced after 5-10 years. It’s a good time to try something new, so I dug up some old, wilted lavender of unknown ancestry and replaced it with ‘Munstead,’ a kind with somewhat greener leaves. Despite a dry spell that we’ve been experiencing, it’s settling in well.
How to Harvest and Use Lavender
Of course, the aromatic properties of lavender have made it a household name. Lavender is easy to harvest and dry; just cut the stems before the blooms open, and then bundle them up and hang them in a dry, dark place. After a few weeks the flowers will have dried fully, and can be shaken gently from the stems into a container.
Lavender is safe to eat, however it is rarely used in cooking. Leaves can be finely chopped and used sparingly in some sauces or in shortbread biscuits; if you have a fantastic recipe with lavender, please share it with the community in the comments!
However, picking lavender is optional. It’s aesthetically pleasing, has a pleasant aroma when you sit next to it or walk by it, and attracts lots of helpful bees that will help pollinate your garden.
How to Dry Lavender
Lavender, once picked, must be dried well before being stored. The good news is that this is trivial to arrange.
Lavender bunches should be dried by suspending them upside down in a warm, dry, and shaded area. It’s best to put them in a sheltered area, like under an eave, in a garage, or in a corner of the garden. Moisture should be avoided at all costs.
An antique painting ladder with hooks for string serves as my herb drying. However, I have also constructed a wreath out of dried lavender by hanging it along a shady fence and letting it dry out. The aroma of dried lavender is really beautiful, and it can be spread over the house. The book was excellent, and I strongly suggest you read it.
Inspect the dried lavender after two to four weeks. The dried flowers will simply fall from the stem, revealing the truth.
Shake or rub the dried lavender buds into a tray or dish to store them. Put the dried flowers in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, and keep them in a cold, dark area until next year.
Which Kind of Lavender is Best for Harvesting?
Lavender harvesting is a fantastic method to bring order to wild plants and a fantastic source of creative energy for the rest of the year. Flowers and plants benefit equally from being harvested at the right time and in the right method, and this is especially true of lavender.
Therefore, planting the proper variety of lavender is the first step toward a successful harvest.
ENGLISH VS. FRENCH VS. SPANISH LAVENDER
The common names for lavender, such as English lavender, French lavender, or Spanish Lavender, can be somewhat confusing because they can refer to a large number of different lavender kinds.
The beautiful bonnet of butterfly-like bracts on the perennial shrub Lavandula stoechas is the best way to tell it apart from Lavandula angustifolia and L. x intermedia, which have delicate blooms on long stalks that rise above the woody evergreen plant.
L. angustifolia is commonly known as English lavender, and I have seen L. x intermedia, a hybrid of L. angustifolia, referred to as both English and French lavender.
This manual is intended for harvesting L. angustifolia and L. x intermedia, the two species most often grown for their culinary, artisanal, and therapeutic uses. Still, you can pick lavender of any variety using these methods.
THE BEST VARIETIES FOR HARVESTED LAVENDER
Your lavender’s aroma, color, and how long its dried stems last are all dependent on the kind you pick. Many people agree that the English lavender cultivars ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’ (L. angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ and L. angustifolia ‘Munstead’) are the best for drying.
The ‘Thumbelina’ variety of lavender is my favorite for drying since its tiny, dark purple blossoms retain their vibrant hue even after drying. I should also mention that after visiting numerous farms and farmers, it appears that everyone has settled on a set of preferred varieties.
I think it would be a great idea to visit a lavender farm, learn more about the plants, and purchase some for your yard. Some of their treasures will shine brightest in your garden.
How to Use Dried Lavender
If you have a garden overflowing with fragrant, flavorful herbs but no idea what to do with them, here are some ideas for how to put them to good use. This beautiful flower has a wide range of potential uses, from decorative purposes to culinary additions to medicinal salves and tinctures. It’s safe to say that this list has something to offer everyone.
Quick Tips on Growing Lavender
When the conditions are correct, growing lavender doesn’t require much attention. Lavender is a hardy perennial that may be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 10, with some variation in success depending on the specific variety and environmental conditions. In our climate zone (9b/10a), for instance, lavender grows like a weed. Lavender shrubs here can reach a height of several feet and bloom nearly continuously throughout the year. People in Florida (also zone 9b/10a) may have trouble growing lavender. The reason for this is that lavender prefers the dry, mild temperature of the Mediterranean and cannot survive in areas with excessive humidity.
