The all-important pruning also known as the Halloween haircut
Pruning, harvesting and dead-heading lavender are three distinctive garden activities. Harvesting begins in early July when the tiny trumpet flowers start to emerge from the purple capsule-like buds. The stoechas (spanish) varieties start blooming as early as late february and march.
The stems, containing the buds and flowers, may be displayed fresh or dried for future use in floral arrangements. The dried buds, stripped from the stems and filtered from debris, have many customary and innovative uses.
Dead-heading is another activity to describe keeping the plant clean and presentable during the growing cycle. Dead-heading is accomplished by trimming and removing over-ripe, damaged and faded blooms and stems. Other than dead of damaged material, dead-heading does not involve the removal of living and growing vegetative plant material. The stoechas (spanish) varieties appear to benefit from some summer pruning of extra long and rangy stems. Removing faded flowers and some wild growth encourages repetitive blooming and creates a tidier plant.
Do not expect much colorful blossoms to re-appear with the intermedia and angustifolia varieties after the major blooming cycle has occurred in mid and late summer. However, do expect the foliage to stay greenish-gray, vibrant and very fragrant during the fall and winter.
You can expect your lavender to maintain prominent status in the landscape throughout the year, and express the typical attributes of an evergreen plant with the added benefit of a distinctive fragrance.
Pruning is an important gardening activity that should be done when the plant is dormant and no new vegetative growth is forthcoming. When all growth has stopped and the plant appears to go dormant in late fall, shape the plant to resemble a mound or the distinctive dome which you observe on most lavender farms. If you harvested your lavender in mid to late summer, then there may be some blooms and dried spikes left on the plant. Trim these off as you prune. If you did not harvest or dead-head, then more material will require removal. Pruning in mid to late october is an excellent time to perform the “halloween haircut.” The weather is still pleasant, the soil is firm and holiday activities are a month away.
Fall trimming at Gnomelicious Lavender
Your plant, when pruned, should resemble a bowl or sleeping porcupine. Always prune so that 2-3 inches of green growth remain on the plant. By examining the plant notice how the stem forming from the root is brown and woody. Follow the woody stem upward until it turns to green soft material. This is the boundary line. Stay above the brown. No hacking back! Trim the plant so that 2-3 inches of this green material remain on the plant. This material contains the growth hormones for the next season’s growth. Remove any material that is damaged or distorts the plant. Use sharp and clean hand held shears. Schedule this pruning each season. If you missed the fall pruning, practice this technique in early spring when you can visit the garden. Regardless of what you have heard or seen, lavender does not respond favorably to heavy pruning deep into the brown woody growth. As you get adept at pruning you will observe that the mature stoechas varieties can withstand a slightly harder pruning than the other species. With lavender, it is easier to remember “pruning up, instead of pruning down the plant.” Always leave 2 to 3 inches of green growth on the plant. With young starts, pruning is very slight and almost un-noticeable.
Lavender will resort to its genetic and natural growth patterns more readily if not pruned each season. Usually by the tenth growing season, lavender will have eventually grown woody and sprawling material in the inner portion of the plant, regardless of good pruning practices. An un-pruned and neglected plant will exhibit this woody growth, along with sparse green vegetation and limited flowering at a faster pace. The presence of these sprawling woody stems will open up the plant known as “lodging.” Snow and a buildup of leaves and garden debris collected in the open spaces may hasten plant damage and rot. Untidy and sprawling lavender is not necessarily unhealthy or doomed. It is growing naturally. It is your decision to either remove the plant or leave it in the landscape.
In many cases, the plant can remain healthy for many years with proper attention, even with wide open spaces in the middle of the plant. However, your desired visual effect in the garden may be lost. Plants in this condition are not good candidates for reshaping into a bushier specimen. Pruning far back into the brown woody material is not productive. With proper cultivation you can expect the plant to remain visually attractive for 7-10 years.
Good sun exposure to the entire plant will promote even growth. A lavender plant left to grow near a tree or under a roof eave will develop longer branches on one side of the plant to “reach” in the direction of available sun light. Extreme climate changes may cause the developing plant stems with flowering buds to temporarily relax, twist or collapse. This is not the result of a disease. Do not discount animals stepping on or nesting in or near the plants as a source of plant distortion or damage. In most cases our lavender plants succumb to too much water, tight/poor draining soils, over pruning and roto- tiller damage to roots.
The life span or health of the plant may also be affected because opened branches are broken by snow or exposed to rot from the build up of soggy leaves, dirt and garden debris that harbor on the plant in the wet winter and spring. It is a good garden practice to keep the plants free of any debris and remove damaged stems to promote good plant health and a desired visual effect. Again “lodged” lavender plants require special attention and can never be brought back to the dense mound garden fixture by pruning.
Information excerpt from Dr. Lavender's Owner's manual and is provided by the Sequim Lavender Company, Sequim, WA. All rights reserved.