Well-drained soil is the key to lavender
I want to have a lavender bed in our yard in front of a deck on the south side of our house. Will the lavender tolerate the direct sun and heat in the summer? It gets great protection from the cold during the winter months.
Lavender should do great where you’re thinking of putting it. It thrives in hot, sunny locations. In fact, I see more problems with lavender where it gets too much shade. It tends to get thin and leggy and just doesn’t thrive. The most important thing to remember is that all lavender likes well-drained soil, so do a great job amending your soil before you plant and consider planting in an area that’s slightly mounded up. Most plant loss here in the valley isn’t because of cold but from water-logged soil that causes rots in the plant.
There are quite a few varieties of lavender you could consider. The standard around here for years has been a compact variety called “Munstead.” This variety grows 12-18 inches tall in a neat, compact form that doesn’t need support. It has attractive gray foliage with striking spikes of dark violet-purple flowers in early summer. It’s hardy to 15 degrees below zero.
“Hidcote” is similar to “Munstead” but gets just a bit bigger. Growing to 24 inches with a uniform compact habit, it bears deeply colored violet-blue flowers and is hardy to minus-15.
“Thumbelina Leigh” grows a bit smaller than other varieties, getting 12-16 inches tall with an attractive, compact habit. This variety has deep violet-blue flower spikes in midspring and will often rebloom in mid- to late- summer if the spent flowers are cut off.
“Buena Vista” grows 18-24 inches tall with a looser, more informal growth habit. The fragrant flowers are deep violet purple with a white grouping of small petals, giving an interesting bi-color effect. This variety will often bloom twice if the spent flowers are cut off.
There are many others besides these, but hopefully that will get you started.
I have quite a few lavender plants. They are at least 4 years old. How much can I prune them down and when should I do so?
You need to be a bit careful about pruning lavender. Lavender is a bit of an “in-between” plant. It behaves pretty much like an herbaceous perennial but will develop a woody base in time like a woody shrub. Cutting an older plant back to the ground like we do most perennials can lead to trouble sometimes.
There are a couple of ways to go. The first is to start right from the beginning of cutting the plant back hard every year. This largely prevents the plant from forming that woody base and keeps the plant smaller with lush new growth. You have to allow the plant to creep up in growth each year, but it’s a couple of inches or less.
The second way is to let the plant grow. This is how I’ve always done it. I will give the top a light haircut to remove any bare stems or flower spikes from last year that detract from the plant’s appearance. The plant gets a bit taller this way but I just plan for that.
Either way you choose, I like to prune them back early in the spring in March. This late, you can carefully cut off the dead brown ends on the plant, leaving the new growth alone or just let it go until next year.