lavender, (genus Lavandula), genus of about 30 species of plants in the mint family (Lamiaceae), native to countries bordering the Mediterranean. Lavender species are common in herb gardens for their fragrant leaves and attractive flowers. The plants are widely cultivated for their essential oils, which are used to scent a variety of products. The dried flowers, for example, have long been used in sachets to scent chests and closets, and the ancient Romans used lavender in their baths. Lavender can be toxic to pets like dogs and cats.
Lavenders are annual or short-lived herbaceous perennial plants, and shrub-like perennials, subshrubs or small shrubs with gray-green hoary linear leaves. The purple flowers are sparsely arranged on spikes at the tips of long bare stalks and produce small nutlet fruits. The fragrance of the plant is caused by shining oil glands imbedded among tiny star-shaped trichomes (plant hairs) that cover the flowers, leaves, and stems. Lavender may also be referred to as true lavender, medical lavender, smelling lavender, thin-leaved lavender or English lavender.
Table of Contents
1 - 3 feet
2 - 5 feet
6.5 - 7.5
Growth Nutrition of Lavender
Lavender plant generally needs more Nitrogen than Phosphorus and Potassium, in order to thrive and give high yields for many years. In most cases, the plant responds greatly to Nitrogen supply.
Types of Lavender
One of the most common types of lavender is English lavender. It originates in the Mediterranean, and it grows in clusters that are shades of pink, blue, and violet. They can grow to be up to 3 feet tall, and they can be seen growing in zones five to nine.
This is a type of lavender that is more suited for warm to hot climates, which makes it ideal for hardiness zones eight and nine. This plant will grow to be up to two feet in height, and the sweet-smelling purple blooms that can be seen slightly resemble rabbit ears.
This is a variation of lavender that is tolerant of drought. It requires very little to maintain the plant, and it can grow up to 3 feet tall in zones eight to 11. It will not create as much of an aroma, but it does have a mild, sweet smell.
Portuguese Lavender is another variation that originates from the Mediterranean and prefers to grow in zones six to eight in the United States. The scent of this plant is stronger than the English variety and is a bit more pungent. The plant typically blooms from late spring to late summer.
These perennial plants have a long stem and a pale purple flower. They bloom during the spring and the summer in zones six to eight, and they can grow to be 3 feet tall. Overall, they are easy to maintain, but they do have a pungent smell that can be unpleasant.
Although fringed lavender has a weak scent and flowers that are not particularly showy (still beautiful, with purple ears on top), it is much appreciated for the plastic and decorative ribbing (or teeth) of its silver green leaves.
Lavandin, the most fragrant lavender plant is actually a hybrid plant, Lavandula x intermedia, and it is what you obtain crossing English lavender with Portuguese lavender (Lavandula angustifolia with Lavandula latifolia) it can occur naturally, as we have seen, or don e by growers, botanists and gardeners.
This is a dwarf variety that will only grow to be up to 1 foot in height. It has silvery, green foliage that makes it stand out, especially when the violet blooms are present in the spring.
A very showy French lavender variety, ‘Ballerina’ too has upright stems, but they have short and rather plump spikes of deep violet purple flowers and big, elegant white ears on top.
“Elegance” and “class” are the words that spring to mind when you see French lavender ‘With Love”, a beautiful variety with unusually green foliage, then plump and short spikes of a cerise-purple color and ears of the most delicate pink, almost white, with bright magenta veins in them.
With long white ears on top of spikes with regularly spaced, deep purple flowers with a bright yellow center, ‘Pretty Polly’ has also won the Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society, and you can surely see the value of this very aromatic prize winner both in containers or in your borders or flower beds.
This dark purple flower can be seen growing in zones seven through nine in full sun conditions. The stalks will grow to be a little more than 2 feet in height, and the dark green foliage is a very aromatic part of the plant that can attract pollinators to any garden.
This is a variety of lavender that is actually pink; in fact, it is one of the darkest shades of pink. Blooms can only be seen once in the late spring of the year.
