Ah, there’s nothing like a whiff of fresh lavender. From room sprays to stress-relieving balms, brownies, and lemonade, it seems like you can find lavender scented (or flavored) just about anything these days. And for good reason! The sweet aroma of this lavender captivates the senses and calms the mind — making it one of the most popular therapeutic and culinary plants to grow.
The good news is that growing lavender is just as relaxing as breathing it in. Here is everything you need to know about growing and using this incredible herb.
Different types of lavender to grow
Did you know that there are over 450 varieties of lavender? In general, lavender is a Mediterranean herb and enjoys warm climates and sandy soils. But there are plenty of different lavender plants to choose from and a surprising amount of variety.
English lavenders (Lavandula Angustifolia)
English lavenders are a bit more cold-hardy than their Mediterranean cousins and are some of the most popular lavender plants to grow. English lavender varieties can survive winter in zones 5-6, so they’re ideal for planting in cooler parts of North America and Europe. Here are some different English lavender cultivars to consider.
- Hidcote – One of the most popular and sought-after English lavender varieties to grow with sweeter-smelling and notably dark purple blooms that keep their color well and are commonly used in crafts.
- Little Lottie – This unique dwarf variety has bunches of light pink flower spikes and is ideal for container gardening and culinary use.
- Thumbelina Leigh – Popular variety with gardeners worldwide because of its compact growth habit (also great for containers), strong fragrance, and long blooming season. This variety will put out blooms all summer long.
- Nana Alba – A stunning, white-flowered variety of lavender that blooms once in midsummer. Nana Alba is a dwarf variety that grows around one foot tall and two feet wide. This is a great plant to use if you are looking for visual interest. Nana Alba typically blooms one time during midsummer.
- Munstead – A compact lavender with adorable and fragrant purple flowers. Munstead is an heirloom variety that is considered one of the best for culinary uses and works well as a perennial border or in a herb garden. It grows two to three feet tall and thrives in relatively large containers.
- Ellagance Pink – This adds glamour to the garden with graceful sprays of powder-pink flowers amid fragrant silver-green foliage. A compact option with dense branching yielding abundant blooms. Grows 12-14 inches tall – one of the shorter lavender varieties.
French lavenders (Lavandula dentata)
There are several different types of French lavender, each with unique features. French lavender is also very popular, characterized by its purple flowers and distinctive head shapes. Because of its strong and sweet fragrance, French lavender plants are often used in perfumes and scented personal care products.
● Ploughman’s Blue – This aromatic, evergreen shrub is a stockier plant than the typical French lavender cultivars. Spikes of showy, bright purple bracts appear on four-inch long stems throughout the summertime.
● Allwood – Also called Mount Lofty. This variety is a bigger, more woody bush with gleaming green leaves. The stems are long and thin-tipped, with more slender flower spikes. It’s also more frost resistant than other French lavenders.
● Monet – The compact, dark green bush has thin stems and sparse flower spikes that are violet-blue. It does well as a decoration in a small garden or forming a low hedging border. Only occasional trimming is necessary to keep it shaped nicely.
Other types of lavender to grow
Egyptian lavender (Lavandula multifida) – Also called fern-leaf lavender, this variety smells a little less sweet than others. Once established, this plant is low maintenance as long as it’s planted in well-draining soil with plenty of room to grow. Flowers usually bloom in late spring. It grows about one and a half feet tall and two feet wide and is not cold-hardy.
Grosso lavender (Lavendula x intermedia) – A hybrid of Portuguese and English lavender that is famed throughout the world as the one most often grown for use in perfume making and essential oils. It features large, long, and spiky dark purple blooms. It can grow up to about three feet tall.
Fathead lavender (Lavandula stoechas) – Sometimes called Spanish lavender, it has visually striking flowers that bees love. These plants are in flower from late spring until early autumn. They are perfect for any sunny border or container garden collection and grow to be about 18 inches tall.
How to grow lavender
Although it is possible to grow lavender from seed, you must have a lot of patience. A pack of lavender seeds shouldn’t cost you more than $5, and you’ll typically get over a hundred seeds. Though this might be the cost-effective version, it takes about a year before you see any flowers and two years before plants reach their full potential.
Most people start with small plants to move the process along.
Growing lavender indoors
Indoor lavender cultivation can be tricky. For best results, grow lavender in a pot at least one to two inches larger than the root ball and no bigger. The roots won’t absorb enough water if there is too much soil.
Lavender thrives in sunny conditions— making it the perfect plant for a windowsill garden. To pot your lavender, start with an inch or two of limestone gravel at the bottom of the pot. Top with a basic soilless mix and water one inch deep when the soil is dry to the touch. In the winter months, scale back watering slightly.
Planting lavender outdoors
In cool areas, plant lavender in the spring or early summer. If you live in a warm region, it’s best to plant lavender as early in the fall as possible so that the roots become acclimated to the cooler, moist season.
