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Spike lavender, the lavender for wild rock gardens

A full panicle of spike lavender flowers close-up, slightly dried.

Perhaps one of the least hardy European lavenders, Spike lavender will thrive in climates that are, at most, tickled by light frost.

Key spike lavender facts

NameLavandula latifolia
Former nameLavandula spica

Type – herbaceous sub-shrub
Height – 1 to 2½ feet (30-80 cm)
Exposure – full sun

Soil – ordinary, well-drained
Foliage – evergreen
Blooming – June-September (weather-dependent)

This type of lavender produces many fragrant flowers that branch out from heavenly-scented leaves. Excellent for dried flowers.

Planting and sowing spike lavender

Spike lavender is excellent for rock walls, rock gardens, and nooks and crannies in an old stone wall. It will also do great in well-draining planters.

Where to plant spike lavender

Spike lavender grows best in hot and dry climates.

  • Too much moisture, as in tropical climates with daily rain aren’t well suited to spike lavender.
  • High relative water in the air tends to favor diseases.
  • A better lavender for humid climates is fringed lavender (Lavandula dentata).
  • Constantly wet roots often develop root rot.

Heat isn’t a problem, since the plant can cope with summers hotter than 110°F (45°C).

However, freezing might be an issue: spike lavender can’t take temperatures much lower than 20°F (about -5°C). It has been seen to survive colder temperatures, though, down to 5°F (-15°C), but this was typically for winterized plants.

Important soil considerations for spike lavender

Drainage, drainage, drainage! Spike lavender loves well-draining soil.

It is especially vulnerable to root rot. This disease is triggered by stagnant water around the roots.

  • Increase drainage with clay pebbles.
  • Plant the spike lavender atop a mound.
  • In pots, make sure water drains away quickly.
  • Trap excess water with water crystals which won’t lead to root rot.

Secondly, it’s important to keep the soil from being too acidic.

How to sow spike lavender

Spike lavender will easily grow from seed.

Spike lavender, unlike Lavandin, is a fertile species. Bees and butterflies such as the cute “large white” pollinate it as they reach for nectar in each individual flower.

Spike lavender care

When to water spike lavender

Usually this isn’t a concern:

  • Apart from just after planting, you don’t need to water your spike lavender.
  • An exception would be if a long, hot dry spell lasts more than a couple weeks. In that case, water once, thoroughly. It should be enough for the plant to hold until the end of the season.
  • Of course, in pots, spike lavender needs watering. Once a fortnight is fine.

Too much watering will make the lavender’s fragrance more bland.

  • Lavender grown without any irrigation at all has a higher essential oil content.
  • For Spike lavender especially, leaves and flowers contain more camphor during hot, dry years.
  • Essential oil and fragrance are actually a coping mechanism for lavender to survive drought.

Does spike lavender need fertilizer?

There is no need to provide any form of fertilizer.

How to prune Spike lavender

Season for pruning spike lavender

Best is to prune when winter starts giving way to spring.

  • The hardest frosts should have passed already.
  • It’s ok if temperatures still drop to the point of having a little frozen dew on leaves in the morning.

Technique to prune spike lavender

Spike lavender pruning is identical to that of other types of lavender.

Key takeaways:

  • Don’t cut on old wood – it won’t grow back.
  • Always cut a branch that’s bearing leaves.
  • Leave a few leaves on the stem.

Here is a complete page on how to prune lavender.

Video tips on pruning spike lavender

Learn all about spike lavender

During Ancient Roman times, lavender was used to scent water. Extracts from flowers and leaves gave fragrance to bathing water in the traditional “therms”. The latin name of lavender, “lavandula” means “to wash”.

The flower stems often branch out to bear several panicles of lavender-colored blooms. Unlike French and Spanish lavender, there aren’t any winglets at the tips of each flower.

Spike lavender and snake bites

Care for spike lavenderCuriously, “spike” lavender has nothing to do with spikes or thorns. It’s derived from an old scientific name for the plant, Lavandula spica.

  • Spica” comes from “aspic“. The original name “aspis” was used by Romans of old for “viper” (together with the word “vipera“).

This is because spike lavender is also, quite often, the home of European asp. Asp, or aspic, is a small viper that grows almost two feet long. It’s very toxic if it bites you!

Caution: Although shepherds of old would use spike lavender to treat snake bites, it’s crucial to reach a clinic or hospital as fast as you can!

  • Rubbing leaves and flowers on the bite, or even lavender essential oil, won’t do much to help you.
  • The venom is a very toxic poison that can (and does) kill people in under an hour!
  • This snake can be found in Southern France, Northern Spain and all of Italy.

Read more about lavender:

Smart tip about spike lavender

Planting lemongrass near your spike lavender will help repel snakes, as will using (again) shale mulch: the sharp edges and heavy material will discourage snakes from nesting nearby.

Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
CC BY-NC 4.0: Manuel Solís
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