This beginner guide to lavender growing includes tips on plant selection, best growing conditions, recommended care, and answers how long does it take lavender to grow?
If you want to dye fabric see this recipe for dyeing with lavender plants.
Lavender (Lavandula) Growing Tips
Lavender is one of those plants that many of us love but give up on because it can seem difficult to grow. But even if your lavender is drying out and looking gray, or too woody, you may be able to revive it.
While these plants tend to look beautiful fresh from the plant nursery, without the right growing conditions and care, that beauty can quickly turn shabby in just one growing season.
But hang in there, often a simple change like a new location or less watering may be all that is needed to turn things around.
Lavender | Genus: Lavandula
Lavender Growing Guide
Woody herb / Sub-shrub
• Hardy species suit zones 5 to 9
• Full sun 6+ total hours per day
• Well-draining, sandy-loam soil
• Flower colors: white, pink, blue, purple
• Trim flowers after blooming to two-inches above the woody parts
• Lavender dye recipe for fabric
Shop Online: Buy lavender at Naturehills.com (US shipping)
Best Lavender Growing Tips
Choose The Right Type
When choosing lavender there are several things to consider. Do you want to grow hardy or annual lavender, do you want blooms at a particular time, and what are your growing it for? Is there a particular use?
This explains the difference between hardy, perennials and annual plants.
First, be sure you are choosing a variety suited to your growing conditions both for plant hardiness and climate. Different regions with the same garden zone designation can have different amounts of rain or humidity. Lavender is not a fan of damp feet or humid air.
- The types best-suited to cold climate growing are the English lavenders.
- Second best are French lavenders. Not all will survive year to year.
- Lavendula stoechas only grow as one-season tender annuals in cold climates.
WELL-DRAINING SANDY-LOAM SOIL
Lavender likes full sun and well-draining soil. A sandy-loam is best and unlike many other plants, they do not require fertilizer.
If you’re not sure about your soil, this shows how to test to see how well-draining it is. If you are growing lavender in pots, commercial potting mixes are well-draining.
The two things most likely to kill lavender are dramatic temperature swings in winter and over-watering. Because many lavenders have silvery-gray stems or foliage and become woody, gardeners can mistake this for drying out when it’s really just part of the normal aging process for the plant. Step away from the hose: they are drought-tolerant plants.
The best-looking lavenders are carefully trimmed in their first few years of growth to remove flower stems after blooming and maintain a nice overall shape to the plant. There is more on this below.
If you already have lavender but are not sure what you’re growing, this has identification tips.
The two popular hardy species are L. angustifolia and L. xintermedia with lots of varieties available.
- Many are listed as hardy down to zones 5 or 6.
- The hardiness can be hit and miss: some survive without issues, others get caught in a wet, deep freeze and die.
- To prevent this, you can place a well-draining mulch them over them from fall to spring for extra insulation.
Some tender lavenders are marketed as hardy but are not that cold tolerant. Double check before buying.
In the good news department, I’ve also noticed plenty of gardeners in colder zones (3-4) having success with some zone 5-6 varieties.
This could be due to microclimates within their gardens and/or some good hardy stock and winter protection.
So, don’t assume your colder climate excludes you from growing them: it may be possible.
In general, hardy Lavender can double in size each year for first three years and continues growing at a slower pace until age five. They are considered full-grown after three years.
Some gardeners find their lavender lifespan tends to max out at five years, others continue growing the same plants for much longer. Plant genetics and growing conditions all play a role.
If you choose a hardy variety suited to your growing zone and climate and it does not experience unusual cold or icy conditions or wild temperature swings, it should survive.
Some exceptionally cold-tolerant zone-busting varieties include Lavandula angustifolia ‘Royal Velvet’ and ‘Buena Vista’.
Professional growers use felted cloths to protect their less hardy plants from extreme weather.
My favorites! Here are two blue ones:
- Lavandula angustifolia ‘Betty’s Blue’ and ‘Blue Cushion’.
Lavandula stoechas and L. dentata are annual species and will not survive cold climate winters.
However, some annual species are longer living than others and may be overwintered indoors or in a garage if temperatures do not dip below 40°F (4°C).
If you are in tropical zone, look for lavenders known to thrive in hot and/or humid conditions.
What Are You Growing It For?
