Planting and Caring for Lavender (in the South)
There are many lavender varieties that grow well in our area. The lavandins are good choices or Lavandula x intermedia varieties like Grosso and Provence. Lavandula angustifolia, like Hidcote, grows well in our region, too. Lavender will thrive when properly planted. Make sure the lavender chosen is hardy in your Planting Zone. The farm is located in Zone 7b and lavender overwinters just fine. Lavender plants are offered at events both on and off of the farm, in the spring and in the fall. Lavender plants offered from the farm are hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 – 9.
How to Plant Lavender
- Use well-drained soils or raised beds and containers (outdoors only).
- Soil should be well draining. There is no need for a special soil, just one that is not compact. If gardening in clay soil, the soil must be amended. Use 50/50 1″ rounded stone or pebbles to native soil.
- Soil should have low fertility.
- Lavender prefers alkaline soil. pH should be 6.5 or higher and is easily measured with a simple soil test (a soil test is not absolutely necessary since typical southern clay benefits from the addition of lime – and a lot of it – to boost and retain an increase in the pH level.)
Lavender is a perennial herb. If you are concerned about winter survival, protect the plants by covering with a straw mulch until the danger of extremely cold temperatures has passed. Be mindful that lavender does not like moist conditions, so planting with sharp drainage is especially crucial if planting lavender in areas that are not appropriate for the growing zone.
If lavender plants are in pots, it will be 15 degrees colder in the pot than if it were planted in the garden. Bring the pot indoors, drag it to a warm side of the house with protection from the winter wind, cover the pot, sink it in the ground and/or wrap the pot. Lavender prefers to be an outdoor plant, with maximum access to sunlight and warmth. Remember that this herb is native to the Mediterranean. Lavender is not a house plant.
- Create an 18″ – 24″ mound with well cultivated soil and 2 heaping shovelfuls of 1″ round stone worked into the mound. Err on the side of too much stone. May create a French drain by placing fist sized rocks in mound base.
- Using a trowel, dig a hole just deep enough for the plant.
- Blend together equal parts of bone meal, lime and well composted manure. Add ½ cup in the bottom of hole and mix well. The stone will allow the soil to drain, the lime will improve the pH, bone meal and compost for a healthy start.(Remember that lavender prefers arid conditions, both beneath and above the soil. The humidity in the south will benefit from a light colored, reflective mulch, Since hardwood mulch holds in the moisture, one that encourages excellent drainage and light reflection to keep the plant dry is highly recommended.)
PLANTING & TRANSPLANTING
As long as the soil can be cultivated, plant lavender. You may wish to avoid planting in July, August, December and January. (July and August will require more attention and watering as they establish their root systems and December and January will require tamping down the plants due to soil heaving, exposing the roots to the air leaving them vulnerable to freezing temperatures.) Lots of lavender goes into French lavender fields in February!
LAVENDER IN POTS
Please follow the same instructions for planting lavender in containers. Be sure to know the mature diameter of the lavender and choose an appropriate container. Remember that lavender is shallow rooted, so the pot does not need to be a tall one. Average depth and spread of the root system is 8-10 inches. Excellent drainage is key to success with lavender be it in the ground or in a pot. The pot will need to be watered more frequently in the heat of the summer as they dry out quickly. This could mean nearly every day in July. Keep in mind that lavender prefers to live in the garden or in a pot outdoors. Requiring significant sunlight, it is nearly impossible for them to thrive as a houseplant. So, it is best to find a sunny, well-draining location in the garden, or a pot, for your lavender.
Potted lavender will need to be protected over the winter since it is 15 degrees colder in a pot than in the ground. Please do the following …
1. Drag the pot to a warm side of the house to protect it from winter wind.
2. Wrap the pot with a layer of bubble wrap and burlap or similar.
3. On really cold nights, below 32 degrees, toss an old blanket over it.
4. Or, sink the pot in your compost heap.
5. Or, plant your lavender in the garden!
- Water your lavender well in its nursery pot every day. Soak it deeply in the evenings, daily until planted, then water again for about an hour before planting, and of course, after as well.
- Prune the top of the plant to ensure a productive plant.
- Loosen the roots from the potting soil by working the trowel teeth into the soil block.
- Place plant just above the blend of stone/ lime / bonemeal / compost, not allowing the roots to touch the blend and gather soil around base of plant. Water deeply.
- Space largest plants 5 – 6 feet from one another for good air circulation.
- Lavender blooms at its peak in its third year producing about 1000 stems
Herbs thrive on neglect ~ once established.
Care for your lavender as you would any new perennial, watering deeply (or measure 1″ of rainfall). Do not permit the nursery pots to dry out completely. Young lavender seedlings must be looked after daily and especially on very hot days. Do not expose lavender to full sun in their nursery pots. Place them in dappled or full shade and water them as needed until they make their way to the garden and until they are settled in. Lavender prefers deep soaking watering, then permitted to dry a bit, then deep soaking watering, then permitted to dry a bit … Once the lavender is established in the garden, be sure that it is watered deeply every 7–10 days for the first two years. Once it is well-rooted, lavender is tolerant of heat and dry spells. Water lavender if there is a drought. Caution! Over watering leads to root rot which will cause lavender to die. Prevent weeds by mulching with a light-colored mulch like shells or gravel. Do not use hardwood mulch. The sun will reflect light, keeping the plants dry and helping to deter disease and enhance bloom and oil production. NOTE: If the lavender has been planted properly with sufficient drainage (50/50 native soil to stone mixture), over watering is less likely an issue!
