by David Salman
Growing Lavender: Thumbelina Leigh Dwarf English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia Thumbelina Leigh) is perfect for small spaces and the edge of perennial beds.
Lavender has a long history with mankind. Gardeners have been cultivating and growing lavender plants since Roman times. This genus of perennial Old World herbs provide gardeners with some of our very best garden plants. Combining fragrance with evergreen foliage, resistance to browsing deer and rabbits and showy displays of primarily blue flowers, lavender plants are a cornerstone of any good xeriscape (waterwise landscape).
Watch Our Video on Planting Lavender Plants
Growing Lavender plants provides an invaluable source of nectar for honeybees, bumblebees and butterflies. For vegetable gardeners, this mean that having lavender planted near your eatables will ensure pollination and fruit set.
Lavandula angustifolia ‘Vera’ (English Lavender)
Lavender flowers are also wonderful for culinary use and crafts. Lavender wands, sachets and dried flower spikes help us to preserve the harvest for indoor enjoyment of their fragrant essential oils.
- Growing Lavender: Which Lavender Varieties Should I Plant?
- Growing Lavender: Where To Grow Lavender
- Growing Lavender: Mulching Lavender
- Growing Lavender: Fertilizing Lavender
- Growing Lavender: When to Plant Lavender
- Growing Lavender: Companion Plants For Lavender
- Deer Resistant Lavender: Lavender Plants Are A Colorful Deterrent to Deer
- Why grow lavender?
- There are 4 main types of Lavender
- Which varieties can be grown successfully in zones 3 and 4?
- Munstead Lavender
- Hidcote Lavender
- Phenomenal Lavender
- Superblue Lavender
- How to grow lavender
- Lavender for Warmer Areas
- Herbal remedies to make with lavender
- Zone 5 Lavender Plants – Growing Cold Hardy Lavender Varieties
- How Hardy are Lavender Plants?
- Zone 5 Lavender Plants
- Growing Zone 5 Lavender Plants
- English Lavender
- Popular Varieties
- Everything’s coming up lavender
- Top 10 FAQs About Growing Lavender For Profit
Growing Lavender: Which Lavender Varieties Should I Plant?
Here in the cold, arid high desert of New Mexico I use Lavender in practically every planting and we grow at least 20 cultivars of cold hardy types at High Country Gardens. I enjoy the luxury of having plenty from which to choose. In my USDA Zone 6 climate, I need good cold hardiness and always make it a point to plant both English angustifolia and French Hybrids to extend the season of color to stretch from late spring into late summer.
Within each species there are numerous varieties, each have beautiful variations in the shape, color and size of the flower spikes, color of the foliage and the shape and configuration of the plant itself.
Lavender flower comparison (left to right): Gros Bleu, Sharon Roberts, Pastor’s Pride and Thumbelina Leigh
There are so many varieties of lavender, that it can be confusing to gardeners as to which ones are the best for their area. There are three primary species of lavender that are most widely planted:
Lavandula Buena Vista (English Lavender)
1. Growing English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
These are the most cold hardy species and typically bloom in late spring/early summer. However, there are now a few “twice blooming” types that will flower in late spring and again in September with prompt deadheading after the first flush of flowers are done. Here are some of my favorites:
- ‘Vera’ – an heirloom variety that is also extremely cold hardy (to – 20° F, zone 5a)
- ‘Buena Vista’ – a fragrant twice bloomer with nice bi-colored flower spikes.
- ‘Sharon Roberts’ – another twice bloomer with attractive elongated flower spikes.
- ‘Thumbelina Leigh’ – a compact, small grower that blooms for several months beginning in late spring.
- ‘Munstead Violet’ – a selection I discovered as a seedling in a Santa Fe landscape. It has gorgeous violet-blue flowers (with a hint of red), the darkest flowers of any English lavender that I’ve grown. Outstanding!
Lavandula intermedia Grosso (French Lavender)
2. Growing French hybrid lavender (Lavandula intermedia)
These vigorous hybrids bloom in mid-summer and are typically larger plants than English lavenders. In general, they are at least a zone less cold hardy than English types and are best in USDA zones 6 and warmer. Here are my favorites:
- ‘Gros Bleu’ – an uncommon, outstanding newer French hybrid. Excellent sweet fragrance (not too much camphor) on a smaller growing plant. The dark colored flower spikes will re-bloom later in summer with good rains.
- ‘Grosso’ – the gold standard of the French hybrids known for its dark flowers, good zone 6 cold hardiness and large mature size.
3. Growing Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas)
Lavandula stoechas ‘Purple Ribbon’ (Spanish Lavender)
Always popular, Spanish Lavender’s whimsical, rabbit-eared flowers are endearing. And they are the best choice for mild winter climates (zones 7-10) with hotter, more humid summer weather. They bloom in early to mid-spring, bringing early color to flower beds and container gardens. This one is my favorite.
- ‘Lutsko’s Dwarf’ – irresistibly cute, this compact grower tops out at about one foot in height. Nice chubby flowers that bloom for a long time. Excellent as an edging plant along paths. walkways and entrances.
4. Growng Hybrid Lavender – a different mix of genetics from the French hybrids.
- ‘Silver Frost’ – a superb inter-specific hybrid, introduced by Andy Van Hevelingen of Van Hevelingen Herb Nursery of Oregon, this one is a cross between wooly lavender (L. lanata) and an English parent. Everblooming, it’s one of the very best with deep blue flowers contrasting beautifully with its pure silver foliage. Very tolerant of dry heat.
Lavandula angustifolia Sharon Roberts (English Lavender) with Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed)
Growing Lavender: Where To Grow Lavender
Lavender plants thrive in full sun, heat and fast-draining, low fertility soils. They are at their very best in the more arid climates found west of the Mississippi where heat, sun, dry growing conditions and poor soils predominate. Humid heat and compost-enriched, water-retentive soils are the enemies of lavender. Back East, look around your town to discover if gardeners in your area are growing lavender successfully. If so, full sun hillsides, sloped and raised beds with sand or gravel soils will offer the best growing conditions for long-term success. Growing them in containers is also a good option.