Another pink blooming lavender, the rosea is a fragrant variation that can grow to be 3 feet tall. This plant grows best in full sun and alkaline soil. It tolerates high heat and drought with ease, and the fragrant plant is ideal for attracting pollinators.
This is another dwarf variety that will rarely grow to be more than 2 feet tall. The blooms have small pink spikes that will look great in a small garden. They will grow best with full sun and relatively dry soil.
As a smaller variation of this type of plant, the Thumbelina leigh is one that has a very strong scent. It only grows to be about 1 foot in height, so it will make an excellent border for a small garden.
This is a plant that produces blooms during the summer months that are a stunning shade of purple. These small plants typically are only about 2 feet in height, and the fragrant perennial is will do well in full sun and well-drained soil.
Named after the Twickel Castle in the Netherlands, this plant can grow to have a height of up to 2.5 feet, and a width of nearly double that. This plant can have a stem of up to 8 inches long, which makes it great for borders in a large garden.
They are highly aromatic plants, and the deep violet-colored blooms look great in any garden. The blooms tend to have light violet spikes on them that create a contrast of colors that attract butterflies. Typically, they thrive in full sun.
This is a unique combination variety that can grow to be up to 3 feet tall. They can be seen growing in zones five through eight, and the blooms can be seen in the summer of the year. It does best in dry soil, but drainage and air circulation are still required.
This is a strongly scented plant that is ideal for attracting butterflies to your garden space. It is a plant that will do well in full sun and dry, alkaline soil. It can grow to be up to 3 feet in height.
This is a bushier plant that has a long stem with flower clusters that are about 6 inches long. They grow to be up to three feet tall. This perennial is very low maintenance, and it will do best in full sun.
It is a hardy plant that will require full sun and moderate water. It likes slightly acidic soil, and with the right conditions, it can grow to be up to 2 feet in height.
This variation has a bluish lavender shade and a sweet smell. It will live in any type of sun and soil, so maintaining it is relatively simple. It can even grow to be 2 feet in height.
The hidcote is a dwarf variety of lavender. It is a drought-tolerant plant that will be ideal for bringing butterflies and bees to your garden. At around 2 feet, this is a plant that can create a fresh scent for your walkway.
This “dwarf dawn” variety of English lavender will mix its beautiful candid and white blooms with the most soothing scent in the world, and its diminutive size makes it perfect for containers and pots, patio gardens and terraces.
With classical dark purple flowers, this variety of lavender is well known for its generosity and the thick blooms it will produce in spring. This is an excellent filler of color and scent to borders, hedges, and beds, and a plant you can safely rely upon to light up your garden with a richness of color that can make all the difference.
The spikes of this variety of English lavender have an upright habit and they can be 4 inches long (10 cm). ‘Royal Velvet’ stand out is its long lasting deep and dark navy blue to dark violet flowers, which also have a velvety texture.
The flower heads are quite big, 3 inches long (8 cm), and of a deep violet purple shade, and they loom stunning even when they are in bud.
A wonderful plant to cover slopes very fast, as it os a fast and vigorous grower, lavandin ‘Grosso’ also has very long spikes of flower (6 inches long, or 15 cm) of that typical violet shade we associate with lavender.
‘Phenomenal’ lavandin, which, on top of most fragrant lavender plant, will give you a deep vibrant violet purple hue and a thick shrub with many flower spikes.
For a saturated and richly colored display in containers or small spaces, ‘SuperBlue’ blooms with stems that are tight together with less gaps. This compact English lavender maxes out its growth at just 12”, making it perfect for setting on the patio or edging along garden pathways. It is super tough, drought-tolerant, and reliably cold-tolerant for overwintering.
Plant lavender in a spot that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day (“full sun”).
Lavender thrives in most soil qualities, from poor to moderately fertile. Lavender makes only one demand of soil: It must drain well. Standing water and wet areas could encourage root rot. Amend compacted or clay soil with compost or aged manure to improve drainage.
