Photo by Linda Lamb Peters

Hardy and easy-to-grow, lavender is an essential garden herb for its heavenly fragrance

You may know lavender by its scent, but that’s only one of this herb’s endearing qualities. Lavender plant is easy to grow in the West’s warm, dry climates, requiring little in the way of pest control, fertilizer, and, once established, water. Its scent is soothing, which is why its essential oil is a prized ingredient in many aromatherapy products, such as lotions and candles. And you can even cook with lavender flowers.

How to Plant

Look for cutting-grown, rather than seed-started lavender plants (most nurseries can provide this information), especially for hedges, since the ultimate size of seed-grown lavender can vary. Most kinds will thrive for about 12 years before they need replacing.

Growing Conditions

Lavender needs full sun and well-drained soil. Where soil drains poorly, grow lavender in raised beds. Set full-size varieties 3 to 4 feet apart, dwarf types 18 inches apart. Mulch with decomposed granite or gravel—not compost.

Pruning Tips & Plant Care

Irrigate deeply but infrequently, when the soil is almost dry. Lavender plants require little or no fertilizer.

Prune every year immediately after bloom. Cut back 2- to 4- foot tall varieties by a third, low-growing type by 2 to 4 inches. If you won’t be harvesting the blooms of repeat performers, such as Spanish lavender, cut off faded lavender flowers to keep new ones coming.

Snip stems when the bottom third of their blossoms are open; not all blooms are ready to cut at the same time. Remove leaves from the stems, gather stems in bunches, and secure each bundle with a rubber band. Use no more than 100 stems per bundle.

Popular Varieties

The most widely planted and used species is English lavender (L. spica). The woody, upright stems grow 3 to 4 feet high, and each plant spreads to about 3 feet across. Leaves are gray and narrow, about 2 inches long with smooth margins. Lavender flowers of a light purple hue grow on 24-inch long spikes at the ends of the stems in July and August. There are several dwarf varieties of English lavender. ‘Compacta’ is 8 inches tall, 12-15 inches wide, with deep purple flowers. ‘Munstead’ is a popular dwarf, 18 inches tall with deep lavender-blue flowers. ‘Hidcote’ grows slowly to about 1 foot and has purple flowers.

French lavender (L. dentate) reaches about 3 feet high and has bright green 1-1½ inch leaves with square toothed edges. Lavender-purple flowers grow in short, blunt clusters, each topped with a tuft of petal-like bracts. In mild winter climates it blooms almost continually.

Spanish lavender (L. latifolia) looks much like English lavender but has broader leaves and flower stalks that are often branched.

Flower Colors

Lavender flowers come in shades of lavender to dark purple, and even white.