Ornamental landscape plant
If growing lavender for the garden, there are lots of choices:
- Flower color | Light, medium, and dark in white, pink, blue, purples
- Foliage color | Light, medium, dark in grays, silver, and greens
- Size | Flower stems from 3 to 18 inches, overall plant size from dwarf sizes up to 3-feet tall and wide
- Blooms | timing and frequency: Once, twice, three times per season; from spring to late summer
For a nice, full hedge look for varieties that grow at least 3-feet tall and wide.
A popular choice is Lavandula xintermedia ‘Grosso.’ This is a strong-scented lavender with the highest oil content of all the lavenders.
Angustifolia ‘Sweet Romance’ by Proven Winners can also be grown as a hedge.
Before investing in a whole bunch of plants, try some out for 2-3 years to see how they do in your garden.
Creating and Cooking with Lavender
It’s often assumed that you can just grow lavender for a season, enjoy the flowers, and then harvest the plant for creative projects.
But there is no one-variety-suits-all-purposes lavender. Each has different qualities and it’s best to choose what you’re growing based on what you most want from the plant.
Also, there is not one optimal harvest time: the best time to harvest depends on what you are growing it for and could be any time during growing season.
A good book (see Resources below) with detailed descriptions can help decide what to grow.
How long and when does lavender bloom?
Bloom time depends on the variety and your growing conditions—particularly sun and warmth.
- Some lavender blooms once a season for 3-6 weeks.
- A few are continuous bloomers.
- Others like Superblue English Lavender can bloom twice and even three times if the finished flowers and stems are removed promptly.
- L angustifolia ‘Royal Purple’ (light purple flowers) and ”Folgate’ (blue flowers)
Late Summer Bloomers
- L. xintermedia ‘Fred Boutin’ or ‘Fragrant Memories’
Continuous All-Season Bloomers
- Lavandula angustifolia ‘Sharon Roberts’
- L. angustifolia ‘French Fields’
- L. angustifolia ‘Buena Vista’
- L. angustifolia ‘Purple Bouquet’
- L. angustifolia ‘Superblue’
Unlike some other plants, it is recommended that you start lavender in a full-size container. Larger is better because for many cultivars the root systems grow as deep and wide as the plant is tall and wide above ground. At minimum, a pot measuring at least 12-inches wide by 12-inches deep (or larger) with adequate drainage holes is recommended.
Your plant tag will tell you how large (height and width) your lavender is expected to be.
Use a commercial potting mix—growers recommend ‘a coarse, porous mix’, provide full sun, and water infrequently.
Hardy lavenders in pots can be overwintered in a garage. Ideally temperatures stay between 40 and 60 °F (4 to 15 °C).
I have read that long-living annual lavenders can be transitioned to life indoors for the winter. I have not been able to find first-hand success stories for this but it’s worth a try if your plant is healthy and willing.
Recommended for Containers
- Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote Superior’
- L. angustifolia ‘Dwarf Blue’
- L. angustifolia ‘Thumbelina Leigh’
- L. angustifolia ‘Blue River’
There are a lot of varying opinions about pruning lavender. I lean toward advice from professional growers who grow the same varieties I do.
Prevailing advice for English lavenders is to cut them back after flowering to two-inches above the woody parts of the stems. Done 6 to 8 weeks before first frost, the plant has time to sprout new growth which will resume in spring.
That said, some gardeners never trim their lavender and report it looks fine year after year. It’s going to depend on your specific plant. If you know which variety you have, look up the recommendations for that specific plant.
See the videos below for footage of lavender being trimmed and/or harvested for various uses.
About Plant Patents
Some plants are patented and asexual reproduction is not permitted without permission from the patent holder. Patents and trademarks are usually listed on plant tags.
There are a few ways to grow new lavender: from seed, plant cuttings, and layering.
We cannot divide lavender plants because they are shrubs growing from a single stem and root system unlike other non-woody plants.
As mentioned, growing from seed is okay if you don’t mind how long it takes (months) and what you get. Because lavender cross-pollinates, the seeds, if viable (and not sterile) will likely provide hybridized plants not true to the parent.
So, does that matter? It’s up to you. If you still get plants you love, it’s fine.
Keep in mind that lavender seeds are short-lived, often viable for just a year. Store seeds in fridge and chill at 4°C (40°F) for four weeks before germinating. Lavender is prone to damping-off disease so aim for a low-humidity growing environment to help prevent it.
