Are you dreaming of a purple haze of lavender in your backyard and lavender’s refreshing scent wafting through an open window on a sunny afternoon? Almost everyone can make a mini-garden of lavender that can fulfill this dream and provide enough dried stems for your home and buds for sachets or potpourri. A mini-bed can be created along the side of a building, in a circle, a knot garden, or in a straight line bed along sidewalk or driveway. The garden featured in this post contains just 18 plants of the Gros Blue variety which is a cultivar of Grosso, a Lavandin. We love it for its color, fragrance and stem length.
There are just a few things to consider:
- Chose the right location, full sun with good drainage
- Prepare your soil; a sandy, loamy soil is ideal, but you can amend any soil to work
- Chose the right variety for your garden and buy enough plants to space them with room for air to circulate
- Plant, Water, mulch, snip, and prune
Choosing the Timing and the Right Location
Chose a location that receives the most sunlight in your yard. South facing is helpful and so is a wind-break or a building or a stone wall nearby. We have open field gardens that do well with a fence as a near-by wind-break, critical in Zone 5.
Plot out your garden first and decide how many plants to buy. We plant in early June, after the danger of frost has past, but before the heat requires too much watering. Fall planting is fine in some warmer areas of the country. Make certain that you have good drainage with a natural slope where water from a heavy deluge of rain can quickly run off the garden. Lavender likes rain, but does not like to have its feet “wet”…so no standing water in the lavender garden, ever. (standing water leads to root rot–a very sad occurrence).
Lavender loves a sandy, loamy soil just like the Mediterranean soil it came from originally. Our soil has a lot of clay in it, so we dig a hole 18″ deep and fill it with potting soil, pearlized limestone, and pea gravel. This soil mix should crumble in your fingers and is “friable” which helps promote healthy root growth. You can also add play sand, but we reserve the play sand for mulch. Use a mini-soil tester to make sure the soil mix has a PH of 7. A PH of 6 or below is too acidic for healthy growth. Lavender likes “cheap” soil, so there is rarely a need to add fertilizer.
Sequim, Washington has a gritty soil and Delaware a sandy soil which are both naturally hospitable soils for lavender, but the rest of us need to compensate.
Choosing the right lavender plants for your garden
There are now about 200 varieties of lavender available in the market place. We suggest that you buy from a local nursery to get the plants that will do well in your growing zone. In our case, we plant very winter hardy lavender like to true Angustifolia Munstead and Hidcote which survive our quirky winters in growing zone 5. If you like long stems, consider the new variety “Phenomenal” which can withstand cold, rain and draught. This is a cultivar of Grosso, a very sturdy Lavandin with long stems. If you’re going for a sea of lavender, buy all of the same variety for each garden.
If your gardens are full, consider adding a lavender plant as a fragrant purple accent in a mixed perennial garden. It pairs well with roses and many other favorites.
Measure your garden and read the spacing requirements on the tag of your plants. Lavenders come in many sizes from compact, 12″ spreads to huge 36″ mounded spreads. Make sure to allow enough space between the plants so the air can circulate around them and you can move around the plants to harvest the lavender flowers and weed.
Dig holes 12-18″ deep and 12″ wide and refill your hole with the amended soil. Lavender roots extend 18″ deep, but a 1 year old plant has about 3″ of roots, so you need to mound up a little Pyramid inside your hole and gently spread the baby’s roots over the pyramid, so that the crown of the plant is even with the garden. Water the plants when you have patted them down into the soil.
We add a top cover of pea gravel to our entire garden after planting for two reasons. First, it’s light color reflects sunlight back into the plant and prevents fungus and second because it works its way into the soil and breaks down the clay, allowing the roots to “breathe”.
Don’t expect many stems in your first summer, but year two will yield more and year three should be spectacular. It’s important to cut off spent stems, to encourage more growth. English lavenders will give you a second cutting in September if you cut the stems in July. If you experience a rainy summer with lots of cloud cover, consider adding a 1-2″ play sand mulch on top of the gravel all around the plant to bounce light back into the plant. This little tip can spare you from root rot and promote healthy growth by tricking the plant into thinking it’s really back home in the Mediterranean.
Weeding is important because weeds can “choke” a young lavener plant and be the cause of an early demise. We weed by hand because we are keeping our gardens organic and herbicide free. Prune in the fall after the plant has gone to sleep. Lavandins can be pruned and shaped into a neat mound and the Angustifolia’s can at least be made neater, although they grow asymmetrically and always look a little “oppitity”.
Your garden should give you color, fragrance and pleasure from mid-June until mid- July plus or minus two weeks. It may rest in August and flower again in September providing you with lavender enough for your home and gift-giving.