Lavender plants are actually small woody shrubs, that once established, thrive in dry growing conditions. However, during their first growing season in the ground, they need regular irrigation several times per week to establish themselves. Once established, much less frequent, but deep watering is their preference.
Growing Lavender: Mulching Lavender
Mulching is helpful in dry climates, but not recommended in areas that get more than 18-20″ of annual precipitation. An inch thick layer of small crushed (angular) gravel is the best mulch for Lavandula. Other coarse-textured mulches such as pine needles and crushed nut shells are also a good match for mulching these plants. Avoid straw, bark, compost and other water retentive mulch materials.
Growing Lavender: Fertilizing Lavender
Lavender plants need very little fertilizer and will suffer when fertilized frequently with chemical fertilizers, especially when applied in the late summer and fall. This delays them from hardening off for winter and can result in freeze damage or death come next spring. Instead, keep their soil healthy and well drained by fertilizing with natural or organic soil builders like Yum Yum Mix applied once annually in the fall.
Growing Lavender: When to Plant Lavender
In colder zone 5-7 climates, spring and early summer planting is best. These plants love the heat needed for growing deep roots. In mild winter/hot summer zone 8-10 climates of the Southwest and California, fall and winter planting is best. This allows the plants to establish themselves before the extreme heat of the following summer.
Growing Lavender: Companion Plants For Lavender
And a few of my favorite Lavender companions include Sundrops (Calylophus serulatus), Pineleaf Beardtongue (Penstemon pinifolius), Pink Cotton Lamb’s Ear (Stachys lavandifolia), Thrift Leaf Perky Sue(Hymenoxys scaposa). Actually, it seems there is hardly a plant combination that doesn’t look great with Lavender in it. Just be sure that companion plants also like poor, fast draining soils with plenty of sun and heat.
Deer Resistant Lavender: Lavender Plants Are A Colorful Deterrent to Deer
Lavender is also a wonder-repellent to keep deer and rabbits from nibbling their neighboring plants. Many rose gardeners always plant Lavender under each rose. I know an expert landscaper in deer-plagued Spokane, WA who plants several lavender plants alongside all of her Clematis vines. Beauty and functionality: who can quarrel with that!
Text and Photos by David Salman.
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Lavender is the herb I most love to grow. I love the smell. I love walking past a plant in the garden and brushing the leaves. I love that it’s practically carefree. That is it’s carefree unless you live in zone 3. Learning how to grow lavender is tricky if you live on a mountain in zone 3. But I’ve been growing lavender in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada, in zone 3 where there is frost in July. (I’m not exaggerating!) If I can grow lavender you can grow lavender. In fact, you probably can grow phenomenal lavender.
Zone 3 is on the fringes of lavender society. In town (zone 5), lavender thrives like a weed in the border of the vegetable garden but here on the mountain, my plants struggle to make it through the winter, even a mild winter. The 3-foot plants that need to be pruned in town grow only 12 inches high in my garden, with my shorter season. Thankfully, it turns out that the secret to thriving lavender in zone 3 is in the choice of varieties and a change in expectations.
Why grow lavender?
Lavender is resistant to rabbit, squirrel, and deer damage. Animals don’t like the strong scent that comes not just from the flowers, but the leaves as well. Lavender flowers and leaves can be used in the kitchen, in the apothecary, in crafts, and in aromatherapy. It is also bug repellent but it attracts butterflies and bees, offering nectar to foraging beneficial insects. It grows in specialized planting areas like under black walnut trees.
There are 4 main types of Lavender
When you are wondering which kinds of lavender will be most reliable in your growing zone, you’ll be looking at four basic types of lavender. Briefly, these are English lavender, French lavender, Lavandin which are the crosses between French and English lavender varieties, and “other lavenders” which encompasses the outliers from breeding programs, as well as wild plants.
Spike lavender, falls in this “other” category. Hardy in zones 8 to 9, it is a strongly camphorous lavender used in the soap making industry. This is the variety that is most often used for natural moth repellents. Spanish lavender is the French type, also known for its camphorous essential oil.
While none of the lavenders are toxic, if you are looking for a lavender to use in the kitchen, those with less camphor in their essential oil, are a better choice. The English lavenders have a sweeter fragrance and are more suitable for culinary use.
If you are looking for lavenders to use in sachets those with more camphor in their essential oil, will be more appropriate. These are the lavenders from the Lavandin group or the French lavender group. Those of the Lavandin group are the lavenders that are most in demand for essential oil production. The French lavender group has high camphor, considered undesirable in essential oil production. But you won’t need to worry about that since none of the French lavenders are hardy to zone 3 or 4.
Which varieties can be grown successfully in zones 3 and 4?
In zone 3 and 4, planting these 4 varieties in the border of your vegetable garden will attract butterflies and bees, while repelling varmints that you don’t want feeding in your garden. Plant “Phenomenal” at the back of the border, with Munstead and Superblue in the middle and Hidcote at the front, to take advantage of the various heights from these fragrant plants. With lavender in zone 3 or 4, you don’t have to take just one.
Munstead growing in zone 3
Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’
Munstead is an English lavender that is hardy from zones 4 to 9. If you get reliable snow cover you can grow it in zone 3, as well. It grows 12 to 18 inches tall and needs little care, other than winter protection. You can start it from seed, propagate it from stem cuttings, or get plant starts from your local nursery. Like other English lavenders, it doesn’t grow 100% true to type from seed.
Munstead has lavender-blue flowers, green, narrow leaves, and a nice lavender fragrance. It is attractive to bees. In my area, it will bloom steadily from July through to frost.
Richter’s Herbs in Ontario carries both seeds and plants for Munstead Lavender
Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’
Hidcote is hardy from zones 4 to 9. Like Munstead, you can get by in zone 3 with reliable snow cover or other winter protection. It has silver-grey foliage and the flowers are more purple than blue. The scent is rich, but it is a shorter plant than Munstead, only growing to 12 inches in height.
Grow Hidcote from seed, cuttings, or get plant starts from your local nursery. Richter’s Herbs also carries seeds and plants for Hidcote Lavender. Like other English lavenders, it doesn’t grow 100% true to type from seed.