When to Plant Lavender
Lavender is best planted as a young plant starting in the spring after the soil has warmed up to at least 60°F (15°C) and the threat of frost has passed.
If planting in the fall, choose larger, more established plants to ensure their survival through the winter.
How to Plant Lavender
Lavender isn’t easy to grow from seed; we recommend purchasing small starter plants from a garden nursery or taking a softwood cutting from an existing plant. Seeds may take up to three months to germinate and seedlings will need to be overwintered indoors in cool climates.
Plant lavender 2 to 3 feet apart. Plants typically reach between 1 and 3 feet in height.
Add mulch (rock or pea gravel work particularly well) to keep weeds to a minimum. Keep the mulch away from the crown of the lavender plant, however, to prevent excess moisture and root rot.
How to Get Lavender to Bloom
When you're growing a plant as prized for its blooms as lavender, try to do all you can to get it to flower profusely. If you're having a difficult time getting your lavender plants to bloom, there are a few issues that could be to blame.
Soil that is too fertile can result in fewer blooms. Highly fertile soil promotes a lot of green growth at the expense of bud production. You can either relocate your plants or amend the soil with sand or gravel to aerate it and make it less nutrient-dense.
You should also make sure that your lavender plants are getting at least six to eight hours of sunlight daily, which will result in the most productive blooming. If your plant isn't getting that much light in its current location, you can cut back nearby foliage that may be overshadowing it, or replant your lavender in containers so you can move them around and "chase" the light.
Lastly, pruning your plant each spring—even if the size is suitable for your space—can result in more frequent (and fuller) blooming. The reason: Lavender sets buds on new growth, so stimulating that process is a helpful signal to the plant that it should get growing.
As with most plants, your success in growing lavender will depend both on what kind of growing conditions you provide and which varieties you select to grow. Even if you do everything right and your lavender plants appear happy, the genus is generally not long-lived and most lavender plants begin to decline in 10 years or less.
Lavender plants grown in full sunlight is the best way to guarantee a lot of buds and big, full bushes.
Lean soil (soil without a lot of organic matter mixed in) will encourage a higher concentration of oils (and good smells), so go easy on the organic matter and fertilizer. Lavender plants prefer well-drained soil that is on the drier side, so if you're using a traditional potting mix, be sure to add in some sand for drainage. An alkaline or especially chalky soil will enhance your lavender's fragrance, while any pH below about 6.5 will likely cause lavender plants to be very short-lived.
Lavender is a resilient plant that is extremely drought-tolerant once established. When first starting your lavender plants, keep them regularly watered during their first growing season. After that, they can handle extended periods of drought—in fact, too much water can lead to fungal disease and root rot.
Temperature and Humidity
Lavender can withstand a range of temperatures, and it's usually dampness more than the cold that's responsible for killing lavender plants. Dampness can come in the form of wet roots during the winter months or high humidity in the summer. If humidity is a problem, make sure you have plenty of space between your plants for airflow, and always plant your bushes in a sunny location. Protect lavender plants from harsh winter winds by planting them next to a stone or brick wall to provide additional heat and protection. If you live in an area where the ground routinely freezes and thaws throughout the winter, your lavender plants will benefit from a layer of mulch applied after the ground initially freezes to protect the roots.
It's a good idea to add a handful of compost into the hole when you are first starting lavender plants. Beyond that, feeding is not needed with these plants and can detract from the overall potency of your lavender.
Harvesting Lavender Flowers
Lavender is a wonderful herb for drying. Here’s how to harvest it:
Harvest in the morning hours when the oils are the most concentrated.
Snip off stems when about half of the flower buds have opened, cutting the stems as long as possible.
Gather into bundles and secure them with rubber bands.
Dry the bundles of lavender by hanging them in a sheltered, cool, dark place with good air circulation.
After a few weeks, the flowers will have dried fully and can be shaken gently from the stems into a lidded jar. Store the flowers in a cool, dark place.
Use your dried lavender to make lavender sachets—a lovely gift. Lavender sachets can help to keep your sheets or towels smelling sweet, to repel moths and insects, and even promote a restful night’s sleep.
