With its vibrant colors and intense aroma, lavender is among the most evocative summer plants. As a bonus, this herb is one of the best natural pest controls for organic gardening. If you want to grow this elegant classic, I am excited to share my top 11 tips I’ve learned about growing amazing lavender in my humble urban garden in London.
Like all my gardening methods, these tips follow my “Do as Nature Does” philosophy. This lovely herb is easy to please when you provide similar conditions to its native Mediterranean home. Fortunately, this is quite easy in most indoor or outdoor gardens.
Lavender Growing Tips
Save yourself some time and trouble by learning from my victories and mistakes with this plant. You can also check out the video below for a video to help you grow lavender from start to finish.
Choose the Right Variety
Choose a variety based on your preferences and climate.
Before planting, you must choose a variety that fits your desires and climate. There are over 450 varieties of lavender, but they all technically fall into one of three categories:
- English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): These cultivars are more tolerant of cool winters and humid climates like my home in London. ‘Munstead’ and ‘Hidcote’ are the most popular.
- French lavender (Lavandin sp.): These hybrid crosses between English and Portuguese types have the strongest aroma and cleaning properties. These seedless or sterile varieties include ‘Grosso,’ ‘Provenance,’ and ‘Phenomenal.’
- Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas): Also called “rabbits ear” lavender, these drought-tolerant varieties are more compact shrubs.
Here is a cheat sheet I made to help you choose the right variety:
|If you want the:||Choose this variety|
|Best cold tolerance||‘Hidcote’ or ‘Munstead’|
|Strongest flavor for cooking||Any English cultivar|
|Best for sinuses (high camphor)||Any Lavandin hybrid|
|Best pest control (high linalool)||‘Grosso’|
|Best for cool, humid climates||Any English cultivar|
|Most drought-tolerance||Spanish lavender like ‘Kew Red’|
Maximize Soil Drainage
Consider lavender’s preference for dry, rocky environments, and ensure well-drained soil by using a lighter mix.
Remember that lavender is native to the dry, rocky environment of the Mediterranean. While English varieties can tolerate cooler, humid climates, they still prefer very well-drained soil.
You don’t want to plant this perennial herb in the same soil mix as your raised beds. Instead, I prefer to create a lighter mix that includes:
- Peat moss
If you have clay soil, add compost to loosen it up. Mediterranean herbs hate to have waterlogged roots.
Don’t Add Fertilizer
Avoid using fertilizer as it can decrease fragrance and blooming.
Unlike most vegetables, I don’t give nutrients to my lavender. Excess nutrients can actually reduce the fragrance and number of blooms. Since we are growing this plant for its amazing scent, we don’t want to harm the plant’s essential oil production in any way.
Instead of adding fertilizer, I top up the plants with good organic compost every year at the beginning of the season. Simply spread a bit of compost around the base of your plants. Surprisingly, these herbs don’t need many nutrients to thrive.
Plant In Full Sun
Provide it at least 10 hours of direct sunlight daily, preferably in a south-facing spot.
Lavender requires roughly 10 hours of bright, direct sunlight every day. Ideally, look for a south-facing area of your garden that doesn’t get shaded by any trees or structures.
Light is very important for these plants, as they will not flower prolifically in the shade. Shaded plants may have spindly stems and wimpy blooms.
Start From A Nursery Plant
It is easier to buy established seedlings because lavender seeds are slow to germinate.
I like to start many plants from seed, but lavender is notoriously finicky and slow to establish. The seeds can take one to two months just to germinate. A much easier way to start is by purchasing an established seedling from a nursery.
However, you still need to be patient. Young plants can take two to three years to fully establish their roots and put on the biggest flowering show.
To ensure healthy growth, avoid overwatering and promote drier soil.
Watering is one of the most important aspects of growing lavender. You don’t want to overwater your plants, or they will develop fungus around the root mass. Overwatering and root rot are the main causes of plant death. It’s better to lean toward dryer soil than overly wet soil.
When your plant is first getting established, keep the soil moist but not soggy. Once it has been in the ground for a few months, you can cut back to watering once or twice a week or less when summer rains occur.
For potted lavender, you will need to water more often. Stick your finger in the soil and feel if it is dry. Give it a nice soaking, and let the water pour out from the pot’s drainage hole. It’s best to let it dry out in between waterings.
Don’t water your plants from the top. Instead, water near the base so you don’t promote fungus forming on the leaves.
