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How to plant, grow and maintain lavender

Woody perennials such as roses, rosemary and trees are typically planted when the plant is in the dormant stage which occurs in late fall and lasts through early spring. Lavender can be treated in this manner. However, if you are willing to tend to the plant’s watering needs during the dry summer months, installing a plant with a fully developed root ball will give the plant 4 to 6 months to establish itself before the dormancy season occurs. By getting this head start, you will have avoided gardening in dreary and wet weather and boosted the plant’s ability to “explode” with growth when the garden warms up in the spring.

Suitable planting conditions exist when the soil drains and does not puddle and remain sticky. The weather should be leaning toward a trend favoring cool and moderate temperatures. Soil temperature above 50 degree f. Is most desirable but not typical in the pacific northwest until late spring. Planting lavender in the spring and fall is possible if the soil is tillable. Stay out of the garden if your cultivation activities are making a muddy mess and you are compressing the soil. Irrigation needs must be met to retain moisture around young or transplanted roots until the fall, winter and spring rains take over. Once established, irrigation should be infrequent. For young plants, allow the soil to drain and go dry between watering. Don’t feel compelled to keep the root ball constantly wet and soggy. Allow the air pockets in the soil to re-establish.

Planting any lavender during an extremely hot or arid period, such as in august, requires careful irrigation practices. This is the period of the season when too much water can create a “steamy soil” condition and disrupt the transpiration process in the plant. A lethal condition may occur by hindering the plant’s ability to move fluids and nutrients through its cell tissue.

During the first growing season your plant is focusing its efforts on building a good root system and some top foliage. Your plant will produce several flower spikes to show off its beauty. Snip them off at the base of the spike (stem) where it leads to a pair of leaves and enjoy the blooms. During its first growing season the plant needs to redirect its energy to the roots and foliage, and not reproduction. During the following seasons, the plant will noticeably increase in size and produce bountiful blooms.

Ashley Reddicks, Gnomelicious Lavender

Lavender will survive in most soil conditions favoring a neutral to alkaline state. Our lavender varieties grow well in Mediterranean climates. Surprisingly the western regions of the pacific northwest enjoy a semi-mediterranean climate. This means that winters are mild, a large body of coastal waters maintains moderate temperatures throughout the year and summers are dry and free of humidity. Many parts of the country maintain one or two of these growing conditions, but not all three. Persistent periods of high and low temperatures (100 f. & 20 f.), soggy and unthawed soils and high humidity during the growing season exclude lavender from thriving in these conditions. Typically, a mediterranean growing region is identified and further described as zone 5 by the sunset western garden book, and zone 8 or 8a by the u.s. department of agriculture. There are situations in which persistent gardeners have either located or created suitable micro-climates in their respective growing regions for lavender to grow quite well.

Spacing of the plant is dependent on its mature size. Generally, spacing the angustifolia and stoechas varieties 2 to 3 feet apart is best. The intermedia varieties are typically spaced a minimum of 3 to 4 feet apart. Proper spacing is important because eventually the flower stalks with blooms will reach out from the edge of the foliage in a circular pattern of up to 2 feet in length from the mounded plant. Promoting sun and good air circulation are beneficial to producing robust blooms and for maintaining the health of the plant.

For these reasons, create these favored growing practices. Provide your lavender plant with 5 or more hours of sunlight each day during the growing season. Place the plant in an area that allows for a southern or near-southern exposure. Favor morning sun light to late afternoon sunsets. Provide good soil drainage that does not contribute to muddy, mucky and cold situations for the roots. Lavender can tolerate wet weather as long as water does not linger on the ground surface. Any visible water around lavender must be encouraged to pass through the soil.

Mixing course gravelly-sand and compost with the soil works well to open up tight soil. Placing the lavender on a mound also assists with drainage and provides some prominence and distinction to the plant in the garden. Mixing fine sand such as beach sand or playground sand is too fine and will create a cement-like texture in the soil. Gravity is lavender’s best ally. Place lavender where the forces of gravity clear the surface of the landscape of lingering water.