Lavender grows best in sandy soil with a slightly alkaline pH of about 7.0. If you have a lot of clay, mix organic compost, peat, or coconut coir to lighten up the soil.
Dig a hole twice as deep as the lavender plant. Lightly spread the roots. Place the lavender plant in the soil and align it with the top of the ground. Fill the hole, gently pat down the soil, and water. Water again only after the soil is dry to the touch.
uses for lavender
For centuries, lavender oil has been used as a natural remedy to help treat anxiety, insomnia, depression, and fatigue. It is also an effective remedy for headaches, stomach aches, and skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis.
Pacing a few drops of lavender oil in a diffuser on rubbing it on your temples and wrists is a great way to let down after a stressful day.
Use lavender in both sweet and savory dishes. The sweet aroma pairs well with fruit, chocolate, and honey.
Lavender is commonly used in desserts like cookies, cakes, ice cream, and sorbet.
Lavender can also be used to flavor savory dishes like chicken, lamb, and vegetables.
Lavender tea is a popular way to enjoy the flavor of lavender. To make lavender tea, add a few sprigs of lavender to boiling water and steep for five minutes. You can also add honey or lemon juice to taste. Lavender blends well with other flavors of tea, like chamomile and mint.
Lavender flowers can be used as a garnish for salads, soups, and other dishes.
Start by using only a small amount of lavender in your cooking. Lavender is very potent, and a little goes a long way. You can always add more, but you can’t take it away once it’s been added.
Common questions about lavender
Q: What type of soil is best for lavender?
A: Lavender grows best in well-drained, sandy soil with a pH of about 7.0. The soil doesn’t need to be incredibly fertile for lavender to thrive.
Q: How much sun does lavender need?
A: Lavender generally needs full sun – at least six to eight hours of full sunlight per day. Some lavender can do well in partial shade, especially in areas where the sunlight is very intense due to high elevation, but it is best to grow lavender in an area with full sunlight whenever possible.
Q: Does lavender need to be watered often?
A: No, lavender does not need to be watered often. Too much water can be detrimental to lavender plants. They prefer dry conditions and will do best if they’re only watered when the soil is completely dry.
Q: How often should lavender be fertilized?
A: Lavender doesn’t need to be fertilized very often – once or twice a year is usually sufficient. Too much fertilizer can damage lavender plants.
Q: What pests or diseases are common in lavender?
A: Lavender is relatively resistant to pests and diseases, but there are a few that can be problematic. These include powdery mildew, root rot, and lavender lace bugs.
To prevent powdery mildew, water your lavender plants in the morning so they have time to dry off before nightfall. This will allow the leaves to dry and won’t provide the humid conditions that powdery mildew needs to thrive. Root rot is caused by too much water. To prevent this, make sure your lavender is planted in well-drained soil and only water when the soil is completely dry.
Lavender lace bugs are small insects that feed on the leaves of lavender plants, causing them to turn yellow or brown. To prevent this, make sure your plants are well-watered and check for pests regularly. You can also use insecticidal soap or neem oil to control lace bugs.
Q: When is the best time to plant lavender?
A: Lavender can be planted in the spring or fall. Spring is generally the best time to plant, as the weather is mild and there is more rainfall. Fall is also a good time to plant, but you might need to water your plants more often.
Q: Is lavender a perennial?
A: It can be. Hardier varieties may be perennial in zones 5–7, while more tender lavender plants come back every year in zones 8-10 and need to be brought in during the wintertime to survive the cold. It’s best to research your lavender plant specifically since the answer to this question depends on where you live.
Q: Is lavender toxic to humans or animals?
A: Lavender is not generally toxic to humans, but most lavender plants can be toxic to cats, dogs, and horses if large amounts are ingested. Grow lavender away from pets!
Q: What is the best way to dry lavender?
A: The best way to dry lavender is by hanging it upside down in a dark, cool, and well-ventilated area. You can also use a dehydrator or oven set on 200ºF.
Q: How long do lavender plants last?
A: Lavender will last for many years if it is properly cared for. To prolong its life, cut the stem back by a third after it has finished blooming, fertilize it once a year, and act quickly at the first signs of pest issues or disease.
Q: How should I harvest lavender?
A: You can harvest lavender by cutting the stem near the base of the plant. Lavender can be harvested at any time, but it is typically done in the summer after the plant has finished blooming. You can use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the stem. Be sure to cut at an angle so that more surface area is exposed for drying.
Q: What is the best way to store dried lavender?
A: Dried lavender can be stored in an airtight container in a dark, cool, and dry place. It will keep for 6-12 months.
Lavender is a versatile and fragrant herb that can be used in many different ways. You can also grow lavender without any prior gardening knowledge. Stick it in a pot on a sunny windowsill indoors, or put it straight into your outdoor garden. This hardy plant will provide aromatic blooms for years to come.
Experiment with fun ways to use lavender in your kitchen or try soap or lotion making — the opportunities are endless. Follow the tips above, and your lavender harvest will be bountiful.