The allure of lavender dates back to ancient times when Romans governed the world. The Romans used it for bathing, but over the centuries, lavender's medicinal properties became legendary. Historical writings claimed it healed just about every problem from poisonous bites to plague. Many of those claims have no scientific research to back them up, but lavender's popularity continues for a host of other reasons.
The French use lavender in cooking. It makes elegant crafts, and many personal and household products contain lavender. But, a large number of people like to enjoy its fresh fragrance straight from the garden. Luckily, growing lavender is not difficult if you know what it likes.
Hold the fertilizer. Lavender prefers poor, alkaline soil. Just make sure that the soil drains well. Humidity and soggy soil are two things that can kill lavender. If you do not crowd it with other plants and surround it with a light-colored mulch (like pebbles), the reflected light and increased air circulation keep it healthy even in climates with high humidity. Water lavender when the soil gets dry only during its first year (until a good root system develops). After that, drought will not hurt this rugged plant. Good drainage, pruning and adequate sun can keep it healthy and producing flowers for 20 or more years.
Each spring, after danger of frost, cut about one-third off the top and sides of your plants. This encourages more flower stems and keeps the plant from getting "leggy." Be careful not to cut off too much old wood; that could kill the plant. You will not have to worry about bugs, rabbits or deer nibbling your plants. Some people claim lavender even repels mice.
Choosing a lavender species
The hardest part of growing lavender is deciding which one to grow. Lavender has several species, and they develop more types each year. So it can get confusing. But if you focus on only four things, you will be fine. Focus on the zone where you live, the color flower you want, the spot you wish to plant it and the uses you have in mind for its flowers.
- Some lavender species are "tender" and will not survive in zones with harsh winters. So choose your plants based on the zone where you live.
- You also have a flower choice of white, yellow, pink, blue, purple and every shade in between.
- Depending on the species, mature plants can vary in height from 1 foot to 3 feet high and spread from 1 foot to 6 feet across. So, keep future size in mind when choosing the spot you want to plant it.
- Also consider what you would like to do with the flowers. Some species are prized for fragrance, some for flavor, making crafts, producing oil or just gracing the garden with their ethereal presence. It is a tough choice, and if you are like me, you will wimp out of that decision and plant some of each.
With your input, a local nursery can help select the lavender plant (or plants) right for you. But no matter which variety you choose, standing amidst the flowers gently swaying while butterflies hover from stem to stem, the romance of lavender gets to you. And you wonder with each whiff of scented breeze – what problems?
The Lavender Garden: Beautiful Varieties to Grow and Gather by Robert Kourik