Growing & Pruning Lavender

How do you grow lavender?

Raised rows and widely spaced plants for drainage and air-flow

Growing conditions for lavender include full sun, excellent drainage, and breathing room for the plant if you’re in the South! Lavender originally comes from dry Mediterranean conditions and does not like humidity. The number one killer of lavender is loving it with too much water! That may make you think it can’t be grown in our area, but it can! We just have to take some extra steps.

First make sure wherever you plan to plant your lovely lavender, it has plenty of breathing room. In the Upstate, lavender can be planted in the ground or in a pot. If you’re close to the coast, you may even want to plant it in a container so it stands by itself. Consider planting it along pathways or near seating areas so you can easily smell it or brush against it. Don’t pack it tight into other plants. Don’t plant it near a downspout, at the bottom of a hill or with other plants that need a lot of water.

Next, make sure the soil in the area has excellent drainage. To achieve this, you can build up a mound of soil (that allows drainage) to create a raised area and also include pea gravel or small rock in the planting area. Plant in the mound and don’t flatten it out.  When lavender is young, water it 1 inch every 7-10 days. When it hasn’t rained in a while, give it a big drink and let it dry out between waterings. If young lavender starts to wilt, give it a good drink. Once lavender is established in its’ second year, you’ll only need to water it like you would a cactus and in severe drought.

If you want to use a pot, choose the largest pot you can get.  Lavender will stay small if it is kept in a small container and it will not bloom like it should. It’s also easier to regular moisture in a larger pot. Use regular potting soil and add perlite or pea gravel to increase drainage. Give it a good soaking after you’ve planted it and when the soil is dry 1/2 inch down, deeply water it.  If you plant in a pot and decide to put the plant in the ground, transplant it in the spring or fall and disturb the root ball the least amount possible.

Another thing to consider is that lavender likes soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. You may not need to worry about this, but if you are planting near plants that tolerate acidic soil – blueberries, roses – you may want to add lime to the planting hole and once a year around the base of the plant. You can buy dolomitic lime (it’s a white powder or pellets) at your local garden store. But, make sure to get a soil test first to determine what, if anything, your soil and plant might need.  Clemson soil test

Pruning Lavender

Grass shears

Grass shears

Growing lavender successfully means pruning. Pruning is different from harvesting and it’s needed to keep the shape of the plant. Without pruning, lavender can start to sprawl and become woody, separate, and reduce bloom. In our area, pruning would happen in the fall, several weeks before the first frost – we start in late October. As your plant matures, you will see that the main body has a natural mound shape. After you have harvested any stems and buds, you’ll have a ball of leaves. This ball needs to be cut back to within 2-3 inches of green growth. This means you’ll be cutting back more than you’d expect, but it’s okay! As long as you don’t cut back to the older woody part, the lavender will surprise you and come back just fine! Here are several pictures and a video to help you understand just how much needs to be pruned. First, we cut the sides and top with hedge trimmers, then get the bottom stems with hand trimmers. This is only because the hedge trimmer could hit our gravel.  Make sure to get the debris off the plant.  Click on the images for larger versions and description.