Don’t confuse Hidcote Lavender with Hidcote Giant Lavender. Hidcote is an English lavender while Hidcote Giant is a lavandin (L. x intermedia).
The flower spikes on Hidcote and Munstead are not long enough to use for weaving lavender wands though. I harvest the 6-inch lavender branches after the flowers are opened and dry them upside down, indoors, away from sunlight. Once they are fully dry I rub the flowers off the stem and use the blossoms for potpourri, for tea, and for flavouring sugar and salt.
English lavender can be used in the place of rosemary for cooking and baking. Since rosemary is grown as an annual in zone 3, lavender makes a lovely substitute.
Phenomenal growing in zone 3.
Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’
Phenomenal is a hybrid introduction to the hardy lavender class, from the lavandin group. It is hardy from zone 4 to 8, as other hardy lavenders but it has the best traits of both French and English lavenders. It grows 24 to 34 inches tall, much taller than Munstead or Hidcote. It has the long flower spikes typical of hybrid lavenders with hundreds of flowers per stem. Its long stem makes it suitable for many lavender crafts that won’t work with the shorter Munstead or Hidcote varieties.
Phenomenal has silver foliage and lavender-blue flowers with a mounding habit typical of French Lavenders. It also has one of the highest essential oil contents of any lavender variety. It does well in hot, humid summers while still being hardy in winter conditions. If you are trying to recreate the French lavender fields on your homestead, this is the variety you want. It is an excellent choice for ornamental use in gardens, for fragrance, for fresh and dried arrangements, and for essential oil production. Phenomenal was featured in the March/April 2014 issue of Fine Gardening Magazine. Better Homes and Gardens named it a “Must Grow Perennial.”
Phenomenal doesn’t die back in winter. Give it some protection if you lack reliable snow cover, in zone 3.
You’ll need to find plants for this hardy hybrid lavender though. I found plants at Richter’s Herbs in Ontario. There are American sources for plants online.
Introduced in 2013 by Peace Tree Farms, unauthorized propagation is prohibited, (US PP24,193) on this American introduction to the hardy lavender class.
(Lavandula angustifolia “Superblue”)
Superblue is a patented English Lavender from Holland (US PP#24929). It is hardy in zones 4 to 9 and can overwinter in zone 3 with protection. Superblue has deep violet-blue flowers with a compact mounding habit. Superblue is hardy and adaptable to both dryland gardening and wetter conditions. It grows 10 to 24 inches in height. Superblue is not available as seed. Plants are available from Richters.
How to grow lavender
Lavender thrives with lots of light and good air circulation. Choose a well-drained site in full sun. Check your watering patterns and don’t place lavender where it will get the irrigation from your vegetable garden. While the vegetables need a full 2 inches of water each week, lavender thrives in drier habitat and is one of these Mediterranean plants that thrive on neglect.
Prepare the soil by tilling to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Work in some finished compost and add some potash for flower growth and root development. Work the fertilizer into the soil, or let the rain soak it in. Start your plants in pots in April, for planting out when all danger of frost is past. Plant where there is good air circulation, especially if summers are humid where you live. Lavender needs good drainage and good air circulation. Do not over-water, and allow the soil to dry before watering again.
Space Phenomenal plants 36 inches apart. Munstead and Superblue plants should be spaced 18 inches apart. Hidcote plants can get away with 12-inch spacing. Place Phenomenal at the back of a border, with Munstead or Superblue in the middle and Hidcote at the front, to take advantage of the varying spread and height of these 3 hardy lavender varieties. This means you’ll need fewer Phenomenal, than Munstead or Hidcote in a group planting.
In winter, prune back the season’s new growth by 2/3rds of the stem length. Don’t cut into old wood. If you don’t have reliable snow cover, cover the plants with straw or dry leaves and cover with burlap, to protect from drying winds and harsh weather. In Spring, remove the straw and burlap to allow air circulation, and to take advantage of the early warmth.
Don’t think you have to avoid growing lavender just because you live in an area of harsh winters or a shorter growing season. Choosing varieties suitable to your hardiness zone, and giving them full sun and a well-drained placement and you’ll be harvesting fragrant lavender for cooking, for tea, for your herbal remedies, and for crafts in a few months.
Lavender for Warmer Areas
If you live in zones 5 to 9 there are many more varieties of lavenders you can choose from. See the full selection of over 30 Lavender varieties on the Richter’s website. The rules for siting your lavender plants are the same regardless of your growing zone.
When you are ready to clip your first harvest of lavender check out these fun and useful things you can make with lavender.
Herbal remedies to make with lavender
Lavender Headache Salve
Lavender Gardeners Hand Salve
Lavender Lotion Bars for Rough Elbows and Calloused Feet
Soothing Eczema Cream
Soothing Oatmeal and Lavender Bath Bombs
DIY Lavender Eye Pillow for Headache Relief
Most lavenders are started from cuttings taken from Mother plants. This is both fast and accurate, producing an exact replica of the original plant.
Starting Lavender from seeds sounds like a great inexpensive way to get all the lavender you desire but it can have some major drawbacks.
The first obstacle is finding the seeds. Even though Spanish, Yellow, and other species Lavenders can be started from seeds, it is usually only the Lavandula angustifolias–Hidcote, Vera, and Munstead– that are available as seeds.
The second drawback is what we call ‘low and slow’ germination. Lavender seeds have a short shelf life, and therefore the germination rate (how many seeds out of 100 come up) is usually pretty low. They can also take a long time to sprout (two weeks or more) and this invites fungus to the seed tray, often causing the seed to rot before it can sprout. Seeds benefit from light, so cover lightly when sowing. The germination temperature should be around 70 degrees and spring seeding is more successful than fall seeding. Those seeds that do sprout will take one to three months before they have enough roots and top growth to allow successful transplanting. Adding fertilizer to the sterile medium used in the seed tray can help the little plants get off to a better start, but it can also invite fungus in cool, humid situations.
The third disadvantage is the time it takes for the seedlings to get to a good size. After they are transplanted into small pots, the plants will be about three inches tall and have a single stem. It will take another three months or more to make a plant substantial enough to transplant to a larger pot or to the garden.
