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Herb Garden
Published May 5, 2023 by Nicole Burke

How to Grow Your Own Organic Lavender

Filed Under:
lavender
herbs
herb garden
how to grow
tea
tea garden
lavender is a perennial

Grow Your Own Lavender Plants

There's nothing like seeing a picture of a lavender plant to make you wish that smell-o-vision was still a thing, is there?

When I first started growing herbs, I gravitated toward ones like rosemary and lavender, aromatic herbs that I could rub between my fingertips whenever I needed a little pick-me-up. I mean, I've never smelled lavender and not felt at least a little better afterward.

Their soothing scent is just one of the reasons lavender plants are so popular. Even before they form their beautiful purple flowers, the gray-green foliage looks attractive in any garden space. Once they bloom, lavender plants attract butterflies, bees, and other pollinators to your yard. I love to grow lavender in my in-ground pollinator garden and in the corners of my raised garden beds.

There's also all the culinary and medicinal uses for lavender. I'm not really one to make my own soaps or salves, but I love snipping whole sprigs to freshen up bathrooms and making little sachets to toss into drawers.

When it comes to growing your own lavender, you can basically neglect these plants as long as you get the garden setup right first.

lavender flowers growing on the edge of raised bed

The Best Types of Lavender to Grow in a Kitchen Garden

There are many different types of lavender to grow, including varieties that have been bred to perform well in certain climates.

Here are some of the best varieties of lavender to plant:

-English Lavender

This is the best lavender to grow for gardeners in colder climates. It forms those characteristic blue-purple flower spikes. Thanks to its nice fragrance, it's also often considered the best type of lavender for tea and other culinary uses.

-Lavandin Hybrids

Lavandin hybrids like 'Provence' are often grown for their perfume-like essential oils. This is the best type to grow if you're interested in making your own soaps, sachets, and lotions.

-French Lavender

This variety of lavender is great for milder climates and is easily recognized by its toothed leaves. Its fragrance is lighter than English varieties and Lavandin hybrids.

-Spanish Lavender

Spanish lavender varieties are more tolerant of heat and humidity than the others, so this is a great one to grow if you live in zones 8, 9, or 10. The flowers are larger than English lavender blooms and shaped like a pine cone.

lavender flower spikes

Is Lavender a Perennial?

Lavender is in the mint family, alongside sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and, of course, mint. The majority of these herbs are perennials, and lavender is no exception. These plants sprout and grow during the warmest part of the year. What happens to them at the end of the growing season then depends on your climate.

In warmer climates, lavender plants can stay evergreen, meaning they might slow their leaf production but they won't die back in winter. In colder climates, lavender will either die when frost or snow comes, or die back to brown, bare sticks and then send up new growth from its roots in the spring.

English lavender can often overwinter down to zone 5 if well established.

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How Lavender Grows Best

how lavender grows best infographic

When to Plant Lavender

Lavender and its cousins in the mint family love long and warm days (75°F and above).

The best time to plant lavender for most gardeners is in the spring or early summer before hot weather arrives. If you live somewhere with mild winters, you could also plant lavender in the fall.

where to plant lavender

Where to Plant Lavender

How many of us have planted some lavender directly in the ground in our landscape and diligently watered it every day, envisioning fields of lavender just outside our back door? When those plants turned gray, rotted, or just didn't grow at all, how many of us have then blamed our lack of a green thumb?

A dead lavender plant has nothing to do with the color of your thumb, and everything to do with the setup.

Lavender is native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Do you think of boggy swamps or day after day of rain when you think of these areas? Nope.

It's lots of sun and not a lot of water.

So, unless your climate and your native soil is similar to the Riviera (wouldn't that be nice!), you’re going to have to adapt your setup to more closely match that of lavender's hometown. I’ve personally found the most success with growing this herb in containers or raised garden beds that I can fill with well-drained soil from the beginning.

