French lavender, a cute variety

Flower blooming on French lavender

French lavender is a nice alternative to common lavender thanks to its very original flowers.

Key facts for French Lavender

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

Type – herb sub-shrub
Height – 24 to 40 inches (60 to 100 cm)
Exposure – full sun

Soil – ordinary, well drained
Foliage – evergreen
Flowering – June to August

French lavender is a name given to two different but very similar plants of the same family. Both are easy-going and very productive, and care for both is virtually 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!

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.

  • 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

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 made with small gravel or clay pebbles.

Usually young plants are ripe for repotting the moment you’ve purchased them (nurseries prefer selling just before the need to repot arises). Repot it to a pot that is about 2 inches or 5 cm wider for that first season. After that, you can either upsize the pot every year, or plant it directly in a pot that is the final size: 1 to 1½ feet across (30 to 40 cm).

At that size, simply replenishing nutrients with fertilizer such as fermented weed tea is perfect.

Watering French lavender

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

  • just upon planting, once, thoroughly
  • during extremely hot heat waves (over 95°F or 35°C)
  • if your French lavender is growing in a pot or flowerbed that is covered and 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 growth that still bears 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 scapes to avoid needlessly draining plant nutrients.

Cut lavender flowers are an excellent way to perfume clothes and laundry.

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 particularly does well for this, but L. stoechas does great, too)
  • Hard prune your lavender over a few years. French lavender can be hard pruned, but not all at once.

Here is our video advice to prune lavender correctly

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 flowers and branches can keep for months, even years, if kept in a dry place sheltered from the sun’s rays.

  • Best is to hang floral panicles together in small bunches to dry them before keeping them.
  • Traditionally, locals used to prepare small cotton pouches filled 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 due to 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 for perfume. In France, a common name for it is “butterfly lavender” because the tips of the flowers look like butterflies.

Their 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, its scent, and medicinal properties.

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.

Today, French lavender is used when elaborating perfume and essential oils.

Easy to care for, this particular lavender only requires watering in case of strong heat waves.

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.

French lavender on social media

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Field of French lavender (also on social media) (also on social media) by Myriam under Pixabay license
French Lavender close up by Daniel Wanke under Pixabay license
French lavender bloom (also on social media) by Katja Schulz under © CC BY 2.0
Toothed leaves (also on social media) by Francisco under Pixabay license
French lavender with large frills (also on social media) by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work