Lavender also responds well to moving air. The top foliage stays drier and fungal and mold development is discouraged. Arrange your plants in the garden to take advantage of their fragrance delivered by the summer breeze and local wind patterns.

Do not plant lavender under a tree, roof eave or along a north facing wall. Do not plant lavender in grassy areas where sprinkler systems are frequently used. Installing special soaker hoses or drip systems are not required in lavender gardening unless this is the preferred method used to address severe drought conditions in the garden. Watering lavender overhead is okay if sun persists to dry the leaves. Do not include lavender in the watering schedule of your other garden plants that require regular watering such as vegetables or lawns. Lavender placed outside the perimeter of vegetable gardens is very attractive and invites pollinators.

Container grown lavender requires special care concerning moisture needs and root space Lavender does best in the ground. Lavender can be subjected to many troublesome growing conditions in containers. As a general rule, lavender will survive but won’t thrive as it would in the ground. There are two varieties of lavender that are suitable for container gardening, lavandula angustifolia, ‘blue cushion’ and lavandula angustifolia, ‘thumbelina leigh.’

Lavender does not require the application of any chemicals or pesticides to combat insect problems or disease to maintain its vigor. It is best to remove weeds and garden debris around your lavender plants by hand. Weeds, if allowed to persist and take hold, will rob the plant of water and nutrients and distort the shape of the plant and blooms. Rotten weeds and debris will introduce unwanted moisture, fungus and pathogens to the root base of the plant. Overspray and drifting from the application of herbicides and chemicals to kill weeds can damage lavender foliage and taint flowers for personal use. Systemic chemical pesticides designed to enter the roots, stems and foliage of plants should not be applied or used around lavender.

Young lavender plants at planting time can benefit from a light application of an all-purpose fertilizer and steamed bone meal (1/2 cup each) mixed with soil in the planting hole to address any nutrient deficiencies or imbalances in the garden soil. After the first growing season no fertilization is required. Scratching a handful of steamed bone meal around the root base of mature plants after three years may be wise maintenance to treat and sweeten troubled soils.

Mulching with wood chips should be done sparingly. It is best to monitor the concentration of moisture retention around the base of the plant if mulches are used. Crushed oyster shells and rocks installed around the base of the plant may provide a visual effect; however, they may be abrasive to the hands and bruising to the knees when you perform the all-important weeding, harvesting and pruning activities. Using weed barriers covered with mulch or sand is a proven practice; however, there is a significant cost and weeds will eventually find openings from which to grow. Many of the newer weed barrier products are extremely durable but not visually pleasing. Be especially cautious when operating rototillers, lawn mowers and string trimmers around fabric material. They can bind up and shred a whole row of material in seconds.

Preferably, the plant’s root ball in properly prepared containers should not be packed with sawdust or wood chips. They should contain readily identifiable soil and compost. Plants may fit tightly in the container. Do not pull on the plant to release it from the container. Moisten the contents, if necessary, squeeze the pot and gently slide it loose while the pot rests on its side.

Carefully and slightly untangle very dense/tight root balls in order to create a more natural root pattern. Use clean soil to cover the roots. Do not cover the crown or the main stem of the plant. Do not plant in a depression in the ground or in a sunken area of the garden. Do not plant lavender in a low spot or bowl where fog lingers or cold spots are noticeable. When there is any doubt, find another growing area that is high, dry and will receive a sunny southern and morning exposure. Lavender benefits from being slightly elevated on a mound to provide good drainage. Unless you install larger specimens that have grown vigorously for two or three growing seasons, expect the plants to remain small, with noticeable space between plants, for at least one full growing season.

Information excerpt from Dr. Lavender's Owner's manual and is provided by the Sequim Lavender Company, Sequim, WA. All rights reserved.

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