Let's look a bit closer at the three places you can grow lavender plants: in the ground, in a raised bed, and in a container.

where to plant lavender

Growing lavender in the ground

Unless you actually live in the Mediterranean, your native soil likely has too much clay or just doesn't drain as quickly as lavender would prefer. If the ground stays wet for too long, like after a period of heavy rain, lavender will begin to rot from the bottom up. Amend the top 6 inches or so of your soil with compost before planting lavender to help with drainage.

Growing lavender in a pot or container

If you're growing lavender in a pot or container that doesn't drain well, it only takes one good rain to kill your herb. Make sure there's at least one good drainage hole every 6 inches or so at the bottom of your container; drill more drainage holes as needed.

Fill your container with equal parts potting soil, construction sand, and compost. Those last two components will prevent the potting soil from holding too much moisture.

Set your container somewhere sunny.

Growing lavender in a raised bed

The added height of a raised bed means better drainage. Lavender plants thrive in raised beds filled with a sandy loam soil, the kind that most fruits and veggies also love.

I like to plant lavender around the edges of the raised bed or large container, where the soil will dry out faster than in the middle.

lavender bush

How to Plant Lavender

Lavender, like many other herbs in the mint family, is slow to grow from seed. The best way to source lavender plants for your garden is to shop at a local nursery or to root cuttings (more on that in a bit).

If you're shopping, look for healthy plants with roots that fill up the pot without circling around the bottom. (Don't be afraid to gently pull plants up from their pots in the store.) Be ready to plant your new herbs as soon as you bring them home.

Follow these steps to plant lavender:

  • Dig a hole that's twice as wide and just as deep as the root ball of your lavender plant.
  • Place your new plant in the planting hole, making sure the top of the root ball is even with the soil line. Plants like lavender don't like to be buried above their necks, or where the roots meet the stem. Backfill around the plant.
  • Plant no more than two lavender plants per square foot. They need some space to bush out.
  • Water around the base of the plant well to welcome it to your garden. The weeks following the move are really the only time you'll want to water lavender more frequently.
when to plant lavender

Lavender Plant Care

Lavender is one of those plants that thrives on a little neglect. It doesn't really have pest issues (in fact, it's fragrance repels some pretty annoying pests); it doesn't need staking thanks to its more bush-like growth; it doesn't even need fertilizing.

Your most important tending task will be pruning and harvesting from this herb frequently. This helps ensure the leaves have good air circulation around them, which prevents powdery mildew and other fungal diseases.

Remember to prioritize sunlight for your lavender plants. It thrives on eight or more hours of sunlight in the garden each day. During the summer months in really hot climates, lavender does benefit from some afternoon shade.

how to harvest lavender

How much should you water lavender plants?

When I think of this herb, I often picture fields and fields of lavender growing somewhere like Provence. There's a reason lavender loves the South of France—it's one of the driest regions in all of Europe.

Keep Provence in mind when watering your lavender. Once established, this is a drought tolerant plant. The real danger lies not in watering too little, but in watering too much. Having "wet feet", or basically sitting in too much water, can quickly cause the roots of a lavender plant to rot.

Lavender prefers to have about 1 inch of water per week and then for that water to quickly drain from the soil around its roots. Again, this is why raised beds and sandy loam soil can make all the difference in your lavender plant's health.

Before reaching for the watering can, stick your finger about 2 inches down into the soil. If there's any moisture remaining in the soil, don't water just yet.

If you notice some yellowing leaves near the base of your lavender plant, this is typically a sign that you've been watering your herb a little too much.

When it's time to add more water, make sure to water the base of your plant, not the leaves. Lavender doesn't like to have its leaves wet.

lavender plant in raised bed

Should you fertilize lavender plants?

I rarely add fertilizer to my herb garden period. Apart from a quarterly installment of fresh compost or a little addition of earthworm castings, I find that herbs like lavender grow really well when set up correctly with a rich soil that’s full of nutrients from the beginning. 

When it comes to lavender, unless you're talking about warmth and sunlight, less really is more.

How to Propagate Lavender

Lavender and many of its mint family cousins that are also hard to grow from seed do really well as rooted cuttings.

