Nothing beats the soothing scent of fresh lavender in the garden. A group of species in the Lavandula genus, the lavender plant has a wide range of variation, with both annual and perennial types available. Leaf shape is variable, but most types produce leaves covered in soft hairs and have a strong aroma when bruised or brushed against. Commonly cultivated species are known for their purple-colored flowers which emerge in late summer through early fall on spikes at the top of leafless stems. However, some species have flowers that are blue, dark purple, white, pink, or even yellow. Plants are grown as both ornamentals and for culinary and medicinal uses. Use dried leaves and flowers in potpourri or as a fragrant decorative element.
Vera lavender is an English lavender considered to be one of the best types to grow for medicinal purposes and essential oil production, featuring light purple flowers. Also known as ‘true lavender,’ it’s considered a large variety, reaching heights of up to 3 feet. Its silvery-green foliage is needle-like and bunching, with light hairs and smooth edges. It’s drought tolerant, originated in Mediterranean climates, and is fairly easy to grow. If you live in areas below USDA Zone 5, you’ll need to grow it as an annual or in a container, as it won’t survive very cold winters.
Seed Depth: 1/8″
Space Between Plants: 15–18″
Space Between Rows: 18–24″
Germination Soil Temperature: 55–75°F
Days for Germination: 15–45
Sow Indoors: 8 to 10 weeks before average last frost. Transplant once the danger of frost has passed.
Sow Outdoors: 4 to 6 weeks before the average last frost or as soon as the ground can be worked.
Vegetative: Can be grown from cuttings or from low-growing branches that have started to root. Cuttings should be taken in the late summer from stems without flowers. Remove most of the leaves and place in a glass of water or a moist soilless media until roots begin to form.
Grows best in moderate climates. This type does best in Zones 5–11 but will grow outdoors in most zones if provided some protection. Plants can be started indoors in pots in cooler climates, or kept in pots all year, as containers allow for aeration of the roots which are susceptible to rot and for easy winter protection in extremely cold regions.
Natural: Full sun.
Artificial: Will grow well under fluorescent or HID lamps. Lights should be kept between 6–12″ away from plants to avoid burning. Provide up to 18 hours of light per day.
Soil: Prefers well-drained sandy or loamy soils. Lavender is extremely susceptible to root rot, so it’s important that soil has good drainage by planting on a mound or adding gravel to soil. A pH of between 6.5 and 7.5 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Germinate cuttings in a soilless potting mix that contains perlite, vermiculite, rock wool, or coco coir.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in a hydroponic system with clay pellets or gravel to keep roots aerated.
Aeroponics: Will thrive in an aeroponic system.
Water: Requires low to moderate amounts of water and is fairly drought tolerant. Be very careful not to overwater your lavender plants: aim to water on a weekly basis when plants are young but reduce as the summer continues. Note that container-grown plants will likely need more water.
Nutrients: Requires low to moderate amounts of nutrients. Plants can benefit from light applications of phosphorous-rich fertilizers after transplanting to aid hardiness through cold weather. Note that excessive amounts of fertilizer—nitrogen in particular—may cause plants to direct more energy into growing leaves, reducing the number of flowers.
Foliar: If growing for production of essential oils, gibberellic acid may increase oil levels.
Pruning: To promote healthy root and stalk growth, cut off most of the branches once they have started to bud. In subsequent years, cut plants down to about a third of its new growth once the risk of frosts have passed. Do not cut into the woody, old growth as this may kill the plant. Once in bloom, keep an eye out for dying flowers to be picked off.
Companions: Grows well with most plants as it repels fleas, moths, and white flies. Lavender grows particularly well with cabbage, cauliflower, and fruit treas. Avoid dill.
Harvest: Can be harvested at any time once the plant has reached maturity and flowers have opened over 1/3 of the way. Avoid harvesting too much from the plant, particularly in the first year.
Storage: Stores well when dried. Flowers can be dried by hanging them in small bunches in dry spaces. Lavender is also commonly processed into an essential oil; however, this can be a tedious and costly task to complete at home.
Other Uses: English lavender is an extremely popular plant with many uses. Dried leaves can be used as a moth repellent. Place in sachets and store one in each drawer or hang a few in your closet to keep clothes that are made of natural fibers protected from hungry moth larvae. As a bonus, it’ll make your garments smell fresh and floral.
Preserve: Lavender is most commonly dried either in a dehydrator or simply by leaving it out in the sun or in a dry space. Try infusing simple syrup with dried lavender flowers for a great addition to meringues, creams, and cocktails. You can also make an herbal jelly with the flowers.
Prepare: Less commonly used in cooking than as an aromatic herb, lavender can still be found in many herb blends (most famously Herbes de Provence), cheeses, and sauces. Lavender is best added to culinary creations when dried, just as one would use any other dried herb. While lavender may be used in cooking, lavender oil should not be consumed orally.
Nutritional: As an herb, lavender is extremely healthy in terms of having no fat, sodium, sugar, or cholesterol. It’s very high in many vitamins, including A and C.
Medicinal: The oils of the lavender plant in particular are considered to possess many health properties such as acting as an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, insect repellent, and anti-fungal agent.
Warnings: Allergies to lavender do exist and caution should be used before consuming or applying it to the skin if you haven’t come into contact with it before. Some studies have shown that lavender may be linked to causing breast development in young boys. Consider talking to your physician before exposing young children to excessive amounts of the plant or oil. Lavender essential oil should not be taken orally.
For a unique and calming start to your day, try this Lavender Oatmeal recipe.