Growing Lavender in Your Landscape

Maybe it’s the whole South of France thing. Or maybe it’s just the sublime color. And the fragrance. I feel instantly calm when I smell it.

I love the idea of planting a lavender “patch,” because it seems more like a concept than just a collection of plants, especially if you grow several types of cultivars.

I once planted a full-on 20′ lavender border on the south side of my house, using the classic Lavandula angustifolia, English lavender, that grew to about 4′ high in just 2-3 seasons. It was spectacular.

Not normally one for arts and crafts, I couldn’t resist daydreaming about harvesting my lavender at the end of the summer and making little bundles and sachets as gifts for family and friends.

If you think about it, handmade lavender sachets are the ultimate organic gift, especially if you use up leftover bits of fabric from other projects.

Lavender loves hot and dry sites

Too much moisture will kill lavender. The south side of your home is the best place to think about growing it.

Other than watering your initial plantings of lavender until they become established, you will only need to water it on rare occasions, if at all.

The planting site must be well-drained for lavender to thrive. No exceptions. It is not a forgiving plant in this department. The flip side is that it can withstand drought.

Lavender is a great plant to use with river-rock mulch, which wicks away moisture.

Lavendar needs full sun

Without sun, lavender will struggle. And you will be disappointed.

I have seen many a scraggly lavender plant in my time, and nearly it’s always the case that the location is not sunny enough. There is no wiggle room here, I’m afraid.

If you don’t have a full-sun spot, consider growing lavender in a pot on casters that can be moved around. For any other plant, that could seem like too much work. But for lavender? Some things we do for love.

Lavender is technically a shrub

Lavendar is a “woody plant” as a horticulturalist would say. Don’t try to divide it like you would do with other herbaceous flower plants in your garden (daylilies, etc.). It would be like trying to divide a tree.

Same thing with pruning. Treat it like a shrub. You can cut it but take extra care to retain the natural shape of the plant.

Lavender can get damaged in winter

As previously mentioned, lavender is picky about its growing conditions. It is a Mediterranean kind of plant, so don’t expect it to behave otherwise.

Check the USDA Growing Zone of the lavender cultivar you wish to grow. Don’t push it if your zone is not included. Where I live, lavender is truly hit-or-miss. The wrong micro-climate makes it a no-go.

Nepeta and Russian sage make great lavender-like substitutes

If you simple don’t have the right growing conditions for the lavender, try using nepeta or Russian sage for the same vibe. It’s also fun to grow all three of these plants (lavender, nepeta, and Russian sage) together in the northeast, for a succession of similar color and texture (nepeta in the spring, lavender in the summer, Russian sage at the end of the season).

Lavender is deer-resistant

Although it is not a plant native to the United States, it works well planted with other natives, and it might even deter deer from eating other plants (they do not like its smell).

Deer might nibble new growth to test it out. In general, they really do not like it.

It’s conceivable that planting lavender border could even deter deer from venturing further to other more sensitive plants. As a screen, in other words. However, you’d probably need quite a bit of lavender for this to work. Which is not a bad thing!

Lavender likes to be left alone

Lavender does not transplant well, and the less you fuss with it, the better. It is helpful to grow it in the landscape starting with smaller plants, such as those you can order online. In my own experience, this gives the plant the opportunity to adapt to its new home easier, and to grow into a more beautiful natural shape.

English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) Family: Lamiaceae

Requires well-drained, dry soil and full sun. Too much moisture will kill the plant. 1′-4′ tall and wide.  USDA Growing Zones 5-8.

Source: Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses by Michael Dirr (Stipes Publishing, 2009).

The post previously appeared on The Simple landscape blog.


Elizabeth Douglas is the founder of Pocket Meadows. She holds a degree in landscape architectural studies and is a member of the NY State Nursery & Landscape Association.

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