Lavender is a great aromatic herb to grow if you’re looking for a low-maintenance plant that thrives in sunlight, that doesn’t need much water, and that smells incredible. Oh, and don’t forget the gray-green leaves and pretty purple flowers that attract lots of friendly pollinators to your space but repel flies and mosquitos. I personally think it’s worth trying to grow anything that’ll keep the mosquitos out of my yard!
Let’s look at how to grow your own organic lavender in your garden.
THE BEST TYPES OF LAVENDER TO GROW
There are many different varieties of lavender to choose from, but here are some of the most popular:
This is the most commonly grown type and is known for its fragrant, blue-purple flower spikes. It’s considered the best type of lavender to grow if you’re looking to brew your own lavender tea or use lavender in the kitchen.
French lavender has a more compact growth habit and produces beautiful pink or purple flowers. You can tell it apart from the other types by its leaves, which have toothed edges. Its fragrance is not as strong as English lavender, but honestly, it still smells heavenly when you rub it between your fingers.
This lavender variety is a bit more unusual, with its distinctive “rabbit ears” on the top of its flowers, but it’s still a beautiful plant. This is the best variety to grow here in Central Texas since it’s more tolerant of our heat and humidity than the others.
WHEN IS LAVENDER’S GROWING SEASON?
Lavender thrives when the temperature is above 75 degrees and the days are long. In warmer climates like ours here in Central Texas, lavender can be planted in the fall and will bloom in the spring. If, however, you live in a cooler climate, it’s best to plant lavender in the spring, after the last frost has passed since the plant doesn’t handle frost well.
Lavender is what we call a tender perennial, meaning it can stay evergreen throughout the winter and continue to grow for several years in warmer climates. This is when you see a plant that has become a low hedge.
Different types of lavender differ in their frost hardiness. English lavender, for example, can survive hard frost if it’s well established in the garden before winter. When I say survive, I mean it will die back but then send up new growth from its roots in the spring. Other types will just die, like permanently, after a hard frost. That’s why some growers treat lavender like an annual plant and start with new plants each spring.
WHERE TO GROW LAVENDER
Lavender thrives in well-drained soil and full sun. Your primary goal should be to choose a location that receives plenty of sunshine—that’s at least 6 hours of direct sun per day. You’ll also want to pick a location with good air circulation. I love growing lavender on the edges of my raised beds. The height of the beds aids drainage, and the edges dry out fastest between waterings, just the way lavender likes it.
If you’re growing lavender in the ground, you might want to amend the top 6″ or so of your soil beforehand. Many of us have clay soil in our backyards, and clay tends to hold water a little too long for these Mediterranean natives. Mix some coarse sand (the kind you can buy in the construction section) and compost in with your native soil to improve the structure and drainage.
Lavender can also be grown in containers, which is a great option for those with limited space or who want to move their plants indoors during the winter months.
HOW TO GROW LAVENDER IN CONTAINERS
When I was a beginner gardener, I planted a lavender plant in a pot that didn’t have good drainage. It took exactly one heavy rainstorm to drown my poor plant, and there’s no coming back from root rot. Lesson learned. Lavender really needs its pot or container to have at least one good drainage hole.
To grow lavender in containers, choose a pot that is at least 12 inches in diameter and—I’ll say it again—has drainage holes. Terracotta pots are a great option because the porous material will help to absorb some of the water if you’re a little too heavy-handed with the watering can.
You can cover the bottom of the container with weed barrier cloth or burlap to keep the soil from washing out the drainage hole when you water. Fill the container with potting soil mixed with some coarse sand and a little compost. Plant the lavender at the same depth it was growing in its original container; in other words, don’t add more soil above the root ball.
Water the plant thoroughly to welcome it to its new home, and place it in a sunny location. Be sure to water the plant regularly, but do not overwater. If you stick your finger down about 2″ and still feel moisture, don’t water yet. Lavender likes to dry out between watering.