The fourth inconvenience is the difference factor. Because little care has been taken over the years to insure that the seeds have not crossed with each other, the plants will be varying shades of color. They might also vary some in height and width. This was the surprise our customer had. The perfect hedge of Hidcote Lavender she had dreamed about and worked so hard to grow the plants for turned out to be more like a cottage garden: still beautiful, but irregular in form and color.
And, lastly, the most popular Lavenders (the Lavandula x intermedias; sometimes called Lavandins), either do not make seeds or the seeds are sterile, so you will never see a seed packet of these.
The most important factor to get right with Lavender is drainage. Soggy areas should definitely be avoided. Incorporate organic matter if necessary to make a loose friable soil. Compost is the best amendment because it is fertile and has uneven particle sizes. Uneven particles in the soil create better air spaces and give the roots better anchors to attach themselves to. Check the soil’s pH (potential hydrogen) to make sure it falls somewhere between 6.5 and 7.5. If the soil is too acidic the Lavender will not thrive. If the soil is too alkaline, the nutrients are ‘tied’ up in the soil and the plant cannot use them. Yellowed growth can be indicative of a soil that is out of balance. Adding compost can help to balance the pH.
If you are going to plant a hedge or a massive amount of Lavender, make sure the ground is cleared of weeds. Solarization works to remove not only tenacious weeds, but also kills weed seeds. Small Lavender plants cannot compete with aggressive weeds, and weeding after they are planted can be a huge hassle. Weeding often becomes such a chore that Lavenders are overrun and eventually die in a neglected field.
Mulching with a small particle mulch or compost after planting helps with the weed control, but avoid mulching right up to the stem of the small plant. Instead, leave a collar about two inches wide around the plant.
If you are in hot, humid areas, try planting Lavenders in a raised bed or on a mound. Leave plenty of room between plants for air circulation. Lavenders are not ideally suited to heat and humidity, so be prepared for problems, such as fungal disease and rot.
For ultimate show, space plants according to their height measurement. For example, a Grappenhall Lavender is listed at 3 to 4 feet. By spacing these 3 or 4 feet apart, the effect when the plant is blooming is spectacular. If it is more important that the plant make a tight row or hedge, then plant closer together.
If planting in pots, make sure to repot every spring into a larger container with fresh soil to allow the plant to continue to mature and to provide as many flowers as possible. A good, coarse, sterile potting soil with organic fertilizer mixed in works best.
In the ground or in a pot, full sun is a must. If the garden is crowded, plant near a south-facing wall. Even the Lavender at the north end of the row will be shorter and bloom later. In hot areas, some late afternoon shade can be tolerated without sacrificing the glorious mounded shape and rising pincushion effect of the flower wands.
Lavender in the field rarely needs fertilizer, especially if compost is applied as a mulch. More often, problems arise because the soil is not healthy. Avoid chemicals in pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that kill or starve the beneficial organisms in the soil.
In arid regions with no summer water, irrigation will be necessary for the survival of the plants. While Lavender is extremely drought resistant once established, it grows larger and produces more blooms with regular watering. This means that when it is dry, water it. While this may sound obvious, it is important to let it dry out a bit before soaking it again. In humid areas, this can be difficult and the excess moisture often causes death.
Zones 8 and up can plant Lavender in spring and fall, but other zones are better off with a spring planting after the last frost. If fall planting is to be tried, plant at least two months before the first frost. It is important that the plant actually make good root development into the native soil before severe winter weather occurs. Lavender grows slowly in the fall and often plants are not sufficiently established to get through winter rains and cold.
It takes about three years for a Lavender to reach full size. Plants should be pruned every year immediately after bloom. Pruning should not be confused with harvesting. Pruning is necessary to extend the life of the plant. Lavender flower wand stems are usually a bright green while Lavender leaves are gray. Cut back not only the flower stem, but also about a third of the gray-leaved stems as well. If the plant has been neglected, it can be cut back further, but avoid pruning back so far that only woody stems with no leaves are showing. A plant pruned into the wood may push out latent (sleeping) buds or it may die.
Harvesting Lavender is one of the most enjoyable pleasures any gardener can have. Lavender flower heads look gray before the flowers open. They are devoid of most color and it is easy to become impatient waiting for them to burst into bloom. Once the color is bright and vivid, that is the time to start cutting. Cut the flower stems during the cool of the morning after the dew has dried. In humid areas, try to cut on dry days. For arrangements, it is easiest to arrange the Lavender while it is fresh and supple. This can be done in the garden if it is not too hot. If the weather is very warm (even in the morning), take a bucket of water, filled about a quarter of the way, and submerge the cut end of the stems into the bucket. Remember that the plant cools itself by releasing its fragrant oils, so the more heat they are exposed to the less oil, and fragrance, for you. Arrange out of direct sun as soon as possible. Stand them in a dry vase and the fresh flowers become dry ones. Or use fresh in small groups as an accent for a fresh herbal wreath. If the flowers are to be used later, dry in small groups by tying with a twist tie and hanging in a dark dry place or individually by spreading them on a screen and drying out of the sun. Once dry, the buds can also be stripped and used as bulk for potpourri, sachet, or even cooking. Some Lavenders hold their buds better than others. Grosso Lavender is preferred for wand making and dried arrangements because the flowers stay on the stem better. This is something to consider if your primary focus is to REMOVE the dried buds for bulk use, such as potpourri. Provence Lavender is more suited to this because the buds release easily from the calyx (too easily for dried bouquets or wands).
The further along in the bloom cycle, the more fragile the flowers seem to be. Actually, what happens is that the little flowers fall out and what is left is the calyx and any unopened buds. Most Lavenders bloom for about 5 weeks, so do a little experiment in your garden to see when the harvest is best for your needs.
If you are harvesting a lot of Lavender, try this tip from the Lavender experts at Purple Mountain Majesty.
Hand harvest by sticking your left thumb in the flowers to be cut while simultaneously hooking the flower stalks in front and below your left hand with a Chinese sickle. You pull and cut the first bunch into your left hand with one motion. The process is repeated without removing the cut material until you have completely cut counterclockwise around the plant essentially twisting the cut stalks around the center uncut stalks as you go. This keeps even the largest bundles under control because the whole bundle winds around the center uncut stalks creating enough friction to keep everything together and eventually captured under your left arm. If the bundle is too big for your grip, then it is kept from falling apart by your thumb and the center stalks, which you cut in a final cutting motion starting with a reversed sickle in front of your left leg and vectoring in a direction that is away from the harvester.