Store lavender flowers in a lidded jar somewhere cool and dark, or pop them straight into a sachet to keep towels, sheets or clothes smelling sweet and to repel moths. If you suffer from insomnia, try inserting the sachets into a pillow so the calming scent can help you drift off to a restful slumber.
Pruning and Propagating Lavender
Although lavender plants get regularly pruned simply by harvesting the flowers, a bit of spring pruning is recommended to keep your plant well-shaped and to encourage new growth. Taller lavender varieties can be cut back by approximately one-third of their height, while lower-growing varieties can either be pruned back by a couple of inches or cut down to new growth.
If you live in an area where lavender suffers winter die-back, don't prune your plants until you see new green growth at the base of the plant. If you disturb the plants too soon in the season, they're unlikely to develop new growth.
Lavender plants are best propagated by either softwood cuttings (the soft, flexible tips of shoots) or hardwood cuttings (segments of shoots with woody stems). Softwood cuttings are available in the spring; hardwood cuttings are available in the fall. Both processes can be done relatively the same—here's how:
Use a sterilized, sharp knife to cut a 3-inch segment of a healthy shoot from the plant. Hardwood cuttings should be severed just below a bump that identifies a leaf node. Remove the leaves from the bottom 2 inches of the stem and scrape off the skin from the bottom of the stem along one side.
Fill a small pot with a seed-starting mix that has been moistened with a bit of water.
Dip the stripped side of the cutting in rooting hormone. Bury it into the seed-starting mix.
Cover the pot with plastic and place somewhere warm with ample filtered light. Softwood cuttings take two to four weeks to begin rooting; hardwood cuttings take a bit longer.
When you've noticed that roots are established, remove the plastic covering and place the pot back in a sunny location.
Feed the plant once a week with a liquid plant fertilizer diluted to 25 percent strength.
After two or three weeks, the plant can be transplanted outdoors or into a larger pot with standard potting soil—commercial potting soil has enough nutrients to nourish the plant without any more feeding.
Potting and Repotting Lavender
Where outdoor planting is not practical, growing lavender in a ceramic, clay, or terra-cotta pot and moving it around to follow the sun or even bringing it indoors for the winter, will be most efficient. Lavender prefers to grow in a tight space. A pot that can accommodate the root ball with a couple of inches to spare is a good choice; a pot that is too large will encourage excessive dampness.
Ensure that your container has plenty of holes at its base for drainage—root rot is one of the few problems experienced by lavender plants. Additionally, you can plant lavender in a clay or terracotta pot to help wick moisture away from the soil and keep it from getting too wet. Use a loose, soilless mix for planting, and remember that container-grown lavender will require more water than garden-grown plants. A good rule of thumb is to water when the soil (not the plant) appears dry, watering at the base of the plant to limit dampness on the foliage.
Pests and Plant Diseases
Lavender plants are not afflicted by many diseases. They may develop phytophthora, which is a soil-borne fungal disease that causes root and stem rot. Lavender can also succumb to septoria leaf spot, which is caused by a fungus and is also commonly found on tomato plants.
However, many common pests are attracted to lavender, including whiteflies, spider mites, leafhoppers, and spittlebugs (which do little damage). Water spray, insecticidal soaps, and neem oil can be helpful to eliminate pests. The four-lined plant bug (FLPB) is another pest that can be found sucking on lavender plant leaves and can be controlled by pesticides.
Common Problems With Lavender
Lavender plants are fairly trouble-free, but problems can occur. Here are common issues you may encounter when growing lavender indoors or outdoors.
Leaves Turning Yellow
Leaves turn yellow if the soil is too wet. If the lower leaves are yellow, that definitely means you are overwatering the plant. Many lavender plants will perish if their soil gets too wet over the winter months.
Plant Smells Bad
You have probably overwatered your lavender plant. The plant may have root rot. If you have a potted lavender plant that you think has root rot, prune the dead or affected roots with a sharp and sterilized cutting tool and repot the plant to see if it's salvageable.
