Munstead Lavender

Munstead Lavender

 

The countryside of southern France is legendary for its fields of lavender (Lavandula x intermedia  Provence) grown for the perfume industry. In North America, lavender is a shrubby perennial grown  for its flowers and fragrance, but it also serves as a landscape item for its beauty and ability to stand  heat and drought.

Ideas for using lavender.

In a formal garden, lavender may be clipped to form a low hedge or an aromatic border along a path.  In a rock garden, a single plant or just a few plants may be used to great effect as an accent. And, of course, lavender is a natural choice for any herb garden. The cool, gray-green foliage contrasts nicely with its own flowers, as well as dark green herbs and other plants.

Lavender also grows quite well in containers. In the Deep South, it actually does better in pots, as it benefits from improved drainage and air circulation. While the plants thrive in arid Western climates, they are usually considered annuals in the South.

Planting lavender.

Set out plants 12 to 18 inches apart in an open area with full sun and good air circulation. Plant lavender in well-drained, slightly alkaline soil with a pH between 6.7 and 7.3. You can add builder’s sand to the soil before planting to increase drainage, which is vital because lavender will not tolerate excessive soil moisture or humidity. To further improve drainage, plant lavender in a raised bed, along a wall, or near the top of a slope. In an herb or perennial bed, ensure good drainage by planting lavender on a small mound. Lavender flowers bloom in summer; you can clip faded blooms to encourage continued blooming throughout the warm season. Prune lightly to promote branching, especially in spring once the plants show new growth.

Fertilizer.

Sprinkle bone meal or other phosphorus-rich fertilizer around each plant in the fall to make it stronger and more winter hardy. Work the fertilizer into the first inch of soil, or let the rain soak it in.

Remember that lavender needs good drainage and good air circulation. Do not over-water, and allow the soil to dry before watering again. When there is a lot of heat and humidity, fungus can attack the plants, turning the leaves brown. To minimize the chance of having such a problem, mulch with pebbles or sprinkle sand around the base of the plant for faster evaporation. If you cut the blooms, trim in a way that thins the plant a bit, leaving it open for better air circulation.

Lavender Clumps

Lavender Clumps

Harvest lavender stems at any time by cutting them from the plant. However, avoid clipping more than  every third stem to keep the plant looking full. Flowers will keep their perfume for months when you  harvest just before they are entirely open. To dry flowers, gather a bunch of stems and hang them  upside-down in a dark, well-ventilated place to preserve color and keep the stems from molding.

 

 

 

 

Can I use lavender for cooking?

Yes. It lends a delicate floral essence to both teas and desserts. In the latter, the flower are usually combined with a liquid ingredient in which their fragrant oil is released. Then the flowers themselves are strained from the cream, honey, or other carrier of the flavor.

My lavender plants look great and are growing nicely but not flowering.

Lavender is a perennial herb in many areas – that is, perennial if it gets really good drainage. Growing in a pot is an ideal way to provide good drainage. However, if the potting mix is extremely fertile, the plant may grow leaves and stems rather than flowering. Cut back on your fertilizer, especially if it is high in nitrogen. You can try switching to a bloom-booster formulation, or simply stop feeding it for a few weeks.

Can I keep my lavender over the winter?

Lavender plants are a challenge to grow in areas of high rainfall, particularly in winter. Many gardeners in the Southeast consider lavender an annual. Be sure to plant lavender in a pot, raised bed, or atop a retaining wall. Given sufficient drainage, plants will be winter hardy in zone 5 and areas that are warmer. If grown in a pot, lavender will need some protection during winter in zone 5 and areas that are colder.

Can I split my lavender for more plants in the springtime?

No. Unlike herbs that spread into clumps with underground or above-ground stems, lavender is a woody shrub and does not form a clump.

 

 

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