Here's how to propagate lavender:

  • Select a heathy-looking branch that's at least 6 inches long, and cut the stem at an angle.
  • Remove the bottom third of the leaves on the cutting.
  • Dip the cut end in rooting hormone powder.
  • Place the cutting in a small pot filled with moistened construction sand. (You could also do a mixture of potting soil and sand.)
  • Move the pot to a spot that gets lots of bright indirect light.
  • Keep the growing medium moist while you're waiting on roots to form.
  • Keep your new lavender plant inside until there's no threat of frost, and then move it to a semi-shaded area outdoors or a sunny windowsill. Let your plant get used to outdoor conditions before moving it to full sun or potting it up.
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How to Harvest and Dry Lavender

Lavender flowers get lots of attention, but the leaves also have an amazing fragrance when you rub them between your fingertips. They have a really strong flavor and can be used similarly to how you'd use rosemary leaves in the kitchen. I also like the Nerdy Farm Wife's different uses for lavender leaves, including a little balm for itchy bug bites.

Lavender plants typically flower in the summer months. These flowers can be harvested and used fresh or dried.

Like with other flowering herbs, you'll want to harvest frequently to encourage more flower production. You'll also start cutting first from the outermost branches and then work your way in. The older, outer stems tend to grow woody, while new growth comes from the middle of the plant.

The best time to harvest is early in the morning—this is when the oils in the leaves and flowers are most concentrated. Harvest stems when about half of the flower buds have opened up by cutting near the base of the stem.

how to harvest lavender

Here's How to Dry Lavender:

  • Gather your harvested stems into little bundles and tie them together with twine.
  • Hang them upside down from an herb drying rack or a clothing line. The best place to dry your herbs is somewhere cool, dark, and dry.
  • After 2 to 3 weeks, the flowers should be fully dried. Shake stems over a glass jar (preferably an amber-colored jar for max protection) to remove the flowers. Store in a cool, dark, dry place.
how to dry lavender

How to Save Lavender Seeds

Saving seeds from lavender plants is pretty easy, though getting them to germinate and grow is another story. I typically find the larger the seed, the easier it is to grow. Lavender seeds, like so many other seeds in the mint family, are pretty tiny.

Follow these steps to save your own lavender seeds:

  • Leave spent blooms on the plant to dry. Seeds will mature inside the flower head as each little flower fades.
  • Leave seed pods on the plant to dry out. Over time, they'll turn a light greige color. Seeds are ready to harvest when they fly out of the seed pod when you gently shake the plant.
  • You can shake the seed pods over a jar or paper bag to collect the lavender seeds. Or you can cut the seed pods from the plant, toss them into a paper bag, and shake the bag.
  • You can leave any chaff (extra bits of plant material) on the seeds. Spread the seeds out on a paper towel and allow them to dry out before storing them.
  • Once seeds are completely dry, place them in a glass jar, paper bag, or seed envelope. Store them in a cool, dry, dark place.
how to save lavender seeds

How to Make Lavender Tea at Home

Lavender leaves have a really strong flavor, so we typically only use the flower buds for brewing tea. You can make your own lavender tea with fresh or dried flowers.

Here's how to make lavender tea:

  • Bring 8 oz. of water to a rolling boil.
  • Add about 2 teaspoons of fresh lavender or 1 teaspoon of dried to a tea infuser (I love those little stainless steel tea balls).
  • Pour boiling water over the tea infuser into a mug. Allow to steep for about 10 minutes before removing the tea infuser.
  • Add a dash of local honey for a little sweetness if you'd like. Enjoy!
how to make lavender tea

It's Lavender Growing Time!

I hope you're inspired to add lavender (and maybe some of its cousins while you're at it) to your garden space.

Herbs are the perfect plants for beginner gardeners to grow because they really don't need much space or attention from you at all. Even if you've already got this whole gardening thing down, lavender will add lots of beauty to your space.

So do yourself a favor and plant some lavender. The bees and butterflies will thank you!

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How to Grow Your Own Organic Lavender