Multiply Your Plants By Cuttings
Expand your garden using hardwood cuttings and softwood cuttings.
This is one of the most underrated lavender tips. You can create a bunch of new plants for free! Cuttings are the best way to improve the amount of lavender plants in your garden. Fortunately, this herb is easy to propagate.
Take these woody cuttings from spring to fall.
Cut these green, softened stems in late spring before flowering.
Taking cuttings is very easy:
- Choose a stem without blooms.
- Cut a piece that is 3-4 inches long.
- Take the leaves off the bottom 2 inches.
- Scrape off the skin of one side of the stem.
- Place the bottom 2 inches in a pot of soil mix.
- Keep moist and wait 2-4 weeks (for softwood) for it to root.
- Hardwood cuttings can take up to 6 weeks to root.
Once your cuttings form roots, you should be able to give the stem a light tug. Wait a couple more weeks, and plant them in a container or in the garden alongside your mature herbs.
Plant Near Vegetables For Companion Benefits
The linalool compound repels pests while attracting beneficial predator insects and pollinators.
One of the coolest things about lavender is its ability to repel pests. The high levels of a compound called linalool help to repel pests like mosquitoes and flies. Linalool is also found in basil and oregano.
Lavender also attracts beneficial predator insects that prey on pests like aphids to keep your garden pest-free. At the same time, the flowers are phenomenal for drawing pollinators to your other plants. These bees and butterflies help improve the fruit set on crops like tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers. I like to plant lavender around the borders of my garden near my raised beds.
Remember To Harvest Early
To maximize your harvest, pick flowers early in the spring for a chance of a second bloom.
When your lavender starts producing its beautiful blooms, remember to harvest early on many levels:
- Early spring
- Early bloom
- Early morning
Harvesting these fragrant purple flowers in early spring gives the plant enough time to produce another flush of flowers in late summer and fall. In mild climates, some varieties may even bloom all year round!
If you want to enjoy the highest fragrance and essential oil content, harvest flowers at the earliest point in their bloom cycle. This means the tender, young buds are tightly closed and barely starting to open.
However, you can wait longer if you want to harvest for bouquets. The fully opened flowers have the best color. As the flowers age, their aroma and oil content decreases, but their color may intensify.
Lastly, remember to harvest early in the morning. Traditionally, farmers and herbalists wait until the morning dew has dried, but the plants are still perky from the cool night. As the day goes on, many of the fragrant oils start to dissipate in the hot sun.
Harvest At A Junction To Encourage More Flowers
Cut stems above leaves or new branches at nodes to harvest lavender blooms while promoting new flower growth.
When you are ready to pick the beautiful blooms, find a flower you like and follow it down the stem to a node. A node is a junction where a new leaf, flower, or stem has begun to form.
Use small pruning snips or scissors to cut the stem just above the leaves or new branches. Now that you’ve removed a center stem, the plant can redirect its energies to produce two side shoots that will produce new flowers.
Store Lavender Properly
To retain the fragrance and flavor, dry bundles in a well-ventilated area away from sunlight.
Lavender has the most fragrance and flavor right after it is picked. I absolutely love hanging bundles of lavender to dry in my home! It fills the space with a delightful aroma and adds a pleasant accent. If you don’t want to harvest and dry the flowers, you can grow plants in small pots on your windowsill to enjoy the same fragrance.
To store lavender flowers, remember to:
- Place bunches in a vase of water if you want to keep them as a bouquet.
- For drying, bundle a bunch of flowers together with string or rubber bands.
- Hang them upside down in a warm, dry area with good air circulation.
- Don’t dry lavender in direct sunlight, or it may lose its color.
- Wait a couple of weeks to 1 month, depending on your climate.
- Use a food dehydrator for a quicker, more reliable drying process.
Try snapping a piece of stem between your fingers to test if your lavender is completely dry. When the flowers are fully dry, they will crisply snap in half. If the stem bends, it isn’t dry yet. The lavender may develop mold and spoil if it isn’t fully dry. So always check your flowers before putting them in jars!
I hope these lavender growing tips help you grow this beautiful herb in your garden or windowsill. Remember, lavender is not as difficult as many people make it out to be. These plants will produce many fragrant purple blooms as long as they have sunshine, well-drained soil, and occasional watering. I love lavender’s ability to keep pests away and make the garden smell delicious.
Remember to “Do as Nature Does!” See you next time!