This week, we talked with two home gardeners about growing lavender—one urban, the other suburban—to find out what works in helping their pretty purple perennials thrive!
Perhaps you garden seriously. Perhaps you garden casually. Or, perhaps you are the type of person who doesn’t even use “garden” as a verb. We know you land somewhere between the committed, dedicated grower to the haphazard, laissez-faire gardener. You also probably range somewhere between a hardcore researcher to a “stick it in the ground and see what happens” type.
Many people say that growing lavender is difficult—in a pot, in a raised bed, in the ground—doesn’t matter; some folks just don’t get results. They say all they want are those deep blue-purple blooms, but all they wind up with are sticks. Or, they report that the plant blooms one year and doesn’t come back (it is a perennial after all). The good news is that y’all still seem to keep trying. There is something so lovely about lavender’s heavenly scent and its vibrant color that makes us want, so desperately, to surround ourselves with such beauty AT HOME. We don’t want to rely on enjoying lavender strictly at a nursery or conservatory, so we found two home gardeners who can guide us in growing lavender successfully in our own spaces.
We pinpointed two distinctly different types of gardener. Amy is a self-described “chaos gardener” who has been trying for 8 years to grow the purple perennial in an urban setting. She’s had occasional luck. Doug is a more methodical, suburban gardener who’s been at this for 15 years. He discovered true success once he tried a new tactic. First, we want to share the common denominators of their successes:
Factors which are absolutely necessary to grow lavender (in U.S. growing regions 5 and 6)
- Must amend the soil
- Must receive full sun
- Must supply the plant with good drainage
- Must water the plant strategically (do not overwater and allow soil to dry before re-watering)
- Must space plants apart, anywhere from 18 inches to 2 feet
Tips and Tricks that Actually Work
Onto the specifics! Amy, our urban gardener, started growing lavender in pots and would bring the pots indoors during winter. Amy’s grandmother was English, so she grows English lavender varieties to both honor her memory and to satiate her nostalgia. She found that the potted plants would die by July, probably as a result of overwatering. She all but gave up—almost resigned to murdering several plants a year—when she heard the old gardening adage of “Plant a fifty cent plant in a five dollar hole.” Amy followed this advice, making sure she used regular garden soil and not the moisture-retaining kind. She switched from pots to raised beds, and tried planting them on a slant to ensure good drainage. She eventually figured out that her initial mistakes were caused by either overwatering, inadequate drainage, or not enough sun. Amy now measures the hours of sunlight in an area where she’s considering planting lavender and she makes darn sure she’s amended her soil properly before planting.
Our suburban gardener Doug knew that his yard, which is full of heavy, clay soil, lacked good, aerated soil. Amending the soil in a major way was his first priority. Once he added sand or fine gravel (also known as horticultural sand) to the digging hole for extra drainage, that made a big difference. Another tip he offered is to have the crown sit about a half inch above the soil, and then put mulch around the crown. (For the rookie gardener, the crown is where the plant stem meets the roots and where the nutrients from the roots transfer to the stems and eventually to the flower). Lastly, Doug advises waiting to see how much new growth there actually is before pruning in the spring. After witnessing new growth, trim the woody stems between a quarter and half inch.
Doug grows his lavender in both raised beds and directly in the ground. He started with English varieties such as Munstead and Hidcote, which grew fine, but never thrived in his backyard. Doug found that once he discovered a few other varieties of lavender and tried those, that he had extremely good luck. He raves about the French variety Phenomenal and its offshoot Sensational. Sensational doesn’t grow as wide as Phenomenal, but it produces taller flower stems.
Muses Doug, “I just love lavender so much. My garden was designed in a typical English cottage style, and lavender is essential in an English garden. I love the romantic notion of lavender. I love that when I walk by and my hands brush against lavender, they will smell great for the rest of the day.”
The important thing to concentrate on is proper drainage and enough sun. Ultimately, lavender is a forgiving plant, not as finicky as people make it out to be…….but it may take time to find the right variety that works with your soil. So don’t be intimidated and bring lavender into your garden, your yard, your patio and your life soon!
MEET THE AUTHOR / TINA TUMINELLA is a writer from Pittsburgh, PA who thinks of herself as an eater, talker, music-lover, mommy, francophile, and obsessive recycler. She bakes sweet things regularly, rides bikes and hikes with her family, and is a sucker for a pun. Her favorite product: Organic Lavender Cream