Grow it like a pro

Tips on growing lavender

Throughout much of the West, few plants are easier to grow than lavender.

Though most varieties perform best within 100 miles of the Pacific Ocean, English lavender and its allies (the ones most often used in cooking) can tolerate moderately cold and snowy winters.

Choosing plants: Look for cutting- grown, rather than seed-started, 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.

Planting: 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.

Watering, feeding: Irrigate deeply but infrequently, when the soil is almost dry. Plants require little or no fertilizer.

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

Harvesting: 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.