Lavender smells like it should taste wonderful, but the taste of most Lavenders is a little like turpentine. The flavor is not one that can be easily defined nor is it one most people like right away. It is like a fine wine with many subtleties. Both fresh and dried flowers and leaves are used in culinary preparations. Recipes using Lavender are generally on the sweet side but Lavender can be used to replace Rosemary and other strong tasting herbs. Or, it can be blended with other herbs, as in herbs de Provence. This mix, used in many savory dishes, often finds dried Lavender leaves and flowers mixed with other members of the mint family, like Rosemary, Sage, Oregano, Thyme and Mint.
Used not only to make life smell richer and more tolerable, but also as a medicinal relief for ailments from headaches to insomnia, Lavender oil has always been a prize. In times past, most Lavender oil was distilled from the angustifolia species of Lavandula.
Often referred to as English Lavenders, these Lavenders are native to the western half of the Mediterranean. Now cultivated in many countries, it was thought the finest Lavender grew in England and thus the common name English Lavender evolved and is still the name most folks use when referring to Lavender products.
Because Lavandula angustifolias are small, and because they are pretty particular about where they grow, it takes a lot of plants to produce one ton of oil; so most Lavender oil now comes from the Lavandins. These are hybrid Lavenders that have the English Lavender as one parent and the Spike Lavender (Lavandula latifolia) as another. These Lavenders tolerate a more diverse climate, and, since they are larger, produce more oil per acre. This oil, while less expensive, is not as good for medicinal purposes as English Lavender oil, but it is widely used in the perfume and craft industries.
And, when you hear the term French Lavender Oil, don’t be confused. The French nom de plume refers to where it is grown and not which plant it is from. French Lavender oil is really English Lavender oil produced in France!
Many of our lavenders are often available in plug trays. These trays hold 128 of all the same plant. They are a great low cost way to fill a lot of space. Each cell is 3/4 of inch an inch. Check here to see which Lavender Plug Trays are available.
Zone 5 Lavender Plants – Growing Cold Hardy Lavender Varieties
Lavenderoriginated in the Mediterranean and flourishes in temperate regions of the world. Zone 5 can be a tricky region for Mediterranean plants which might find the climate too cold in winter. Lavender plants for zone 5 must be able to withstand temperatures of -10 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-23 to -29 C.). There are primarily French and English lavender varieties, with the English the most cold tolerant. However, there are hybrids of French lavender that can survive and even thrive in zone 5 regions.
How Hardy are Lavender Plants?
It has ancient medicinal properties, a heady fragrance and season-long spectacular purple to white flower spikes. Bees love it, it dries well and the scent remains long after the flowers have died. There are no reasons not to grow lavender, but is it right for your zone? With a sunny, well-draining location and plenty of spring and summer sun, the plants will thrive, but when winter comes, they are often killed to the ground if temperatures are too cold. So how hardy are lavender plants? Let’s find out.
Cold hardy lavender does actually exist. The English varieties can withstand temperatures of -20 degrees
Fahrenheit (-29 C.) while the French can only withstand temperatures of 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 C.) or higher. Winter survivability really depends upon the variety and if it is a hybrid of the hardiest strain available.
Even Portuguese lavender, which is a warm season lavender, becomes hardy in zone 5 when bred with English lavender. These hybrids are called lavandinsand are hardy in zone 5 with increased vigor, size and oil content than their parents. The optimal range for English lavender is zone 5 to 8. This is the temperature range to which the plant is native and in which it will thrive.
Zone 5 Lavender Plants
Lavandula augustifolia is the common English lavender. It has several hundred varieties available, with different flower hues and plant sizes to suit any garden. In most areas of zone 5, the plant will even provide you with two separate blooms. Lavender plants for zone 5 that have extreme hardiness are:
- Twickle Purple
The lavandins that are most hardy are:
- Fred Boutin
Some winter kill may be experienced with the lavandins when they are sited in exposed areas or in cold pockets. Choose the site carefully when installing any cold hardy lavender, ensuring there is protection from chilly winds and low boggy areas that will get icy.
Growing Zone 5 Lavender Plants
In cool climates, it is best to plant lavender in spring so plants have time to establish during the summer. Choose a site with full sun and well drained, slightly acidic soil composed of a good portion of sand or rock. Excessively fertile soil is not preferred by this Mediterranean plant. Side dress with compost once per year but, otherwise, forego any fertilizing.
Established plants are drought tolerant but all forms will perform and bloom best with average water.
After flowering, prune the last year’s growth back. Trimming more will affect the following season’s bloom. Harvest flowers when they are just opening in the morning to get the most oil content and scent. Hang bunches upside down to dry and use them in potpourri, sachets and even baked goods.
Hardy lavenders will perform well for many years and can make excellent additions to container gardens as well.
Lavender plants are the perfect addition to the lazy gardener’s yard. Read how easy lavender is to add to your garden decor.
Hardy noninvasive perennials, lavenders suit both informal and formal gardens. Mature lavenders form dense mounds of foliage, ranging from grey to green and from 30 to 60 centimetres tall – beautiful even when they’re not blooming. And lavender’s not just blue – you can choose a plant that flowers in white, pink or pale purple through to inky, intense blue or violet.
In a flowerbed, the blooming plants provide a cloud of hazy colour that softens the contours of leggy companions such as roses. Planted in a row, compact varieties form a low hedge to edge a bed or path, or trace the outline of a traditional knot garden filled with other herbs.
Perhaps the best part? Once you plant lavender, you can enjoy its fragrance – and its flavour – long after summer is gone.
How to grow it
Given a sunny, well-drained site, lavenders will thrive in dry, poor soil and even self-seed. An annual top dressing of compost and occasional watering during very dry spells is welcome, but avoid overfeeding with high-nitrogen fertilizers or rich manures. Follow the spacing recommendations on the plant tag (some lavenders spread up to 1 metre in diameter) when planting in a flowerbed, but shave off about a third of that when planting a row for a hedge. This is a good time to add new lavender to the garden; planting is recommended no later than two months before the first hard frost, to let plants get settled in.
