As Rosemary is to the Spirit, so Lavender is to the Soul

lavendarI love lavender. It’s pretty and smells romantic… sort of an old fashioned nostalgic sort of aroma.

Lavender is one of the most versatile herbs. It can be used fresh or dry in cooking. It’s beautiful fresh or dried in floral arrangements. And if you’re a bit crafty, you can make lavender water, potpourri, sachets, and candles. It’s best to harvest when the aromatic oils peak, which is when the last flowers on the stalk just newly begin to open.

I haven’t had great luck getting it to survive. Each spring I check to see if last year’s attempt survived and then go buy another. At one time or another I’ve had up to three lavender shrubs struggling along but none seem to live more than 2-3 years.

According to the literature, lavender is native to hot, dry, Mediterranean climates and is hardy enough to adapt to the challenging growing conditions of the Midwest. So, here are the guidelines I’m going to pursue more fervently…

Lavender plants need plenty of sunshine with room to spread. – Okay, I’ve got all that.

Lavender should not be fertilized. – Great, I rarely fertilize any of my flower beds.

Perfect drainage, because lavender rots when planted in soil that holds too much moisture – I’m on a steep hill with heavy clay soil so this may be part of my problem.

Lavender is a tough plant and is extremely drought resistant, once established. However, when first starting you lavender plants keep them regularly watered during their first growing season. – Something to improve upon, so good advice.

French lavender (Lavandual dentata) and Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) are only hardy to zone 8 – I’m pretty sure I bought the English lavender (Lavandual angustifolia) which is borderline hardy in zone 5 if somewhat less flashy beautiful than the French and Spanish. It’s curious that the English lavender isn’t really from England.

Gardeners in cold areas with consistent snow cover have more luck with lavender than someone in a warmer zone with no snow cover. Protect your lavender plants from harsh winter winds. – Well, did they know we were going to have a Polarvortex?!

Lavender likes a regular pruning; simply by harvest the flowers to encourage new growth in the spring. If your lavender suffered winter die-back, don’t prune until you see new green growth at the base of the plant. If you disturb the plants too soon in the season, they give up trying. The plant re-grows quickly after pruning. – I really like the idea of bringing stems into the house. I’ll have to check the status soon now that the weather has warmed up.

Like many plants grown for their essential oils, a lean soil will encourage a higher concentration of oils. An alkaline and especially chalky soil will enhance lavenders fragrance. – Yes, all good gardeners test their soil (I’m a lazy gardener), but if I could just get a higher survival rate I could concentrate on better smells next.

If you’ve got the right setting, lavender rewards you lavishly. Plants bloom for weeks, and their silvery foliage gleams from spring through frost. – Okay, if I follow all this advice maybe my lavender will be a perennial rather than an annual.


About Kary Beck

Mother and wife, gardener, wine enthusiast, avid online bargain hunter, and owner of two black-and-tan cocker spaniels.
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