Lavenders are evergreen shrubs native to the Mediterranean, prized for their fragrance, medicinal uses and ornamental qualities. There are three primary types of lavender:
English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
This type of lavender has a compact, bushy habit with narrow leaves and is considered semi-evergreen depending upon winter temperatures. English lavender plants are generally smaller than Spike Lavender with shorter stems and smaller, stouter flowers. The flowers have a sweet fragrance and are great for oils and culinary uses. Some varieties include:
‘Hidcote’ –Dwarf variety with gray-green foliage. Vibrant violet flowers hold their color when dried.
‘Munstead’ – Semi-upright foliage with dark lavender-violet blossoms.
‘Twickel Purple’ – Bright violet-blue flowers fading to a dark lavender-violet.
Spike or Hedge Lavender (Lavandula x intermedia)
Spike Lavender is a sterile hybrid between L. angustifolia and L. latifolia. These lavenders are evergreen and grow larger in size, ranging from 2 to 4 feet tall and wide. The stems are tall with well-formed spikes at the end. The flowers have a strong pungent fragrance and varieties can be used for fragrances, teas, oils, potpourri, sachets and fresh cut bouquets. Some varieties include:
‘Alba’ – Bushy habit with white flowers.
‘Fred Boutin’ – Bushy habit with gray foliage and dark violet-blue flowers.
‘Grosso’ – Flowers are long and narrow with violet-blue tones.
‘Impress Purple’ – Upright habit with dark violet flowers.
‘Provence’ – Flowers are long and narrow with violet flowers, a shade lighter than ‘Grosso’.
Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas)
Great for growing as shrubs to create hedges or borders. Some varieties may grow to 3 feet tall and wide and require yearly pruning to maintain bushiness. The leaves of Spanish Lavender are silver-green with a unique and distinctive flower. The top of each flowering stem grows larger upright bracts that resemble rabbit ears. The colorful bracts are long blooming, often spring through summer with a less intense fragrance resembling eucalyptus.
‘Helmsdale’ – A bushy variety with dense green foliage, rich purple flowers and burgundy bracts.
‘Silver Anouk’ – Beautiful silver foliage and dark blue flowers with light purple bracts.
‘Wings of Night’ – Blossoms are very dark purple with light purple bracts and silver foliage.
Soil Preparation & Planting
Sun and good drainage are important requirements to successfully growing lavender in the Pacific Northwest. The best soil conditions for lavender are well drained gritty or sandy loam. In wet or clay soils, lavender can be grown successfully on mounds since these plants do not tolerate wet feet or poor drainage. Locations with full sun, ideally 6-8 hours daily, is essential.
Even though lavenders are drought tolerant, it’s important to water young lavenders regularly for the first few years until established. Good irrigation or adequate rainfall is important in the spring for new plantings. When transplanting, consistent watering spring through summer is needed until plants are established. Overwatering can stress plants, causing the foliage to split open and sprawl or make them susceptible to diseases.
There are important benefits of pruning lavender. Pruning lavender keeps the plant vigorous and bushy. Pruning prevents older plants from splitting in half and aids in keeping plants disease free. The first pruning should occur in March, removing about 1/3 of the top growth. Leave about 1-2 inches of green stem intact above woody stems. Be sure to avoid severe pruning into old wood as older wood won’t re-leaf. After the flower stems have finished blooming, prune 1-2 inches of foliage below flower stems. Older woody plants should be removed, as pruning will not rejuvenate them.
Lavender flowers have many uses in the garden from culinary use, to oils, sachets, potpourri, and even fresh bouquets. If harvesting stems for a bouquet, cut the stems just when the flowers begin to emerge and place in a vase with ½ inch of water in the bottom. Trim off the end of lavender stems a few times a week and change the water daily. For dried lavender, the best time to harvest is when the flowers have just opened. Cut flower stems in the early morning and hang in small bunches in a dry, dark, dust-free area with good ventilation. When the bundles are dry they can be stored in cardboard boxes.