You have probably underwatered your lavender plant. In addition, the soil will feel parched.
Soil Is Always Wet
You have overwatered your lavender plant. See if you can remove any root rot and replant the lavender in new soil.
Benefits of Lavender
Soothe Wounds and Pain
You’ve probably never heard your doctor shout, “Quick, get the lavender!” But this purple flowering plant may be a powerful healer. One small study found that lavender essential oil relieved soreness and redness for women who had episiotomies, vaginal cuts made to deliver babies. Another study showed that inhaling lavender essence, aka aromatherapy, eased pain from C-section childbirths.
Stop Hair Loss
Massaging your scalp regularly with a mix of lavender oil and other herb essential oils may help slow hair loss from alopecia areata. This autoimmune disease, which can run in families, makes your body mistakenly attack your hair follicles. Research goes on to see if lavender oil might help hair grow, too. In one study, mice treated with lavender oil sprouted furrier coats.
Culinary lavender adds a clean sweetness to just about any dish. It also packs ursolic acid, a nutrient that may help fight cancer and burn more calories. Blend your own salt-free herbs de Provence seasoning with lavender, rosemary, thyme, fennel, chives, and other herbs.
Tame Your Tummy
Ancient Roman soldiers counted on lavender’s antibacterial powers to treat upset stomach and other illnesses. Some research suggests that the plant’s essential oil can help fight colitis, inflammation of the colon that can lead to pain and diarrhea. It may do this by helping fend off bad bacteria and protecting the infection-fighting strains. Try sprinkling dried culinary lavender on Greek yogurt.
Soak Up Toxins
It’s tender but tough. Lavender thrives in toxic places that would quickly kill less hardy plants. Its roots absorb heavy metals like lead and zinc and store them in their leaves. This can help clean and restore industrial sites and contaminated garden plots.
Freshen Your Floors
House cleaners in Medieval times sprinkled floors with this aromatic herb to refresh stale or sickly air. It still works great on modern carpets to quash bad odors and to fight bacteria. Make your own floor deodorizer with 8 drops of lavender oil to ½ cup of baking soda. Sprinkle it over your carpet, let it sit for a few minutes, and vacuum.
Rev Up Your Recall
What else can lavender do again? Oh, yes -- improve your memory. A recent study found that nursing students who took a sniff of lavender right before a test scored much higher than their peers. Those test takers retained more information, concentrated better, and were less anxious. The study also suggested college kids might find aromatherapy a cost-effective remedy.
Tamp Down Motion Sickness
You get this condition when your inner ear’s senses go at odds with how you see movement around you. That confusion can make you dizzy and nauseated. Lavender can counteract that by distracting you with your sense of smell. Add in other sensory treats like ginger candies (and a smart seat choice) for a smooth ride.
Calm a Fussy Baby
Is your newborn fussy and colicky? Lavender might save the day -- and maybe the night. In one study, moms of 40 infants between 2 and 6 weeks old massaged their babies’ tummies with 1 drop of lavender oil in 20 milliliters of almond oil. The massaged babies quieted down more quickly than others, and they cried less each week of the study.
Chill Hot Flashes
Menopause happens when a woman stops having a monthly period, usually around their late 40s or early 50s. It can bring on hot flashes, sudden warm flushes that sweep over your body and put a wrench in your daily life. But women in a study who sniffed lavender for 20 minutes twice a week reported their flashes faded up to 50% more than women who did not use the lavender aromatherapy.
Lavender flowers can be used in cooking as a herb or used to produce lavender sugar.
Fresh flowers can be used as a flavoring in desserts and sauces.
Bees which collect lavender nectar produce a high quality honey.
Lavender is also cultivated as an ornamental plant or for the extraction of essential oil.
The flower spikes are popularly dried and used in flower arranging.
The fragrant, pale purple flowers and flower buds are used in potpourris.
Lavender is also used in scented waters and sachets.
The greens can also be used to make a tea that is milder than teas made with the flowers.