Growing lavender in a pot can help compensate for the constant wet weather. You can use cactus potting mix or a potted soil that drains nicely. Don’t overwater it at any cost! Overwatering is the leading cause of death for lavender plants. Roots that are always wet will quickly become infected with fungi and die. You should select a sunny spot with good drainage and sandy soil if you plan on planting lavender in the ground. It is not necessary to over-fertilize or compost lavender. It thrives best in nutrient-deficient, rocky environments.
Growing lavender from seed is a lengthy and finicky process, but it is doable. If you want to grow lavender from seed, follow these steps and leave the seeds a month or two to germinate inside. Growing lavender from a seedling or nursery plant is the quickest and easiest option. In all candor, that is how things have always been done! It’s important to be patient with young plants because they may take longer to mature than expected. After two or three years, the roots have settled in, and the plant will grow and bloom at a much faster rate. The first year is spent resting, the second year advancing slowly, and the third year making great strides.
Many different kinds of lavender are available. All of them, without exception, can be classified as either English, French, or Spanish lavender. Some remain small while others grow to enormous proportions. There are also a number of hybrids, numbering in the dozens. All species are delicious and fragrant, but the English and lavandin types (L. x intermedia) are especially well-suited to use in cooking due to their naturally high sugar content and mild anise flavor.
It’s important to find cultivars that can thrive in your area. True English lavenders (Lavandula angustifolia), such as the ‘Hidecote’ and ‘Munstead’ kinds, are the most cold-hardy of all lavenders. The only ones that are safe for use in zone 5 are those. Lavenders from France and Spain prefer warmer temperatures and higher altitudes. True to its English heritage, ‘Phenomenal’ lavender can thrive in the region’s hot, humid summers. Additionally, Lavandula stoechas and L. dentata are two of the more humid-friendly lavender species.
Discover the USDA planting zone that corresponds to your zip code with this handy lookup tool. For the best selection of hardy lavender plants, I recommend visiting independent nurseries in your area. Our fields are filled with dozens of different lavender species, including those native to France, Spain, and England.
How to Store Dried Lavender
When the lavender has dried, the flower buds can be removed or left on the long stem for display or use in dried flower arrangements. Remove the flower buds from the stalk and store them in an airtight glass jar to preserve their flavor and aroma. Keep it in a cool, dry, and dark place.
Ways to Use Dried Lavender
Besides being a beautiful addition to floral arrangements, dried lavender has a wide variety of other uses. The uses for and benefits of lavender are numerous. Aromatherapy practitioners utilize it because it has been shown to alleviate symptoms of stress, depression, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Insects can be scared away by the scent as well. Lavender has many beneficial properties beyond just its pleasant aroma. Dry lavender is great for use in DIY medicines and personal care items due to its natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, and pain reducing characteristics.
Lavender has various culinary applications beyond its usage as a decorative flower. It’s important to keep in mind that the most well-liked hybrid edibles are the English and lavandin varieties. Spanish and French lavender, which are higher in camphor concentration, are less tasty and pleasant than their English counterparts, but camphor is a great terpene for reducing inflammation, itching, and pain.
Some suggestions for using dried lavender:
- Create sachets of relaxing lavender potpourri using a small mesh bag or cheesecloth, and place them in a drawer, the bathroom, the car, or by your bed.
- Refresh your home with a spray of lavender.
- Make your own lavender-infused oil, tinctures, salves, soap, body scrub, and more by using it as an ingredient. Check out this tutorial on how to make your own organic lavender salve, and then come by the Homestead and Chill shop to buy some! Make some lavender bath bombs with this recipe from my friend Tanya at Lovely Greens. (I really need more leisure time so I can take long, luxurious baths.)
- To make lavender simple syrup, just combine the ingredients. The handmade kombucha with a touch of lavender syrup is a favorite in our household (I go light on the sugar, heavy on the lavender). One of our favorite kombucha flavor combos for the secondary fermentation is lavender-lemon. Cocktails made with lavender syrup are to die for.
- To add a floral note to baked goods like sugar cookies, cake, and cupcakes, just make lavender sugar.
- Both sweet and savory marinades, typically for meats, but also fantastic with roasted potatoes or other vegetables, can benefit from the inclusion of lavender.
- To reduce the amount of insects, the smell, and the stress of your chickens, try sprinkling some dried lavender in their coop and nesting boxes.
- To serve as organic mulch and deter pests, we frequently top-dress the soil in our potted plants with old, spent lavender buds and stems.
Stay tuned for further in-depth essays on a few of these topics. How-to guides for both lavender-infused oil and lavender salve have been posted on this site so far.