Who doesn’t love Lavender, right?! Based on our experience at market and plant sales, very few people have an adverse reaction to this popular garden plant. At the same time, it is one that we get many questions about. This blog post is intended to help answer those questions, introduce you to the varieties of Lavender that we have for sale, and help you grow and use the plant in your home gardens!
Although there are over 28 species of Lavender, we will discuss the top five most common.
English (Lavandula angustifolia)
This is the most common type of Lavender and has what is considered ‘traditional’ flower heads. It grows in 2-3 ft. upright clumps and blooms early to mid-summer. This has become the most popular for cooking, as it has the sweetest scent and flavor. Considered the most hardy, it can overwinter in zones 5-9. At the farm, we grow the following varieties: Hidcote, Elegance Purple, Lady, Munstead, Sachet, and Vera. Munstead is our go-to variety for overall cold tolerance, scent, and flavor.
Portuguse (Lavandula latifolia)
Also referred to as Spiked Lavender, this species has the strongest scented leaves and flowers. It grows in 1-3 ft. clumps with long flower stems and blooms profusely from late spring to late summer. Less hardy than English (Lavandula angustifolia), Portuguese Lavender overwinters in zones 6-9, making it unsuitable for our region, so we do not grow any of these varieties.
Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia)
This hybrid combines the cold tolerance of English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) with the heat tolerance, highly scented leaves, and flowers of Portuguese Lavender (Lavandula latifolia). It also produces more oil, so it is used most in the perfume industry. Growing in a 2-3 ft. mound, it produces profuse blooms from mid to late summer. This species overwinters in zones 5-9 and we provide one variety: Grosso.
French (Lavandula dentata)
This species’ distinct characteristic is a bract on top of the flower head, which makes for a showy and attractive bloom. It grows in 1-3 ft. mounds and blooms from early summer to fall. Although the flowers are less fragrant than the other species, its leaves are aromatic and have a distinctive shape, which is why it is also referred to as Fringed Lavender. We are trying a new variety this year called Fringed French, but it is only hardy to zones 8-9, so it will need to be brought inside in the winter.
Spanish (Lavandula stoechas)
Similar to French Lavender (Lavandula dentata), Spanish has a bract on top of the flower head, so the two are sometimes confused. Spanish Lavender has larger bracts and deep purple flowers with a ‘pinecone’ structure that is not fragrant, but the silvery leaves are very aromatic and often used for potpourri and essential oil. It grows in a 1-2 ft. mound, blooms profusely from mid-spring to late summer, and is hardy in zones 8-9. We do not carry any varieties of this species.
This sun-loving and drought-tolerant herb is native to the Mediterranean and Northern Africa, so keep those hot, dry climates in mind when choosing a spot to plant. A south-facing location can remain 5-10 degrees warmer and will receive the most sunlight, so that would be best. It would also do well up against the side of your home or other structures, to keep the winter temperatures as warm as possible. Lavender has few issues with disease, and its strong flavor and smell make it pest resistant as well.
The biggest question we receive about Lavender is, “Why did mine die over the winter?” and we have found that it’s likely due to dense, waterlogged soil rather than temperature. Lavender needs well-drained soil, so we typically suggest incorporating some compost and sand, as well as planting on a slope to prevent this issue. Typically, we sell varieties that are hardy to our area, zone 6a, which can drop to -10 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. The most hardy are English Lavender (Lavendula angustfolia) and Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia), so these will be fine on their own, or require a light mulching with straw or leaves to overwinter. If you have a particularly cold microclimate, or your planting area is wide open and you have had trouble keeping Lavender over the winter in the past, we recommend covering 50-70% of the plant with straw or leaves when the first frost is expected, then uncovering in the spring when the last frost is due.
If you have a cold-sensitive variety, you’ll want to bring the plant inside for the winter, at the first sign of frost. Don’t overwater indoors either, but instead, wait until the top one inch of soil is completely dry before watering thoroughly. During this time indoors, the plant still needs ample light, so if a sunny window is not available, use grow lights. Wait until overnight lows are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit to return your Lavender back outside for the season.
During the growing season, cut back flower stalks so the plant focuses on producing more flowers and overall plant growth, rather than producing seeds. The ideal time to cut flowers for drying or use is when they first begin to open. If drying, hang upside down or place a thin layer on a screen in a dark, cool area with good air circulation like an attic or shed. Dried materials, if kept dry and out of direct sunlight, will last for years! Continue cutting back flower stalks until the plant stops producing flowers around September, then wait until spring to prune the leaves back and fertilize to encourage new growth. Around April, when the plant starts growing again, stems should be pruned back to where the new growth starts.
If you wish to propagate your Lavender, take 2-3 in. cuttings in summer, strip the lower leaves, and place in moist, sandy soil. Keep the cuttings indoors and in sunlight or under a grow light, and they will grow roots and be ready to transplant in the spring. Lavender is difficult to grow from seed, as it has a long germination time, is hard to breed true to variety, and may be sterile depending on the variety, so cuttings are the preferred method.
All varieties of Lavender flowers and leaves are edible and considered safe for consumption in moderate doses. The flavor is a matter of preference, so let your taste buds guide you! English varieties are typically most common for use in food, as they tend to have a sweeter flavor.
Both fresh and dried flowers and leaves can be used to flavor vinegars, spirits, and jellies, and any dish you see fit! Check out our Herbs de Provence Vinegar, which includes Lavender and other farm-grown herbs.
Lavender has been used for ages in soaps and baths for cleansing, and comes from the Latin verb lavare which means to wash. As with many other plant oils, it is mildly antiseptic, and may have originally been brought into homes as a purifying agent. Its aromatic smell is broadly associated with calming and rest, and its best-documented effect is to soothe nerves and assist with sleep. It is known to relax involuntary muscles, such as those in the respiratory tract to open airways, in the gut to calm cramping and gas, and in blood vessels to lessen restriction. The oil or whole plant can be ingested or absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream. As with any treatment, start with a small dosage or test on a small area of the skin to make sure there is no adverse reaction. Always dilute essential oils, and never apply directly to the skin. Try our Lavender Massage Oil, Comfrey Lavender Salve, or Lavender and Tea Tree or Orange Lavender Lip Balms!
Lavender can be burned in a smudge, added to cleaning products, or used in sachets and bundles to freshen any area. Like the fresh plant, dried lavender also repels flies, moths, and other insects, so it works great in a closet instead of mothballs. We use it in our smudge sticks, which are typically only available in summer-fall of the growing season, and all year round in our Gardener’s Spray, which repels insects.
As always, feel free to ask us questions when buying Lavender plants or products from us. And keep an eye out for our first-ever Lavender Festival happening this year!
The Healing Properties of Lavender was contributed by Allie Logue, one of CVO’s Herb & Flower Growers.