Fundamental Facts

HARDINESS: Zones 6 to 9
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Neutral to slightly alkaline
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Infertile, well-drained
ATTRIBUTES: Fragrant purple flowers, evergreen foliage; for beds, pots, dried flowers
SEASON OF INTEREST: Spring to fall
FAVORITES: L. angustihlia 'Hidcote', 'Munstead'; L. stoechas in warm climates
QUIRKS Cannot tolerate excessive soil moisture or extreme winter cold
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Artemisia, coreopsis, dianthus, roses, thyme
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Sun; infertile, well-drained soil
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Root rot in wet soil
RENEWING PLANTS: Lives years; prune severely in late winter; start plants from cuttings
SOURCE: Bedding plants, stem cuttings in late summer
DIMENSIONS: 12-36 in (30.5-91.4 cm) tall and wide

Lavender in the Landscape

The clean, refreshing fragrance of lavender is one of the most popular scents in the world, used in perfumes, soaps, sachets, and thousands of other items. Luckily for gardeners, lavender looks as good as it smells. Although grown as a perennial, it is actually a small shrub with grayish evergreen leaves that appear needlelike yet are soft to the touch. When crushed, the leaves release a soft scent. The purple or lavender flower spikes that appear in late spring or early summer release the perfume with intoxicating clarity.

Lavender naturally possesses a neat, mounding form, growing about as wide as it is tall. Compact types make an aromatic pathway edging and are even grown as lawns in arid regions, while larger types work well as a low hedge. You can keep a single large mound as a specimen in the border or grow it in a pot. Always plant lavender in a sunny, dry location, because heat helps release its fragrance. Grow it near fragrant roses for a double punch of perfume, or pair it with aromatic creeping thyme or sweet-scented annuals, such as sweet alyssum.

The most popular lavender, widely grown because it is moderately cold hardy, is English lavender (Lavandula anaustifolia). Two excellent cultivars are the dark purple-flowered 'Hidcote', at 24 in (61 cm) tall, and medium purple 'Munstead', at 14 in (35.6 cm) tall. Called French or Spanish lavender, L. stoechas is hardy to Zone 8 and often thrives in Zone 7 when it is planted in a place protected from winter wind, such as near a wall or building. Growing nearly 3 ft (1 m) tall, it produces flower spikes topped by tufted bracts in late spring and summer.

Growing Lavender

Good drainage, lean soil, sun, and heat will ensure success with lavender. Be stingy with fertilizer or you'll get leaves at the expense of flowers. Set out new plants in early spring, and clip off spent flowers to prolong the bloom time. Where winters are colder than those of Zone 6, grow it in pots and bring them indoors for winter. Cut the plants back by half their size when you bring them inside in late fall, and keep them cool and dry through winter. Then shift them back outdoors first thing in the spring.

In areas where lavender can be grown outdoors, it will prosper for years with little care beyond annual pruning if pleased with the conditions. Wait until spring to trim back old stems, which shelter the plant's roots and low buds through winter.

The best way to propagate lavender is to root 6 in (15.2 cm) long stem cuttings taken from plants in the late summer. Remove leaves from the lower half of the stems, and dip the cut ends into rooting powder and insert them into damp sand up to half their length. Cuttings root in about 6 weeks. Lavender is so pest free that it is often dried and included in insect-repelling sachets to tuck into drawers filled with linens and woolens.

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