The great thing about growing lavender in a container, as I said, is that you can bring it indoors to overwinter. Lavender is a perennial plant, so it can continue to grow for years if you protect it from frost. It might slow its growth once you bring it indoors though—that’s normal.
HOW TO GROW LAVENDER FROM SEED
Growing lavender from seed can be a bit tricky, but it is possible. The reason it’s tricky is because these seeds are slow to germinate; unless you’re super careful, your seeds might rot in wet seed starting mix before they ever grow.
I recommend starting lavender by seed indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before your final frost date. For those of us in the Austin area, that wold be late January to early February. Fill a seed starting tray with moistened seed starting mix (make sure it’s not so soaked that it’s dripping) and place 2 to 3 lavender seeds per spot. Sprinkle a fine layer of seed starting mix to cover the seeds. Place under grow lights and leave the lights on for 12 to 14 hours a day. Keep the soil moist but never soaking.
Once your lavender seedlings are about 2″ tall, you can begin hardening them off and then transplant them outdoors when it’s warm. Check out our seed starting guide for more tips on how to care for your seeds and successfully move them outside.
Lavender seeds can be purchased online. My favorite online seed store is Renee’s Garden. They have quite a few different varieties of lavender, including a white flowered lavender just for containers! Visit Renee’s Garden to check out all of the lavender options.
If you’re not interested in starting lavender seeds, I recommend buying a well-grown plant from a local nursery. That way, you can enjoy the aromatic leaves immediately.
HOW TO TEND LAVENDER PLANTS
Once your lavender plants are established, they require minimal care. You can basically neglect these plants, and they’ll be happier for it, as long as they’re growing under the right conditions. You shouldn’t have to worry about any pest issues on your lavender plants—always welcome news!
Water the plants deeply but infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out completely between waterings to avoid “wet feet”. When watering by hand, avoid splashing water on leaves to prevent fungal infections and disease. Aim your water over the root system. Look out for yellow lower leaves—that’s typically your first sign you’re watering lavender too much.
The compost you added at the time of planting goes a long way to giving lavender plants all the nutrients they need. Once a year, you can fertilize lavender with a balanced fertilizer like MicroLife All Purpose fertilizer. Be careful not to over-fertilize; that can actually lead to excessive growth and reduced fragrance.
This is basically just harvesting leaves, but you do want to prune frequently to maintain good air circulation and prevent nasty stuff like powdery mildew and fungal disease.
WHEN TO HARVEST LAVENDER
The best time to harvest lavender is in the morning, after the dew has dried but before the sun gets too hot. Harvest flowers when they’re just starting to open. This is when the essential oils are at their peak, giving the flowers their signature scent.
HOW TO HARVEST LAVENDER
To harvest the lavender flowers, use a clean pair of scissors or pruning shears to cut the stems near the base. Start cutting from the outside of the plant first. Be sure to leave some foliage on the plant to help it continue to grow and produce flowers. Harvesting flowers frequently will encourage your plant to grow more for you.
HOW TO DRY LAVENDER
Drying lavender flowers is easy and can be done in a couple different ways. One method is to tie the stems together in small bundles and hang them upside down in a warm, dry location. Another method is to lay the flowers out on a flat surface, such as a screen or a paper towel, and let them air dry somewhere out of direct sunlight. After 2 to 3 weeks, shake the stems over a jar to remove the dried flowers and store somewhere dark and dry.
HOW TO USE LAVENDER IN YOUR HOME
Both the leaves and flowers have many uses in the home, from adding that lovely fragrance of lavender to homemade soaps and candles to making your own natural insect repellent. You can also use dried lavender flowers to make sachets or potpourri, or even to flavor baked goods like lavender shortbread cookies. Of course, you can make your own soothing tea with fresh or dried lavender flowers.
Growing lavender is a great way to add fragrance and beauty to home gardens. With a little care and attention, you can enjoy the many benefits of this versatile plant. So go ahead and plant some lavender today – your garden (and your senses) will thank you!