Humidity can cause lavender to suffer. Graying of the foliage can occur in Southern gardens. As long as your lavender has been properly planted with sharp drainage and mulched with a light colored material, it should bounce back just fine after the sticky sweet summer months. If the graying foliage is bothersome, working from the base of the plant with your hands with open fingers, pull upwards stripping the dried leaves from the plant. This is not absolutely necessary. When the plant sends out new green foliage in April (in southern gardens, be reminded), the spent dried, gray leaves will take care of themselves. If you believe the roots are not getting proper drainage, you may take your garden fork and push it into the soil around the drip line of the plant to aerate the soil. You could even use additional rounded stone, gravel, shell material and work it into the soil as you poke holes around the base of the plant.
♡ Prune after the coldest part of winter in your area, which is around Valentine’s Day, on the farm.
Yes, the winter weather has been a roller coaster here of warmth, then cold, then snow, then warmth, then … you get it! When considering the best time to prune your lavender, it is important to ask the gardener’s questions. In looking at the weather predictions through February, is your garden beyond the coldest part of the winter season? Should the task wait? Can it wait?
The task can always wait a while since lavender requires consistent warmth, and usually nearing 80 degrees, to send out new spring growth. When does your planting zone typically near the 80 degree mark? New green foliage typically pops out in our region in April. Two winters ago, there was a devastating winter ice storm on the farm. Due to damage on the farm and the chores requiring immediate attention, the pruning happened well into March that year, so there is pruning flexibility.
Mid-late February is a time when we get gifts of spring-like days in North Carolina, so if you are an eager beaver and want to get out there to clean up and shape your lavender, go ahead. Lavender can be forgiving. At the same time, there is nothing typical about the weather these days, so it is best to consider the features of your garden and its history given your winter experiences with it. Plant loss in previous winters? Exposure to north wind? How much sun now? Is there concern that it is so warm in its garden location that it will burst out new spring growth before you get your pruning shears to it?
The goal is to prune the lavender once a year. With trial and error, you will discover what works best for your garden. Given the garden location, imagine what would happen if you trimmed your lavender and there was a deep freezing cold snap. Remember, lavender likes southwestern exposure and protection from winter wind. Given the ideal site for lavender, should you trim around Valentine’s Day, then the region dips into frigid temps, chances are that your lavender will be just fine and bounce right back.
To prune, trim off 1/3 of lavender foliage, leaving at least 2–3″ of green, soft foliage, taking care not to cut into the woody part of the plant, in late winter while dormant, by the end of February (in Zone 7a). Pruning will help the plant grow full and rounded and deter sprawling, which can cause the main stems to split and break. Toss a handful of bone meal/lime/compost blend around base of plant at this time (or it can be done with fall garden chores) and just before rain or water afterwards.
The lavender varieties that grow well in our area will bloom from about Memorial Day to July 4th.
Sometimes lavender will bloom a second time in the fall. Now, this will not be as abundant a show as in June. In our field, it is oftentimes the varieties that bloom the earliest, such as Hidcote, that give us the fall show. If the plant is harvested at peak bloom, when the first flowers begin to open, and the foliage is sheared back some at the same time, in September, there is a colorful and fragrant surprise.
To harvest lavender, when the bottom flowers are just opening, the lavender is at its peak for color and fragrance, cut the stems down to the foliage. Gather about 100 stems and rubber band them together. You may turn them up-side-down, suspended from a nail, string or wire in a hot, dark, dry location for drying, like an attic, storage area or closet. Allow the lavender to dry for about 10-14 days, depending on the conditions.
Keeping Fresh Lavender
If you enjoy fresh lavender in the house, cut it when it blooms and do not place it in water. The water just accelerates the florets falling off of the stems and the stems get very mushy, messy and yes, smelly. So, just cut them, place them in a vase, bottle, basket — whatever! — and enjoy. They will dry on their own. Grosso and Hidcote dry very nicely this way and the florets stay on the stem quite well.
Place the fresh flowers away from direct sunlight for the best dried color. Provence naturally dries to a light lavender/gray color and tends to fall right off of the stem once dried, so gather up those flowers for your potpourri and don’t get frustrated. Remember, the hotter and darker, the better lavender color and fragrance!
Quick Tips for Growing Lavender
1. Full Sun At least 6 hours. Full throttle!
2. Excellent Drainage Like rock gardens & raised beds – lots of stone.
3. Air Circulation 4 inch pots grow into 3 foot diameter shrubs. Keep clear of any creeping ground cover, or weeds, of course.
4. Prune Annually Leave 2-3 inches of soft green. Do not cut into the hardwood. Prune around Valentine’s Day or after the coldest part of the winter.
5. Water Deeply Lavender prefers soakings every 7-10 days. 1 inch of rainfall weekly is perfect.
6. Reflective Mulch Stone and shell. No hardwood mulch, please.
7. Suggested sites for lavender. Remember – Hot, Dry and High!
- Southwestern exposure
- Slopes or banks
- Pool side
- Along a stone wall
For more information…
We’ve done our very best to collect and share our knowledge here with you! Here’s an article for success in growing lavender in the South that you may also find helpful. Because we also have full-time jobs outside of the farm, it is our regret that all inquiries about lavender farming will be re-directed to this very page. You may want to reach out to your local Cooperative Extension horticulture agent who will have terrific knowledge about growing in your location or a local nursery may also offer variety suggestions and more. Volunteer Master Gardeners are also a wealth of information. Then, there is also the Internet! Thank you for your understanding.