The Kitchen Garden
I enjoy the soft gray evergreen color of Munstead lavender in my potager all winter. It’s the only perennial I’m growing in my four raised vegetable beds. I keep it right at the edge, on one side of each of the beds. It always forms a nice, pale, purple, fragrant, two-foot high alle in the summer. It spills over the wood edge and creates a special place where I set up an outdoor table on the brick walkway in the garden. It’s really a nice complement to the peppers, tomatoes, and basil growing next to it.
But now, as I’m working in the spring garden with my pruners in my back pocket, I see just a few wisps of new bright green growth on the plants. The rest is still gray green. It’s not a healthy looking gray green, either. It’s more of a gray white. I think my lavender is dead. I think the Provence fantasy I have been living may be dead, too.
Why did my lavender die?
Lavender, like many herbs, is native to the Mediterranean, so it prefers those climatic conditions—full sun and well-drained soil. In fact, herbs such as lavender and thyme prefer slightly sandy, alkaline loam soil. Herbs don’t like it rich. Lavender is hardy in zones 5-9, but this winter was exceptionally bitter cold. That and my dastardly heavy soil may have done the plants in this year.
True, I do lose some of my 24 plants every year, but I consider it just one of the hazards of the humid Midwest. Lavender is such an outstanding plant, valued for its fragrance and the soft hue of long lasting edible flowers.
I do have a plan, before I give up on the plants. I’ll replace the ones I’ve lost, then I’m giving the lavender a good pruning. Lavender should be pruned every year by a third to one half. This prevents the stem from becoming too woody. I’m cutting them back by half and selectively pruning out those stems I know are dead. We’ll see if this works.
As I look around the herb garden, I see my thyme and winter savory don’t look too good either. This is no problem; it’s just yearly maintenance. Knowing when to prune lavender and other herbs is essential. I prune by pulling back the dead stems and cutting them off, down to the green leaves that are now evident. Then I trim down to the new growth.
Other perennials that are surrounding the kitchen garden should be pruned if they weren’t pruned last fall. Anise hyssop, peonies, coneflowers, black eyed Susans, sedum, yarrow, and daisies all need a trim before they flower in turn.
Is my lavender dead?!
Spring is the time when we look forlornly at our lavender plants, wondering if they have survived the winter. Here in Connecticut, this past winter was worse than normal, with (what seemed at least) excessive amounts of rain and general yuck ( farming term). Couple that with a late spring (30s – 40s in April!) and our lavender, probably like yours; is not exactly looking bountiful.
Even under the best growing conditions, lavender is a notoriously slow starter. We’ve fielded numerous calls from gardeners worried if their lavender has made it through the winter. The best answer we can give you is the same one we tell ourselves, it’s too soon to tell. Our plants are just now starting to wake up. Mostly grey with just a few sprouts of green starting to show.
Best is to just wait it out, give it time, don’t start hacking it down (that only stresses the plant). Once it starts to green up (probably end of May) than you can do some selective pruning of obviously dead stuff, but for now, just leave it be.
If you visit the farm this spring we’re happy to talk to you more about it and we do have plenty of new plants available for sale if you need to replace or add to your garden.
Enjoy your spring and we look forward to seeing you at the farm!
Can I prune all the dead wood off of my lavender?
Thank you for your question about pruning your lavender. Dead wood on lavender can be removed at any time.
Lavender does respond well to pruning. I have attached a link to an article from the Colorado State University Extension office, which describes how to prune lavender. This article states:
Lavender should be pruned every year after it is established. Pruning should take place when green leaves start to emerge from the base of the plant in the spring. Remove approximately one third of the top. Pruning keeps the plant from splitting open and becoming too woody.
The Oregon Lavender Association suggests pruning lavender plants in the spring and summer, and then lightly in the Fall, helps the plants to grow better over a longer period of time. Lavender plants that have not been pruned consistently may become woody looking sooner. In general, all lavender will benefit from being pruned at least once a year. Major pruning should be done in the spring and summer months. You can find more information about pruning lavender at the following link:
If you have more questions, or need additional information, please call the OSU Master Gardener Plant Clinic. We welcome your home garden questions. You can call and talk with the Master Gardener on duty at 541-548-6088. You can also submit questions with photos to the Master Gardener Plant Clinic email: [email protected]