The faster way to propagate lavender is to take cuttings and root them.
Ultimately, hardwood cuttings are slower growing than semi-ripe but more reliable in the long run because they are less susceptible to drying out.
Layering and Hilling
Layering is a method where you keep the plant in place in the garden and pin some stems to the ground where they will gradually form roots at the contact points. You may notice that some plants like raspberries do this naturally.
If the stems do not bend right to the ground, you can also do layering with flower pots, pinning the stem to a container of moistened potting mix. Mulch the container for the winter to prevent weather damage.
It can take up to a year but when new buds appear from the target area, the stem can be clipped from the parent.
Hilling encourages lavender to spread and become bushier. Soil is mounded over the lavender so only new buds are exposed.
After a year or so new roots and shoots have established. Each set can be separated and grown as new plants or you can reduce the soil mound and grow one big plant.
Lavender attracts a number of beneficial insects including ladybugs, butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and praying mantis.
I do not know if long-term indoor growing is possible in average household conditions. I’ve tried it and failed. I’ve seen others say it is possible under grow lights but I haven’t seen any first-hand success stories myself. This is why lavender is not on my list of Herbs to Grow Indoors.
I assume they can grow successfully in some greenhouse conditions.
I have overwintered a Lavandula stoechas—a long-living annual variety—in my house for the winter by cutting back on water and light letting it go nearly dormant for a few months. But that’s different than growing indoors in hopes of flower production.
If you manage to do this, let me know.
Problems & Solutions
If your English lavender has remained the same for months, you can cut it right back to see if that will stimulate new growth. These woody plants can appear dead when they really just need a wake-up call with the pruners.
Lavender is an odd plant: it has a woody base like a shrub and an herbaceous top. If you’re not used to this, it can look like the plant is dying or drying out when it’s really just growing normally.
As I researched this article I noticed many professional growers speak of the importance of trimming lavenders after flowering, particularly in the first 2-3 years to avoid growing a gangly, woody plant.
By this they mean using clean and disinfected snippers to remove the stems of flowers that have finished blooming without snipping down in the woody zone. The goal is to leave enough greenery to achieve a nice, rounded shape, while triggering new growth.
If your lavender is several years old and really leggy or woody without much else going on—assuming it’s not lacking sun or sitting in soggy soil—it might be worth cutting it back or hilling it (see below) in case that gives it a new life. At this point you may have nothing to lose.
Two common reasons:
1) Overwatering or insufficient drainage. Does water freely flow away from the plant roots?
2) Too little or too much nitrogen. Lavender does not need fertilizer in average soil. Are you fertilizing nearby and the lavender is getting the run-off or is the soil itself is too rich?
Or, on the flip side, is the soil really low in nutrients (e.g. super sandy)?
If your lavender is not what you expected, perhaps the plant was mislabelled or it was grown from seed?
There are two main ways to breed lavender plants: by seed and by cuttings.
Seeds usually create a new hybrid, different from the parent plant. It can still be a lovely, productive plant but it will not be as expected.
Cuttings are reliable because they are vegetative clones, essentially growing a new part of/from the parent.
If you are interested in growing true species, I would buy plants from a reputable lavender breeder instead of using seeds.
These lavenders are known to be more humidity-tolerant than others:
- Lavandula xchaytorae ‘Ana Luisa’ and ‘Kathleen Elizabeth’
- L. intermedia ‘Grosso’
By most accounts, deer and rabbit will not eat lavender unless it’s the only thing on the menu. Numerous critters do not seem to enjoy the scent.
There are some aggressive root diseases that destroy lavender including Fusarium, shab (Phoma Lavandulae), and Phytophthora root rot. Four-lined plant bugs cause unsightly but not extreme damage. Septoria leaf blight weakens the plants. If you suspect any aggressive diseases, get your plants and soil tested. If positive, lavender growing should cease to prevent spread.
- The Lavender Lover’s Handbook by Sarah Berringer Bader
- Lavender: The Grower’s Guide by Virginia McNaughton
This is an older book often mentioned by growers:
- The Genus Lavandula by Susyn Andrews and Tim Upson (2004)
Watch Lavender Videos
There are also lavender grower’s associations that offer memberships and conferences.
I hope this has given you a better understanding of lavender and the confidence to grow your own.
If you have found any errors or have tips to suggest, you are welcome to email me.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
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