Compact varieties grow happily in containers, but require a coarse potting mix that doesn’t stay soggy, and you will need to water, sparingly, in the summer. In the fall, protect the roots from freezing by sinking the pot in a flowerbed for the winter or moving the potted plant into your garage until spring, then repot in fresh soil.
Harvest some or all of the flowers, if you like, or leave them all summer long. Either way, shear back lavenders by about one-third (avoid cutting into older, woody stems) each fall, leaving a compact cushion of leafy stems.
Three to try
• ‘Pink Perfume’ forms a mound of grey green foliage that produces pink flowers from July until the first frost.
• ‘Hidcote Blue’ forms compact plants with green foliage and deep blue-purple blooms that flower from June to August.
• ‘Potpourri’ white lavender forms a bushy plant of green foliage, with white blooms from June to September.
How to dry it – and enjoy it
Harvest flower spikes just when the first few flowers are opening on each. Cut stems in the soft new growth, in the morning after the dew has dried and before the sun gets too hot. Gather into small bunches, and tie each near cut ends (or secure with elastic band), then hang upside down in dark, dry, airy, dust-free room.
When thoroughly dry, gently rub down each stem to remove flowers.
Store dried flowers in an airtight jar to sprinkle into bathwater, or tie a handful into a pretty hanky to make an “instant” sachet for a linen cupboard or drawer (while the lavender lends its fragrance to the fabrics, it also deters moths). Slightly crush the dried flowers every so often to freshen their scent.
You can also use the dried flowers in the kitchen. Freeze them in ice cubes for summer drinks, and add to herbed butters, sweet desserts, tea mixtures and savoury meat and cheese dishes.
Or indulge in a recent trend and shower your just-married friends with dried lavender, instead of confetti.
Although it’s not native to Canada, disease-resistant lavender is a good green choice, as well. Its easy-care attributes mean that it doesn’t want any chemical help to grow and, once established, requires almost no watering. Its nectar-rich flowers attract butterflies, bees and other beneficial pollinators to the garden – more important than ever, now that these are being threatened worldwide.
Lavender is a bushy perennial growing from one to three feet tall. The needle-like foliage is blue-green to gray and has a balsam-like scent. The spike flowers are either lavender or white depending on the variety. Lavender is an excellent specimen plant and can be used as a small hedge if site and growing conditions are right. Lavender varieties in the English group and Lavandin group are considered to be preferred choices for Midwest gardening situations.
Lavender is demanding of two things: full sun and extremely well drained soil. Soil that remains wet or is poorly drained, especially over the winter results in plants that have a short garden life. It is dampness more than cold that is responsible for killing lavender plants. Wet, poorly drained soil and high humidity and poor air circulation between plants in the summer lead to the decline of plants.
If drainage is an issue, consider growing lavender in raised beds. Here soils can be easily modified and the raised planting area affords better drainage. While lavender is drought-tolerant once established, new plantings benefit from regular watering during the first year. Lavender also likes good air circulation. Do not crowd plants and allow for ample space between them to achieve good air circulation and dry foliage. Lavender also likes to be mulched with inorganic mulches such as rock or pea gravel. This helps keep the crown dry and prevents excess moisture form causing foliage diseases. Do not cut back plants in the fall. Wait until some new growth starts to appear in the spring before doing any pruning. In cold growing areas, lavender benefits from a winter mulch of evergreen boughs or straw placed over the planting after the plants have gone completely dormant and the ground initially freezes. Lavender is best started from cuttings. While seed is available, it is slow to germinate and many varieties do not come true from seed.
Cut stems of lavender just as the flowers start to open. It is at this stage that the spikes will have the strongest scent. Hang in small bunches in a cool, dry, dark well-ventilated area to dry.
Most lavender is used for scenting potpourri and sachet mixtures. It also can be used in a culinary fashion in beverages as well as for pork, fish and chicken dishes. Caution is advised though to use it sparingly as a little goes a long way.
- ‘Hidcote’ – Compact, silver-gray foliage, deep purple flowers.
- ‘Munstead’ – Compact, green foliage, lavender-blue flowers.
- ‘Twickel Purple’ – Long, deep purple flower spikes, heavy fragrance.
- ‘Mini Blue’ – Compact lavender for container and edging. Very consistent uniform habit from seed grown plants.
- ‘Phenomenal’ – Extremely vigorous variety that is highly tolerant of heat and humidity and resistant to common root and foliar diseases. Long lavender flower spikes.
- ‘Provence’ – Vigorous, long stemmed variety, very fragrant.
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Everything’s coming up lavender
Early June is a great time to enjoy the excellence of southern Illinois’ grape and wine industry at one of the many vineyards within the boundary of our unique grape growing region, the Shawnee Hills American Viticultural Area. Over 25 years ago, the Renzaglia family at Alto Vineyards stepped into unknown territory, introducing a new industry to our region.
As you savor some of the award-winning wines that display the region’s distinct character, you might happen upon a sign for u-pick lavender. Lavandula, commonly named lavender, is a perennial herb in the mint family. It is indigenous to countries bordering the Mediterranean, and grows best in climates that don’t have a lot of high heat or humidity, not exactly descriptive of southern Illinois.
Charlotte and Doug Clover live within the rolling hills and sandstone scenery of southern Illinois, just south of Alto Vineyards. And just as the Renzaglia family stepped into unknown territory in the late 1980s, the Clovers are working against the odds as they develop their field of lavender on a hillside near their home in Union County.
It all started when an article in “Midwest Living Magazine,” highlighting the top ten lavender farms in the Midwest, caught Charlotte’s attention. As outlined in the article, lavender growers were having success adapting the hardy shrub to the challenging growing conditions found in the Midwest.
