French lavender, a cute variety

French lavender

French lavender is rarer than common lavender. Its flowers are very original.

Key facts for French Lavender

NameLavandula stoechas (GB)
NameLavandula dentata (USA)
Family – Lamiaceae

Type – herb sub-shrub
Height – 24-40 inches (60-100 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – ordinary, well drained

Foliage – evergreen – Flowering – summer

French lavender is a name given to two different but similar plants of the lavender family. Both are easy-going and very productive, and care is nearly identical. French lavender will decorate your gardens and terraces magnificently for a long time!

In the United Kingdom, you’re dealing with Lavandula stoechas (often called Spanish lavender in other places).

In the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the species called French lavender is Lavandula dentata… which the French themselves call English lavender (“Lavande anglaise” in French)!

Planting French lavender

French lavender appreciates well-draining, light and even poor soils.

How to plant french lavenderIt can grow more or less anywhere, but is vulnerable when temperatures drop below 19°F (-7°C) in winter (Hardiness: H3/H4 in the UK, Zone 8b/9a in the USA).

  • We recommend planting it in fall, but you can plant in spring without any problems.
  • Water a bit at the beginning and then keep from watering as much as possible.
  • No need to add fertilizer.
  • French lavender grows well in chalky soil, but won’t be happy in acidic soil.

Prepare a place that is well endowed with sunlight with well drained soil. If your soil is clay, mix sand into it to make it lighter.

Planting French lavender in pots

French lavender in potsOne important tip to grow French lavender in pots: avoid soil moisture at all costs.

  • Double-check that the pot has a hole.
  • Add a drainage layer at the bottom: small gravel or clay pebbles.

Usually, young French lavender plants require repotting the moment you’ve purchased them: nurseries prefer selling just before another costly repotting. Repot to a container only 2 inches (5 cm) wider for that first season. Afterwards, either upsize the pot incrementally, or plant it directly in a pot that is the ideal size: 1 to 1½ feet across (30 to 40 cm).

At that point, simply replenishing nutrients with fertilizer such as fermented weed tea is enough.

Watering French lavender

Lavender excels at resisting drought.There are only three cases when you must water your French lavender:

  • upon planting, once, thoroughly
  • during extreme heat waves (over 95°F or 35°C)
  • if your French lavender is growing in a covered spot that never gets any rain.

Expert perfume makers say that the dryer the season, the more fragrant the perfume!

Pruning and caring for French lavender

Pruning French lavender is possible, but must be exclusively performed on twigs that still bear leaves. If you prune dry wood, it won’t grow back…

  • Caring for French lavenderAt the end of winter, prune as you wish, but follow the rounded shape of the plant.
    Avoid cutting off old growth, because those branches rarely send out new shoots.
    Favor pruning only on young, tender shoots rather than old, hard wood.
  • If your climate zone has mild winters, you can also trim your lavender bush in fall.
  • After the blooming, snip off floral stems to avoid needlessly draining plant nutrients.

If your French lavender has grown bare spots, you’ve two options to help make your lavender full again.

  • Layer the lavender to produce new, healthy bushes that are immediately vigorous (L. dentata in particular layers well, and L. stoechas does great, too)
  • Hard prune your lavender over a few years. French lavender can be hard pruned, but not all at once.

French lavender in winter

French lavender is vulnerable to harsh freezing, 19°F (-7°C), and can’t survive in sustained cold spells.

  • Protect the base with mulch in winter. Use mineral mulch if possible.
  • Drainage must be perfect.

Preserving French lavender, dried

Flower blooming on French lavenderFrench lavender can keep for months, even years, if kept in a dry place sheltered from the sun’s rays.

  • Cut lavender flowers are an excellent way to perfume clothes and laundry.
  • Best is to hang bunches of lavender to dry before storing or using them.
  • Traditionally, locals filled small cotton pouches with lavender flowers to perfume laundry in the closet.
  • A variant that doesn’t require cloth or sewing is the lavender ribbon wand.

Diseases and pests that attack French lavender

There aren’t many. Actually, this flower often helps as a pest repellent. Like marigolds, it repels aphids.

In cases where the plant is severely weakened due to extreme drought or overwatering, the shrub may develop diseases such as leaf spot  (Septoria).

Although butterflies love to drink its nectar, you won’t find any caterpillars on the leaves, none like to eat it!

All there is to know about French lavender

Close-up of a single French lavender panicle just about to open up.French lavender got its name from the country where it was developed and grown intensively to extract its oils for perfume. In France, a common name for it is “butterfly lavender” (lavande papillon) because the flowers tips look like butterflies.

Flowers are stouter that those of common lavender, and like its cousin, both types of French lavender have been grown for thousands of years. Traditional uses were for bathing, scent, and medicinal benefits.

A very cute plant, this sub-shrub is one of the symbols of Provence, of the Mediterranean sun and typical fragrance.

Used in olden days to perfume bath water and clothes, lavender today serves to beautify our rock beds, flower beds and gardens.

  • Note: in some regions of Australia and Spain, French lavender is considered an invasive weed and should not be planted.

Read also:

Smart tip about French lavender

A great purveyor of nectar, French lavender attracts honeybees to the garden, where they join in on the fauna and flora ecosystem.


Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
CC BY 2.0: Katja Schulz, M’s Photography
CC BY-SA 2.0: Tracie Hall