Lavender, a delicate fragrance of French Provence… and more!

Lavender with a young lady handling the flowers.

Lavender is a bush famous in the Mediterranean with its distinctive fragrance and color.

Key Lavender facts

NameLavandula species
FamilyLamiaceae
Type – shrub, sub-shrub

Height – 8 to 32 inches (20 to 80 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – ordinary, well drained

Foliage – evergreen
Flowering – summer

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Planting, pruning and caring are steps that help enhance blooming and growth of your lavender.

Planting lavender

Lavender grows everywhere around the Mediterranean and in countries that have a similar hot, dry climate. The important point is to ensure maximum sunlight is provided.

  • We recommend planting them in fall, but you can plant in spring without any problems.

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

Sometimes, freshly planted lavender dies after a few weeks, because the soil is too moist. That is why it is crucial to have very well drained soil.

To grow a lavender hedge, plant one stem every 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm).

Potted lavender:

Growing lavender in a pot is possible. It’s an excellent idea for terraces, decks, balconies and the like: the fragrance will fill the air around it!

When growing in a pot, be wary of giving the plant too much sun because the soil dries out very fast.

  • Use any regular flower plant soil mix.
  • Water as soon as the surface of the soil is dry.

Caring for lavender

Proper care results in beautiful round lavender mounds.Pruning lavender is possible, but must be exclusively performed on growth that still bears leaves. If you prune dry wood, they 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 prune your lavender bush in fall.
  • After the blooming, cut all floral scapes off to avoid needlessly draining the plant nutrients.

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

  • Make ingenious mite-repelling lavender wands with discarded trimmings.

Watering lavender

Lavender must be lightly watered at the beginning, but usually can keep growing without further watering.

Lavender hates excess moisture, so water sparsely to avoid suffocating the roots.

  • Water only when surface soil is dry.
  • Water lightly without flooding the roots.
  • Once well settled in, lavender doesn’t require any watering.

Trimming lavender

Definitely something to diligently do every single year. This regularity is what helps keep a wonderfully full, round mound of flowers.

Propagating lavender

It’s not too difficult to propagate lavender.

Growing new lavender identical to the old one

Three techniques make exact copies of an initial lavender plant. These are cuttings, layering (including air layering), and crown division. Cuttings can produce lots of new plants, fast. Layering your lavender is when you anchor a stem to the ground for roots to develop. Crown division, in simple terms, is “splitting the clump”.

Seeds: ready to create new varieties!

Lavender seeds, tiny as a speck, in a hand.Growing lavender from seed requires most patience, but it’s full of surprises!

Indeed, thanks to flowers cross-pollinating each other, the child will only inherit a portion of the mother plant’s characteristics.

  • Depending on which other lavender plants are in the area, you might be starting a new hybrid!

Preserving lavender

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.
  • Our grandmothers used to prepare small cotton pouches filled with lavender flowers to perfume our laundry in the closet. With beautiful ribbons, you can make fragrant wands.
  • This would also serve as an excellent mite and ant repellent, together with cedar wood.

Varieties of lavender

From the hundreds of lavender varieties, three or four dozens are for sale in garden stores. Sometimes names are confusing, but the scientific name helps check which is which.

The most common varieties are English lavender, followed closely by French lavender (here’s how to tell them apart).

When traveling around Europe and the Mediterranean, you’ll encounter many more varieties of lavender, such as Lavandin, Spanish lavender, Egyptian lavender…

Sometimes what you’ll find in the wild when hiking will be a mix of different species because of cross-pollination. Lavender cross-pollinates easily.

Additionally, each type of lavender occasionally develops sports (new cultivars). These are sometimes patented and given a name for garden centers to offer for the enjoyment of all.

Lavender diseases and pests

When soil and light conditions are right, nothing will kill your lavender but old age.

  • Ensure proper drainage on neutral to alkaline soil
  • Give the plant full sun
  • Don’t overwater

Possible diseases include root rot and leaf spot.

Lavender leaf spot

Lavender root rot

  • The most common cause of lavender death: overwatering in poorly draining soil!
  • Lavender evolved to absorb what little water it could find in drought-prone areas. Roots aren’t equipped to deal with too much water and drown.
  • Obviously, this makes the plant vulnerable to root rot fungus. Two Phytophthora strains cause most crop damage: P. nicotianae and P. palmivora.

What to do to heal root rot on lavender

There’s a small chance to save your plant if you:

  • stop watering immediately
  • delicately lift the plant out of the soil (or pot) with a pitchfork or spade to dry the root ball
  • replace soil with a well-draining mix (river sand, expanded clay, gravel…)
  • only water when the soil is really dry deep down. Stick a finger or popsicle stick to 3 or 4 inches (around 10cm) deep. If it smears and stains, it’s still too wet. If it’s dusty, water!

This will put the plant in a better condition to fight the fungus off and bounce back.

All there is to know about lavender

Lavender past, present and future

Bunches of lavender drying in the shade.Lavender has been grown for thousands of years for its scent, and also for its medicinal properties.

Native to the Mediterranean water basin, lavender was first used by the Romans to protect cloth and to perfume public baths. Today lavender also beautifies our rock beds and flower beds in the garden.

It was used in Provence (France) early on to produce perfume and medicine thanks to its benefits and medicinal properties. Infuse flowers in other oils as an easy way to avail of them.

A very engaging plant, this sub-shrub is one of the symbols of French Provence and of the Mediterranean sun, together with the olive tree.

Lavender oil is still used as an ingredient in perfumes and essential oils, especially in the Grasse region.

Easy to care for, lavender only requires minimal watering in case of high temperatures.

  • Plant them near your rose trees, since they act as aphid repellents.
  • It’s also an excellent pollinator attractor, especially for rare insects like bumblebee and hoverfly.

Cooking with lavender

Cook lavender as a garden herb in the same manner you would rosemary: add them to marinades, grills, and even bouquet garni!

Smart tip about lavender

Mulch the base of your lavender plants with cocoa hulls for a very ornamental result. Additionally, the lavender scent combined with chocolatey cocoa is a real treat!

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Handling lavender by Kat under Pixabay license
Mounding lavender by karsaiatti under Pixabay license
Seeds from the lavender flower by Hans Braxmeier under Pixabay license
Lavender drying in the shade by Germans Aļeņins under Pixabay license