Charlotte and Doug live on a 25-acre plat carved from a 240-acre farm that has been in Charlotte’s family since 1820. Charlotte’s father, an insurance agent for many years in Jonesboro, used to truck patch farm and her mother, now in her 80s, still has a small garden patch near Charlotte’s field of lavender. While Charlotte grew up around farming, her husband Doug wasn’t raised on a farm, but he loves being outdoors, so the couple decided to explore the idea of growing lavender. They submitted soil samples for testing, visited lavender farms, and spoke with growers across the country from Virginia to Washington State.
This exploration led to the understanding that the growing season, the climate, and the soil here in southern Illinois are very different from other regions of the country where lavender is currently being grown successfully. Given that lavender typically likes low humidity, it would be necessary to search for varieties that would “fair better” in the higher humidity of southern Illinois. In addition, lavender likes extremely well drained soil, unlike the clay soils of southern Illinois, so the couple has created their own growing media, blending amended soil with creek rock, and established raised beds to ensure better drainage. Lavender also demands full sun and ample space between plants to ensure good air circulation, so optimum site selection also had to be taken into consideration as they undertook their new adventure.
In the spring of 2014, the first 200 lavender plants were set on the hillside which is now home to Shawnee Hills Lavender. In 2015, Charlotte and Doug added 700 plants expanding the lavender field to an acre. Just like other types of farming, there is a lot to do in the off-season. Plants that didn’t “fair well” need to be replaced and the hedges must be given a haircut each spring. Drip irrigation has been installed in the field, but given that lavender likes a drier soil, they rarely need it. To ensure a continued supply of plants for the next season, Eric Stahlheber with Southernwood Gardens grows plants for Shawnee Hills Lavender in his greenhouse in Alto Pass. The Clovers are learning as they go, changing varieties to see what works best and trying different techniques to ensure proper drainage. Doug said, “It sounds easy, but it is a lot of work.”
Given the environment, Charlotte and Doug understand they may always struggle with the crop, which can be both frustrating and rewarding. In winter, they go into “panic mode” as the lavender goes gray, and in the spring as the plants begin to show new growth they experience “a sense of relief.”
Lavender has many uses, but is commonly valued for landscaping, as a flavor component in foods and beverages, and as a fragrance in perfumes, medicines and essential oils. It is also believed to calm restlessness, insomnia and nervousness. In addition to u-pick bouquets, lavender has value-added components as it can be used in sachets, potpourri, soaps, lotions, and candles. Locally, Tanya Edelman with Girly Nature uses lavender essential oils in some of her goat milk products, and Katie Ehlers with Sassy Kat Kandles and Krafts uses real lavender scents in her candle making.
Shawnee Hills Lavender is currently growing nine varieties of lavender which bloom in early June, with the taller varieties blooming about a week later. Charlotte finds that Royal Velvet is perfect for lavender lemonade. Phenomenal seems to do better in our high humidity region, and Grosso, which is mainly used for oils, is one of the larger plant varieties available at the farm.
Lavender plants typically take three years to reach maturity, so the first rewards of the Clover’s labor came in late May of 2016, when their rolling hill turned lavender. Charlotte created a Facebook Event page to promote the first U-Pick event at the farm. During a six-day period over the course of two weeks in early June, 800 people visited the farm, located at 480 Brown Section Road in Cobden, to pick their very own bouquet of lavender. In addition, Charlotte and Doug harvested 600 bundles for wholesale and retail sale, during the three-week harvest window. Charlotte said, “It was gratifying to watch the excitement as people picked their very own lavender – perhaps, for the first time in their life.” In addition, local restaurants, Cristaudo’s and the Global Gourmet came to the farm to pick lavender for use in their restaurants.
Plans are currently underway for the 2017 U-Pick event. Local restaurants including the Brick House Grill and Hedman Vineyards are planning to incorporate lavender into their menu during this year’s u-pick lavender season. In addition, lavender-based items, lavender lemonade, and plants will be available for sale at Shawnee Hills Lavender during the u-pick event.
Throughout the year, dried bundles, sachets, and other lavender-based products are available at Apple Blossoms Gift Shop on Main Street in Anna. Within the gift shop you will find a room dedicated to everything lavender, including: sachets and dried bouquets from Shawnee Hills Lavender; Girly Nature soaps and lotions; and lavender scented candles by Katie Ehlers. And for your shopping convenience, beautifully wrapped lavender-themed gift baskets are packaged and waiting for you. Charlotte, a Country Financial representative by day, is also experimenting with lavender teas, which she hopes to have available for retail sale in the near future.
“I first met Charlotte in October of 2013 when I was speaking to a group of Union County leaders on the importance of ‘buying local’ to the sustainability of the local economy. Since our first meeting, her can-do attitude has always been apparent. She doesn’t just talk about doing something, she actually gets it done. This quality, combined with her high-energy and attention to detail are serving her well in her field of lavender.” – Susan Odum, Extension Educator, University of Illinois Extension
Extension Educator, Community Economic Development
University of Illinois Extension
Top 10 FAQs About Growing Lavender For Profit
Growing lavender for profit can be a great way to turn your love of herbs and gardening into an solid income from selling lavender plants and the value-added products you can make. In many parts of the world, such as the Provence region of France, lavender has been grown commercially for centuries. In North America, commercial cultivation of lavender is just beginning to take off, as lavender’s growing popularity has led many new and veteran herb growers to specialize in this unique fragrant herb. Their lavender farms range from small backyard gardens to multi-acre farms. Today, lavender is experiencing a renewal of popularity as a culinary and medicinal herb, and as a fragrant addition to cosmetics from perfumes to body lotions. If you’re thinking about lavender farming, here are ten common questions and answers about this remarkable herb.
1. Will lavender grow in my area?
Not everyone can grow lavender. You must have the right climate. Lavender is a Mediterranean plant, and requires a similar climate to thrive. The Provence region of France is where most lavender is commercially grown, as the climate, with mild winters and warm, sunny summers, is ideal for lavender production. Lavender needs full sun to do well, but not too much summer heat. A cold winter is also necessary to produce the best flower heads. Lavender grown in regions with high humidity often have problems with fungal diseases, which can sometimes be corrected by wider spacing between plants to improve air circulation.
