South River Lavender

Growing

Lavender is a perennial plant that typically blooms in May. There are over 15 species of lavender and hundreds of named flowering varieties of the mint family, Lamiaceae. It is native to the Old World and is found in Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean, Asia, India and, more recently, throughout the United States. It is commonly cultivated in temperate climates as an ornamental plant for garden, landscape and culinary use and commercially for the extraction of essential oil.

growing lavender at South River LavenderThe two basic requirements for growing lavender are full sun and good soil drainage. Lavender is a drought tolerant plant, but adequate water, especially for young plants, is critical for early growth. It is a very resilient plant that thrives in neutral to alkaline soil. Good soil drainage is imperative.

Fall is the best time to plant lavender to ensure adequate time to establish its roots prior to the winter dormant period. If autumn rain is minimal, it may be necessary to water plants bi-weekly after the initial watering in period. Winter watering should not be necessary for in-ground planting.

When considering a planting area, choose a location that has 6 or more hours of direct sun. If planting is done in the spring, water the young plants weekly to help them get established before the summer heat arrives. It is a delicate balance to maintain adequate soil moisture. Roots should not be soggy for more than a few days.

Commercial growers often plant lavender in raised rows or mounds for effective drainage. This is not always necessary if the location chosen drains well and does not keep the plants in a “wet feet” condition. Prior to planting, it is advisable to dig a test hole and fill it with water to see how fast it drains. If the water does not completely drain in one hour, choose another location or amend the surrounding soil with limestone gravel and sand and try again.

planting lavender at South River LavenderLavender can thrive in containers. It requires more diligent watering care to keep the plants healthy. Regular watering is needed, especially in the summer months, to keep the roots from drying out. Lavender is sensitive to over-fertilized growing mediums. Mix a growing medium that drains well; a combination of peat and vermiculite mixed with a coarse organic potting soil works well. A sand and limestone gravel mixture at the bottom fourth of the container will keep the drainage hole at the bottom from clogging.

The size of the container is important. Small pots generally do not work well as they dry out too
quickly. Choose a container that is 4 to 6 inches larger than the diameter of the root ball. The container must have a bottom hole and must not sit in a water collection dish that will impede drainage.

LavenderLavender grown in favorable conditions will double in size every year for the first three years. Plants in smaller containers should be repotted every spring into a larger pot to avoid becoming root bound. Mature lavender plants, 3 years or older, will continue to grow in pots, but generally need to be transplanted into the ground unless they are in very large containers or raised beds.

Relocating mature plants (older than 5 years) from one in-ground location to another is not advisable. Choose your plant location with care and anticipate growth. Allow at least 36” around the plant to accommodate future growth. Air flow around the plant is also a factor in longevity. Most commercial growers replace plants after seven or eight years due to diminishing flower production, however it is not unusual for a healthy lavender plant to keep producing beautiful stems for 15 years or more.

 


Pruning

Annual pruning is done to maintain the health and shape of the plant. Pruning is done at the same time as the flower stems are cut, but they may need additional trimming at the end of the bloom season to maintain a spherical shape. The plant should be cut back every season into a ball shape by removing all stems and new growth within 3 to 4” of remaining foliage. Leaving uncut long dry stems may cause the plant to splay open from their own weight or inclement weather and become woody. Never cut into the woody part of the plant when trimming. If a plant starts becoming woody, with long thick stalks below the foliage, it will gradually produce fewer and fewer blooms and eventually die. Never trim the woody stems. It will not rebloom and only accelerate the demise of the plant. If a plant becomes too woody it is usually best to remove the plant and start over.

Our favorite books on growing lavender are Ellen Spector Platt’s Lavender – How to Grow and Use the Fragrant Herb and Robert Kourik’s The Lavender Garden – Beautiful Varieties to Grow and Gather.