Growing lavender is extremely rewarding - not only does it have an intoxicating scent, but the delicate flowers look simply divine and are perfect for attracting bees to your garden. Full sunlight and well-draining soil are two of the most crucial things you’ll need to achieve in order to grow lavender successfully, whether you’re planting it in the garden, in a pot or even indoors.
Although pruning lavender at least twice a year is a must, once established lavender becomes drought-hardy and requires very little maintenance.
Lavenders thrive in warm, temperate climates, but also grow in cool and cold areas, depending on the variety. As natives of the Mediterranean, they ideally like their summers hot and dry, and winters cool. English lavender does not tolerate humid summers very well, but other lavenders will happily grow in areas of mild humidity. Frost tolerance varies with the species, so check plant labels before buying.
The best place to plant lavender
Plant in full sun and protect from strong winds. If there are spots in the garden that bask in the hot afternoon heat, plant lavenders – they will love it! However, lavenders will also grow in semi-shade, provided the soil conditions are met.
Ideal soil conditions for lavender
Lavender plants grow best in fertile, well-drained soil. If the soil does not drain well, consider raised garden beds or pots. Before planting, enrich soil with compost or manure. Where soils are strongly acidic, a dose of lime is beneficial.
Once established, lavender is a drought hardy plant. An occasional deep soak during dry spells, however, will help them through the warmer months. Just don’t overwater – they don’t like wet feet.
Growing lavender in a pot
Lavender will thrive in a container as long as three conditions are met. Firstly, the pot must have enough drainage holes. Secondly, the potting soil needs to be well-draining. Lastly, the pot needs to be in a position to receive as much sunlight as possible. Water the plant thoroughly once or twice a week - depending on weather conditions.
Feed regularly through the flowering season with a liquid fertiliser. After flowering, feed with a general purpose, slow-release fertiliser.
Remove spent flowers and trim lightly after flowering. Once plants are established, trim them back by up to one-third. This will help rejuvenate the plants and encourage growth. If you ever decide you need more lavender in your life, try propagating lavender from cuttings after a routine pruning.
English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Also called true or common lavender, it’s actually native to the Mediterranean. The small flowers attract bees and butterflies. It’s aromatic when brushed against or crushed and is cultivated for its high-quality lavender oil.
Form: Up to 90cm-high clumps with wispy inflorescences at tips in blue-purple, blue-violet, lavender or white-pink. Narrow grey- green to purple-green foliage.
Climate: Frost tolerant.
Flowering time: Early to mid-summer.
Garden use: Formal or informal edging, rock gardens, herb gardens and vegie plots.
French lavender (Lavandula dentata)
Also called fringed lavender, this species is native to Spain. While not as fragrant as other lavenders, its leaves have a rich lavender-rosemary scent.
Form: Up to 90cm-high clumps with colourful light purple flowers at tips. Bright, grey-green narrow leaves have toothed margins.
Climate: Light frost-tolerant only.
Flowering time: Early summer to autumn.
Garden use: Plant as low, formal hedging in the same way you use box or as sculptural mounds on a bank. Great in coastal areas.
Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas)
Also called Italian, French or butterfly lavender, it’s native to the lower Mediterranean and northern Africa. Its fragrance is a mix of camphor and rosemary but is grown more for its striking flowers.
Form: Up to 60cm-tall clumps with deep purple, deep pink or white inflorescences at tips, topped with distinctive upright tassels.
Flowering time: Mid spring to late summer.
Garden use: Mass planting, in containers or as a low informal hedge.
If you have your heart set on growing Spanish lavender, be careful. If left to its own devices, it can do a lot of damage to the environment. It's even been declared a weed in some parts of Australia. Read more about why this lavender species is a high-risk plant.
How to grow lavender in containers
- Use good-quality and free-draining potting mix.
- Position the plant to get at least 6-8 hours of sun a day.
- Allow the potting mix to dry out between watering, but don’t let your plant wilt.
- If mix is too dry, it can get hydrophobic and the mix will repel water, which will just run down the side of the pot. Replace mix.
- Put pots on feet rather than in a saucer, as lavender doesn’t like the humidity an accumulation of water creates, and it doesn’t like wet roots.
How to dry lavender
Pick a few stems just before the buds become flowers – when they are the most fragrant and colourful – then, when dry, use as part of scented sachets, potpourri or in a dried arrangement. The best lavender to use is English, as it contains more oils than other lavenders.
- Snip stems to include leaves and buds – buds have the highest concentration of fragrant oils, but the leaves are fragrant too.
- Bunch about 10-15 stems in loose bundles to prevent mildew (it can happen in a bigger bunch if moisture gets trapped).
- Tie the base of the stems with string, leaving one end long for hanging.
- Hang upside down in a cool, dry place protected from sunlight – the sun will fade the colour.
- Check bundles every few days to ensure they are drying and not developing mould.
- It takes 7-10 days for your lavender to dry completely, depending on the humidity.
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