French lavender is rarer than common lavender. Its flowers are very original.
Key facts for French Lavender
Name – Lavandula stoechas (GB)
Name – Lavandula 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.
It 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.
- Refer to our guidelines for planting shrubs.
- To grow a French lavender hedge, plant one stem every 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm).
Planting French lavender in pots
One 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 care 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…
- At 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
French 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 making ribbon wands.
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.
- Plant some between your rose trees, they are excellent aphid repellents.
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
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.
- Proper lavender name for each species & how to tell English, French & Spanish lavender apart
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.
My French lavender is still in bloom, I would like to prune them but we have had our first frost, would this do any harm.
Hi Carol, usually for French lavender you can actually leave the plant as it is until the end of winter. There’s no need to prune now. That way, you might still get the occasional flower. If you prefer to prune now, it’s also possible, but it’s best to wait for a warmer spell: it takes a few days for plants to cure their wounds well. It’s best if it doesn’t freeze during this period. So check the weather for a warm spell when it won’t freeze for 3-4 days in a row.
Hello – I have just received 2 x French Lavender patio trees – they look “grey” half way up and battered – what can I do to help it?
Hi Annabel, seems like the older leaves have taken a beating! It’s normal for the older leaves to turn gray and, in the end, fall off. Newer leaves higher up are taking over. What you can do to get bushes that are dense and lush is to prune them back to just above the first few “nice, green” leaves: this will trigger branching out in many places. It’ll fill the shrub up and hide the barer branches inside. Keep the shape round, it usually looks nicer. Here’s a link on how to prune french lavender (all lavenders are similar in this respect). Note that it’s best to do this in Spring so that flowers still have time to form over Summer, but if you’re willing to sacrifice this year’s blooming you can go ahead and prune now, you’ll have a slightly higher chance of getting new growth lower down, in the area where the gray leaves are.
what is recommended pot size for french lavender
Hi black thumb, soon to turn green! At the beginning, a smallish pot will do, for instance 6 or 8 inches across (15-20 cm), but once your lavender is already three or four years old you should double the size of the pot for it to have the space to grow (1 to 1½ feet or 30 to 40 cm). That size will suit it to the end. You can also start it directly in the larger of the two sizes, but it’ll seem small for its pot size!
Can you tell me how to protect French lavender in winter ours has died possibly through the frost where it is in a normal flower bed THANK YOU.
Hello Mrs West, sure. If it gets really cold every year, a good solution would be to try planting it using the pot-in-the-ground system, so that you can take it out before winter and store it in a garage or place that won’t freeze.
If you prefer to leave it in place, try to winterize it (article on winterizing here) with horticultural fleece or a clear plastic bag loosely wrapped around the bunch. You can also heap a pile of straw atop the shrub. Usually that keeps the harshest frost at bay. Come Spring, pull the hay away to free your French lavender.
Lastly, you should know French lavender is the least hardy species. If it fails you repeatedly, try planting English lavender or Spike lavender, they’re both hardier than French Lavender.
I recieved a French lavender tree for mothers day. It was doing great, flowering and looked healthy for a couple months. Now its turning brown and yellow and no more flowers. Its in the 80s and I only water when its dry… How am I killing my beautiful lavender? 🙁
Hello Christina, brown is usually lack of water but yellow is often a sign of overwatering… If the plant is in a pot and the pot itself in a pot holder, it’s really important to make sure that when you water, the pot doesn’t wallow in water inside the pot holder. If you’re careful to let it drain out fully before putting the pot back in the pot holder, then it probably isn’t a problem of overwatering.
So it might be drying out for lack of water perhaps. Try watering it a bit more often, still smaller amounts. This is especially true for potted plants, they tend to dry out faster.
It might be that the soil is too acidic. This happens if you use bark mulch or if there isn’t much lime in the soil. Compost will raise pH from acid towards neutral. Wood ash will even bring it into slightly alkaline range, which is good for lavender.
To a point, it’s normal for the plant to stop blooming. After all, usually the blooming season for French Lavender is around two-three weeks, after that the flower panicles dry out over the next two months.
My french lavender is doing wonderful where I planted it. It has so many flowers n I wanted to use them so I cut them off. I work w herbs n dry them all the time when I when I tried to dry them they got sticky. That doesn’t happen w my mother
Lavender. Do u know why it does that? Thank u
Hi Charlene, that’s surprising. Do you think a disease or an insect was on them? Normally French lavender dries just like the other ones. It’s still spring so maybe they were really full of sap, possibly it rained before picking them? In this season you’d have to dry them by tying smaller clumps together not more than 10 or 15 to a cluster.
How do I know how much to water my plant?
French lavender can take drought but not overwatering. Water only when the dirt around the plant is dry deep down, like a finger’s depth deep. If the ground drains well, water thoroughly. But if the soil retains water well (if you have mulch, for example), then only water a little, like a glassful of water, and wait until dry again.