Whether you’re an aspiring gardener or already have a thriving herb garden, you may be thinking about what could bring a pop of color and aromatics to your kitchen garden. Well, learning how to grow lavender might just be the thing you need.
Lavender could be the perfect addition to your garden not only for its unique flavor — which turns ordinary ingredients into extraordinary dishes — but also for its many versatile uses.
In this how-to guide, we’ll explore different types of lavender, the essentials about growing this plant, and some useful hacks so you can have a fragrant and fun gardening adventure.
What Is Lavender?
You might be surprised to learn that lavender belongs to the mint family along with other popular herbs, including basil, oregano, and thyme. While it has been used for decades in Mediterranean cuisine, lavender is perhaps best known for its use in tea, cosmetics, natural remedies, essential oils, and aromatherapy items like neck pillows and potpourri sachets.
Best recognized for its mesmerizing purple flowers and greyish-green foliage, this plant is adored by gardeners (and many others) worldwide as it acts as a natural repellent of insects such as mosquitoes, flies, fleas, and other pests to protect both garden and home.
Learning how to grow lavender is also a great way to attract butterflies, bees, and other pollinators to encourage the natural fertilization of your plants and support the health of the bee community.
The first thing you must know about lavender is that it loves hot weather and dry soil. While this plant is native to the Mediterranean, certain species can withstand cooler temperatures while others thrive in more humid environments.
Many inexperienced gardeners who claim that growing lavender is difficult are either overwatering their plants, not using the proper soil, or trying to grow the wrong variety for their climate.
If you live in a colder climate, opt for these types of lavender:
- English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): English lavender and its hybrid counterparts are the best types to plant if you can’t provide the hot conditions other varieties need. These lavender flowers have a beautiful deep purple to light pink color and bloom between June and August. Besides their hardiness, they’re also considered the best for culinary uses due to their low camphor content, which can give a soapy flavor and is not advised for consumption. Popular species include Munstead and Hidcote.
- Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia): This variety is a natural hybrid between the sturdy English lavender and the heat-resistant Portuguese lavender (Lavandula latifolia), making it a perfect option if you live in a place with unpredictable weather conditions. It blooms between mid to late summer and is characterized by its long, dark violet flower spikes, which are highly fragrant. For this reason, this species is primarily grown for filling sachets and making potpourris and is not considered edible due to its high camphor content. Some of the most well-known subtypes include Provence and Grosso.
For those living in warmer, more humid areas, the following varieties are best:
- Fringed lavender (Lavandula dentata): Distinguished by its compact and light purple flowers topped with bracts, fringed lavender is also known as French lavender. Its flowers are less aromatic than English lavender, but its fleshy, narrow leaves are more fragrant and exude a botanical scent similar to that of rosemary. Fringed lavender is excellent for cooking but use it sparingly as it possesses a strong taste. It blooms between early summer to fall.
- Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas): Spanish lavender is easily recognizable by its unique pineapple-shaped flowers with deep purple bracts — also called bunny ears — that pop from each flower spike. This variety blossoms between mid to late summer, and while the flowers are not the most fragrant, its light green, almost grayish leaves are incredibly aromatic. Like fringed lavender, it has an intense flavor, so use it modestly in cooking.
If you’re planning to keep your lavender indoors, you can grow any variety your heart desires. Assess how you’ll be using your lavender (either for cooking, decoration, freshening your home, etc.) so you can pick the best variety that suits your needs.
A growing kit — like the Organic Lavender Windowsill Planter from Back to the Roots — is a great idea if you’re eager to see your lavender plants growing in a month or less.
This nifty, sustainable kit offers everything you need to grow your own organic lavender at home. It comes with a custom 100% organic soil blend specifically created to provide the best growing conditions for your plant. The kit also comes with a large glass jar with plenty of space, which means you won’t have to transplant your precious seedlings from one place to another and risk damaging them.
How To Grow Lavender: The Essentials
Lavender is a perennial — a plant that is expected to live more than two years — that will last for several years under the right care and conditions. In fact, many gardening experts claim that lavender can live up to 10 years!
Sow or plant in the spring after the danger of frost has passed, keeping the seedlings 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on the variety. If you’re not sure, always read the back of your seed packets, where you’ll find important information about sun exposure, seed spacing and depth, and water needs.
As a true Mediterranean plant, lavender is all about full sun and dry soil. These fragrant species don’t do well in shade, so be aware of the location where you plan to sow the seeds or place the pot. Look out for tall trees or even other large plants that may block the sun and adjust accordingly.
Make sure your lavender gets at least eight hours of direct sunlight a day and that once the temperatures drop, you move their container or pot indoors, placing it by a sunny window.
One of the most important things you should be aware of when learning how to grow lavender successfully is the risk of overwatering: It’s the number one cause of plant death for this species, and so many others.
In the case of lavender, it’s all about finding the sweet spot between keeping your plants hydrated but not waterlogged. This is especially important in their first growing season. Once they are established, lavender plants are very low maintenance and require minimal watering, becoming extremely drought tolerant.
When you’re sowing or planting seedlings — like these pre-grown lavender seedlings from Back to the Roots — give them a long soak to promote root growth and then only water again once the soil (not the plant) appears dry. Short and frequent watering may result in root rot.
During hydration time, water at the plant’s base to limit dampness on the foliage, which can cause septoria leaf spot, a fungus that infects the leaves’ tissues.
Together with the proper watering method, potting soil is another important aspect that can make or break your lavender cultivation. The key is to recreate — to the best of your abilities — the Mediterranean soil conditions.
- Neutral to slightly alkaline soil
- Good air circulation
- Lean and chalky soil
The best way to start is by selecting a high-quality organic potting mix with the optimal pH level for lavender to grow — between 6.7 and 7.3. The more alkaline, the more enhanced the lavender’s fragrance will be.
These plants thrive best in lightweight soil as it encourages a higher concentration of their natural oils. Therefore, swapping the typical moisture-holding mulch for a lighter and drier organic matter — like tree bark — is a good idea.
To ensure proper drainage, you can mix some sand or gravel into the soil before planting your lavender — this step is especially important for the winter months ahead.
While lavender can be sowed or planted in either pots, raised beds, or straight into the soil of your garden, most gardeners agree that it prefers tighter spaces. That may be because the larger the container, the higher the risk of excessive moisture.
As discussed, it’s crucial to keep lavender plants as dry as possible so picking a grower or pot with good drainage is essential to encourage healthy growth. Opting for a clay or terracotta pot is a great option that provides proper root aeration.
Another fantastic solution is a fabric garden bed. The Back to the Roots Fabric Garden Bed Kit is an affordable, durable, and functional choice that’s good for both the planet and your plants. It provides optimal aeration for the roots, creating the perfect growing environment for your lavender to grow happy and healthy.
If you live in a cold climate, using containers can keep your lavender plants alive as it allows you to move them indoors as soon as the cooler days arrive.
Like all plants, lavender greatly benefits from a good pruning at the beginning of spring. The trick is to wait until you see new growth at the plant’s base and then prune the woody stems. This is particularly important if you live in an area where the plant suffers winter die-back. If you start pruning too soon, your lavender plant simply won’t develop new growth.
Feel free to clip the color-faded flowers to encourage new blooming throughout the season during the summer months.
It might seem challenging at first, but you now have the basic knowledge of how to grow lavender successfully. This beautiful, medicinal, and flavorful plant is a wonderful addition to any garden, no matter how you decide to use it.
If you’re looking for ideas on using lavender in the kitchen, consider trying these delicious lemon lavender muffins or this decadent lavender chocolate fudge with dulce de leche. We’re betting you won’t look at lavender the same way ever again.