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Lovely Lavender

Now that I’ve learned (sometimes hard) lessons about gardening in the Sierra foothills, I’ve come to a simple conclusion. If a plant tolerates my soil and a little drought, doesn’t scream for constant attention, and almost always isn’t on our deer’s menu, it’s a keeper! Lavender fits all of those descriptions.

Reasons to grow lavender:

  • Very drought tolerant – native to sunny Mediterranean regions.
  • Grows well on rocky areas, gritty, or poor soils. No need to fertilize.
  • Blooms have a luscious scent – easily be dried and used in many ways.
  • Attractive foliage.
  • Attracts butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. Deer don’t seem to like it one bit!
  • Plants are quite resilient (not all plants are hardy at all elevations).

Planting tips:

  • Plant in full sun.
  • Prep the soil so it is loose and provides good drainage.
  • Plant a little higher than the soil line.
  • Keep the soil pH alkaline (opposite of acidic)

Pruning:

  • Start pruning lavender while it is young. Dead-heading after flowering improves appearance. Take off dying limbs whenever they occur.
  • Most lavenders need to be sheered hard annually to keep their shape and to prevent them from getting too woody. I’ve seen people use line trimmers, a technique that works well as long as you don’t prune all the way down to bare wood.
  • If you live at 2,500′ and below, you can prune in late fall. I prune again lightly in the spring or when the bloom cycles are over.
  • If you live in harsh freezing weather, wait until early spring to prune. Don’t prune more than 1/3 of the mature plant and prune again when they are completely finished with their bloom cycles.

In the genus ‘Lavandula’, there are about 39 different species of lavender. Here is a partial list of the most common, many of which grow well here. Experiment with your own environment:

  • The earliest blooming species are Spanish, Yellow, Sweet, Woolly and Allardii. A favorite of many Master Gardeners is Spanish lavender – Lavandula stoechas ‘Otto Quast’.
  • Mid to late spring bloomers are English – Lavandula angustifolia. Common varieties are Munstead, Hidcote, Dwarf blue, Lady and a true dwarf called Thumbelina. My favorite is Lodden Blue for its compact size and vivid color.
  • The next bloom cycle is the Lavandins – Lavandula x intermedia – (the x means it is a cross with two plants). Some favorites of these English hybrids are Provence, Fred Boutin, Grappenhall, and Gros Blue. Grosso is a favorite because of its deep purple color and beautiful rounded shape.
  • Another summer bloomer is Lavandula dentata -French Lavender. ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’, a hybrid of French lavender, has an extensive blooming season in very mild climates, although some find it tender in higher elevations.
  • A long season bloomer (for my lower elevation) is Lavandula pinnata – called fern leaf, lace, or jagged lavender. It is very tender but worth growing as an annual.

Kathy Nunes is a Master Gardener who has been known to swipe handfuls of lavender blooms just to crush them to get the full scent.