Lavender has been grown in most areas of the U.S., but some microclimates can really help, such as being near a large body of water. Growers have been successful with lavender production near the Great Lakes and in other parts of the country with colder winters and large lakes. If you’re not sure your area is suitable for growing lavender, check with your local agricultural extension agent or a local garden center. Lavender does well in zones 5 to 9. Also, if you are located in an area with colder winters, such as zone 5, grow Lavendula augustifolia, as it’s the hardiest lavender species.
2. What is the best lavender species to grow?
That depends on what you plan to do with your lavender harvest. Although there are over 30 species of lavender, with hundreds of varieties, there are just 3 species that are widely grown by most commercial growers. The first is Lavendula augustifolia, also commonly called ‘English’ lavender. The second is Lavendula x intermedia, called lavandins, as they are hybrids, also known as ‘Spike’ lavender. The third common commercial species is Lavendula stoechas, known also as topped lavender or Spanish lavender.
- Lavendula augustifolia, or English lavender, is a cold-hardy species that does well in climate zone 5 to 9, with mild summer heat and long hours of daylight. The sweet fragrance of the true lavenders is ideal for culinary use, and the aroma and quality of the essential oil they produce. Several varieties are popular landscaping plants, and are also used for fresh and dried bouquets.
- Lavendula x intermedia. This lavender species is a cross between L. augustifolia and L. latifolia, and are called lavandins. They produce large plants, with more long floral spikes than the true lavenders. Many varieties are grown solely for essential oil production, as they can yield over five times as much oil as English lavenders.
- Lavandula stoechas. This unique lavender species is easy to recognize, with a cylinder shaped flower head topped by leafy extensions that resemble rabbit ears. Stoechas are often called “topped lavenders” or Spanish lavender. They are the earliest lavenders to bloom and produce flowers all through the season, but are less hardy, with most varieties only suitable for zones 7 to 10. They are popular for fresh cut flowers.
3. How much money can a lavender business make?
Some small growers tend a few dozen plants in their backyard, and are happy to make a few hundred dollars. Larger operations on acreage can bring in hundreds of thousands, especially if they also produce and sell value-added products. Purple Haze Farms, in Sequim, Washington, for example, routinely grosses over a million dollars a year with about 8 acres of lavender. Fresh lavender bouquets are a very profitable way to sell lavender. Most growers sell direct to the retail public, either from their garden or at the local farmer’s market. At our local Saturday market, lavender bunches sell for $6 each. A 20′ x 20′ growing area can produce around 300 bunches each year, worth $1,800. Larger plots are even more profitable. A quarter-acre can produce about 3,000 bunches, worth $18,000. Unsold lavender bunches can be dried and sold to crafters and florists, who use the bunches for dried floral arrangements. Also, the flower buds can be removed from the bunches and sold or used to make sachets and other value-added products. Other lavender products, such as lotions and soaps, bring 500% or more markups from the price of the basic ingredients.
4. How is lavender propagated?
To insure lavender plants are consistent in quality, color, and oil production, almost all commercial growers propagate lavender from cuttings rather than from seed. Producing lavender from cuttings guarantees the new plants will be exact clones of the parent plants. New growers can purchase their plants from wholesale growers, then take cuttings from these “mother” plants.
5. What kind of soil does lavender need?
Lavender must have well-drained soil, with a pH of 6 to 8. You can test your soil with a simple pH tester found at most garden centers. If your soil tests alkaline, you can add sulfur to lower the pH. If it is too acidic, add lime to raise the pH. In addition to the proper pH, lavender does best in sandy loam soil that provides good drainage. If the soil becomes saturated with water, as often happens in clay soils, areas with hardpan or a high water table, the result is root rot disease that will kill the lavender plants. Many lavender growers use raised growing beds to improve water drainage.
6. When should lavender be harvested?
Lavender should be harvested as dry as possible to avoid problems with mold, so never harvest immediately after a rain or if there is heavy dew. Hot weather can also be a challenge, as the heat can cause oil loss. Most growers agree that late morning, after the dew has evaporated, and early afternoon are the best time to harvest. If you’re selling bouquets, fresh or dried,harvest when the first flower blooms open up on the stems.
7. How is lavender dried?
After harvesting the lavender bunches, bind them with a sturdy rubber band around the base of the stems. Take the bunches to a drying area as soon as possible to prevent the color from fading. The drying area should be dark, dry, and have good ventilation. The bunches are hung upside-down until dry.
8. Where can I sell lavender?
For most small lavender growers, the Saturday market is the best place to sell your harvest, from fresh cut lavender bouquets to dried buds, lavender oil and the many value-added lavender products you can make and sell. Best of all, selling direct at the market allows you to cut out the middleman and receive full retail prices for your products. By taking a few simple additional steps, growers can take their lavender harvest from a basic herbal commodity to valuable items that bring top dollar from consumers, such as lavender soap, lavender spritzers and lavender sachets.
9. What value-added products can be made from lavender?
There are dozens of lavender products that are easy to make and increase the value of raw lavender by up to 1,000%, such as personal care products made with the lavender flower buds or the essential oil extracted from the flowers. Three proven value-added products that enjoy widespread appeal, substantial profit margins and repeat buyers are:
- Lavender bags. After lavender flowers are harvested and dried, the flower buds can be removed from the stems and used to make a sachet, used for dryer bags, bath bags and pet bags.
- Aromatherapy oil. Lavender oil is one of the most used essential oils in aromatherapy. It has a calming, soothing effect when it’s scent is inhaled.
- Lavender soap. The basic affordable lavender soap bars are the consistent best-sellers. Best of all, soap is another repeat product, with many customers using several bars a month.
10. How do I make lavender oil?
Lavender oil has been used for hundreds of years as an antiseptic, a natural antibiotic, an insect repellant and a calming sedative. It is used as the aromatic base for thousands of cosmetic products, such as lotions, massage oils, perfumes and soaps. When lavender oil is extracted from the plant using distillation, the process produces both the essential oil and a lavender hydrosol. The lavender hydrosol has a tiny amount of lavender oil as well as the water-soluble parts of the lavender plant, and it is often used to make spritzers and room fresheners. Several manufacturers make small, affordable tabletop distillers used to extract the lavender oil from flowers.
You can learn all about starting a lavender business in LAVENDER FARMING – HOW TO START A LAVENDER BUSINESS.