Some questions we often get asked on the farm is how to grow lavender successfully, what kind of soil they need to thrive, or how to prune them perfectly so that they come back looking spiffy every year. Many need a little advice on how to keep their lavender alive, so we're here to help make it a little easier to grow this stunning flower.
Lavender is a highly popular plant, which is no surprise given it's aesthetic purple frills and powerful sweet aroma. It's a must-have for any bee-friendly garden, and since they're rich in nectar, they'll attract other pollinators too. Whilst lavender is not extremely hard to grow, it does need the right conditions to be able to flourish. And when maintained properly, a lavender plant can live happily in your garden for 10 to 15 years.
Preparation and Research
The first step when growing lavender is deciding on which variety you want. There are over 400 different types of lavender, but the most popular to have in New Zealand gardens are Lavandula Angustifolia and Lavandula Stoechas. The choice may be made on plant appearance, colour or fragrance, but we suggest going for hardiness. Lavender are pretty robust, even in the Winter months, and most lavender are able to handle a little bit of frost, wind and rain. We recommend selecting Lavandula Angustifolia (also known as English Lavender and True Lavender) to grow for a better success rate.
When you are happy with the lavender variety, you'll then need to look to the ground you're planting it in. Lavender needs soils with good drainage to survive - this is non-negotiable for these beauties! Waterlogged soil, or "wet feet", will ruin the plant and stop it from establishing healthy roots. Lucky for us in Wānaka, not much is needed to be done to the soil to get it ready to plant lavender. The state of your soil may vary depending on the area you live in. We suggest testing your soil before planting lavender to make sure it's free-draining and slightly alkaline. What would usually be referred to as "poor soil" may be perfect for lavender! But if you find clay present in your garden, you may need to add gravel to improve drainage, or drastically change up the soil.
Tim's tip: speak to your local nursery about your region's most popular lavender to grow, and get advice on how your soil looks whilst you're there, too.
The best way to incorporate lavender into your garden is to buy some that are already blooming; you'll usually find these at a garden centre or nursery. Planting cuttings of lavender is an option, too (more on how to do this later). We strongly recommend leaving growing lavender from seed to the avid gardeners and lavender lovers in the world. A funny story about this lesson is how Bria (the gardener)'s mum had bought a hundred lavender seeds this year with the intention of growing them outside her home in Scotland. Out of the 100 that she planted and nurtured, only 1 grew into a happy, healthy lavender plant... oops! Even here at Wānaka Lavender Farm, our original rows of lavender, and all that have been planted after, have been grown through propagating cuttings from our previous family-owned lavender farm in Kaikōura.
If you are someone who doesn't stick to a strict schedule when gardening, then good news - it's possible to plant lavender at any time of year. Though, Spring and Autumn are the best seasons to do it. This is because it's not too hot, and there is likely enough rain to help naturally take care of your lavender without you having to intervene. And as it's a flower that needs a lot of warmth through Summer, it's important to position lavender in full sun. Keep this in mind when selecting the position of your plants - it could make or break them!
You may want a few lavender plants in the ground as part of a dashing display, in this case, ensure you have at least 70cm worth of space away from other flowers. They may start out small, but lavender can get very big in a few years. For creating a lavender hedge, plant in a straight line with 50-70cm between each one. It's even possible to grow lavender in pots, for ease of moving them about. Saying that, we do not suggest growing lavender in pots if you are not a seasoned gardener, as it can be tricky giving them the right amount of water, and you'll have to spend time re-potting them if they are not happy.
Ensuring the Lavender Thrives
Keep lavender in a sunny spot and make sure the amount of water they receive is adequate. Being over-watered will kill your plants. In our area, it doesn't rain a lot therefore irrigation has been put in place to water the plants once a week throughout Summertime. If you live somewhere that experiences more rainfall than Wānaka, it might mean the lavender you grow does not require any additional watering than what it receives from the skies. Another factor to think of is the humidity in your location. Lavender prefers a dry climate with low humidity. Too much humidity can cause damage to the plant.
The most popular query we get is "how do I prune my lavender?". This part of looking after lavender make a lot of people nervous, but it's not that scary of a job. Pruning lavender is done to shape them so that they look tidier, and to ensure the lavender comes back fresh the next year. The trick is to prune them at the end of their flowering, when they start to look limp and dead (this would usually be Autumn). You may hand-cut the lavender, or use a hedge trimmer. To avoid the lavender going woody, you will be cutting them back at around 3cm above the last growth point.
Tim can't stress this enough, but you will need to protect your lavender from external elements i.e. pests. If you live rurally with plenty of rabbits sticking their noses in your plants, you may need to put up additional fencing, or cover the lavender.
Stef's tip: if you live on the coast, be wary of the sea spray and salty breeze affecting your lavender!
See the guide line in this image for an idea on where to prune your lavender plant to. Please note that Tim is harvesting the lavender here, not pruning, which is why he is cutting so high. He would go back in later to prune (at the end of the season).
How to Take Cuttings and Propagate
Aside from the fact that growing lavender from seed can be hard work, doing it from cuttings will allow you to be certain of the lavender's parent and variety.
To create more lavender, take small softwood cuttings from the mother plant in late Spring/early Summer. Scrape the bottom of the stem to get rid of the leaves. Dip the cutting in a rooting hormone powder, then place in a propagating tray with seed raising mix. You can fit up to 50 cuttings in some trays, allowing you to grow lots of beautiful new lavender for your garden.
Place the tray in a warm, airy space and keep the ground a little moist. The roots of these plants will start to develop in 2 to 6 weeks and will then be ready to plant into separate small punnets with potting mix. After that, keep an eye on the roots for when they have filled the punnets, that indicates that the lavender is ready to go into the ground.
Tim's tip: always propagate more than you need, as some might be unsuccessful.
Good Luck Growing Your Lavender
To summarise, these are the key points to keep in mind when planting lavender:
- They need soil with good drainage
- Being planted in a sunny spot is vital
- Choose the right variety for hardiness
- Best to start from cuttings or buy a plant (from seed not recommended)
- Research is key to them surviving, advice should be relative to your region
We wish you a successful planting season, and hope your lavender will be out enjoying their first bloom in a few months.