Growing & Harvesting Lavender

Learn how to grow lavender from seeds or cuttings, tips on pruning, watering, and other growing requirements, then how to harvest the flowers and leaves!

Ellegance Purple Lavender
Lavandula angustifolia “Ellagance Purple”

How to Start Lavender From Seed

For many people, starting lavender from seed often seems to be too daunting a task at first glance; as soon as words like ‘cold-stratification’ and ‘scarification’ come up, suddenly that $10 lavender plant on the shop shelf doesn’t seem that pricy anymore.

Growing lavender from seed’s not that scary! It takes some patience, and a spot in your refrigerator for a while, but if you’re willing to give those two things, you can potentially end up with a field of lavender, if you so desire, from just a few packets of seeds!

packets of lavender seeds

Lavender Varieties

There’s more to lavender than just ‘lavender’! There’s a nice selection of varieties out there to pick from, and all of them are lovely, fragrant, and beloved by bees. Here are a few of them!

English Lavender

(Lavandula angustifolia vera) English lavender, also known as True lavender, is perhaps the most common lavender. It’s hardy down to USDA Zone 5 and up to Zone 10, and has beautiful purple blossoms.

Czech Lavender

(Lavandula angustifolia krajova) Czech lavender, also known as Country lavender, has gorgeous deep purple flowers and a mellow fragrance, which is considered less overwhelmingly floral and ‘soapy’ than most lavenders. Despite this, Czech lavender has a high content of essential oil. It’s cold-hardy down to USDA Zone 5.

Munstead Lavender

(Lavandula angustifolia var. munstead) Munstead lavender is very hardy! It can take on USDA Zone 4 winters, making it a good choice for more northern gardening. As a dwarf plant, it’s also quite space-efficient, packing lots of fragrant flowers into one small bush.

Hidcote Lavender

(Lavandula angustifolia var. hidcote) Hidcote is another dwarf lavender, this one with deep, intense purple flowers. Hidcote is hardy down to USDA Zone 5, and up to Zone 8.

Broadleaf Lavender

(Lavandula latifolia) Broadleaf lavender has a slightly different scent from other lavender plants- it’s more pungent, with a stronger aroma of camphor. It’s not as hardy as the other lavenders- USDA Zone 6 is about as cold as it can handle, and there may still be winter temperatures cold enough to kill it on occasion. But in its favor, it’s one of the longest-blooming lavenders, with lovely, pale lilac blooms on the ends of tall flower stalks that pollinators love.

You can find a selection of high quality lavender seeds at places such as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Strictly Medicinal Seeds.

How to Start Lavender Seeds

scarified lavender seeds
A scarified lavender seed.

Scarification (Optional)

Scarification is considered an optional step, but it has the potential to be a very useful one- if you’ve tried starting your lavender from seed a few times without scarifying them, and they just won’t sprout, try scarifying the next batch!

To scarify your seeds, you will need:

  • Lavender Seeds
  • Sandpaper

That’s all!

To scarify lavender, take up a seed in your fingers, and gently rub it against the sandpaper. Your goal is to break down the outer coating of the seed- make sure to stop once you’ve made it through!

There will be a lighter color where you were rubbing the seed against the sandpaper. You don’t want to go much further, because you don’t want to damage the seed itself- just the outer seedcoat.

Once you’ve scarified all the seeds you want to plant, move on to the next step- cold-stratification.

lavender seeds on damp paper towel
The paper towel method of cold stratifying seeds.

Cold-Stratifying

There’s two ways to try here: The paper towel method, and the sand/peat method.

Paper Towel Method

You will need:

  • Lavender seeds (scarified, if you’re doing that step)
  • Plastic bag that can be sealed
  • Paper towel
  • Spray bottle with plain water inside

Lay your paper towel out flat, and mist it all over with the spray bottle so it’s consistently damp, but not soaking. If there’s too much water, squeeze it out, then lay it flat again.

Scatter your lavender seeds on top of the paper towel. Lavender has very low germination rates, so use a lot of seeds- the whole packet wouldn’t be overkill at all.

Fold the paper towel over on itself, so the seeds are surrounded by the damp paper towel on all sides. I like to fold mine into fourths, but folding it in half is also perfectly fine.

Place the paper towel inside the plastic bag, and seal it. Write the current date on the bag, what the seed is (plant, variety, etc) and then pull out your calendar. Count along the days, until you find out what date it will be 3-6 weeks from the current day- that’s when the cold-stratification will end.

As an example: If I started stratifying my seeds on June 10th, and I decided that I wanted to stratify my seeds for 6 weeks, the second date would be July 22nd.

Write down this second date on the bag as well, so you won’t forget when your seeds are ready, and place the bag in your refrigerator. Not your freezer! We don’t want to freeze the seeds, just keep them cold and damp.

Frequently check your seeds- you want to keep them evenly moist, so if the paper towel dries out, spritz it again with the spray bottle. Occasionally unfold the paper towel to make sure none of your seeds are molding or sprouting- toss moldy seeds, and go ahead and plant any sprouted ones.

Once the end-date of the cold-stratification has arrived, your seeds are ready to plant.

Peat/Sand Method

You will need:

  • Lavender seeds (scarified, if doing that step)
  • Sand or peat moss
  • Water
  • Mixing container
  • Sealable plastic bag

This method is very similar to the paper towel method: the difference here is that it’s peat or sand that’s keeping the seeds moist.

Start by taking a small scoop of peat or sand and placing into your mixing container- then, slowly add small trickles of water and work it in, until it just sticks together in a ball when you squeeze it with your hands. No measurements here, I’m afraid- you have to just keep adding water until it feels right. If things get too damp (you don’t want it soaking wet), you can add more peat or sand to balance it out. You don’t need much!

Now take your lavender seeds, and mix them into the peat or sand. Once well-mixed, transfer the sand/peat/seeds blend into your plastic bag, and seal.

Just like with the paper towel method, write down what plant is in the bag, any relevant details (variety, etc.) the current date, then write down the date 3-6 weeks from now. Place the bag in your refrigerator, and check frequently for molding or sprouting seeds, using a spray bottle to add moisture if needed. Toss the molding seeds and plant the sprouting ones!

Once your seeds are finished cold-stratifying, it’s time to plant!

Sowing & Sprouting

Once cold-stratifying time is done, remove your seeds from their bags.

Sowing from paper towels cold-stratification is easy: the seeds are clearly visible on the paper towel, so all you need to do is pick up each seed, and press them onto the surface of a pot (or a few!) full of pre-moistened soil- I just use a simple, organic potting soil. Don’t cover your seeds! Use a spray bottle to quickly mist over them, making sure they’re moist, then cover the top of the pot with a greenhouse top or plastic wrap to keep moisture in.

If you stratified your seeds in sand or peat instead of on a paper towel, it may be difficult to find your seeds. They’re so small that picking them out of the peat or sand will take an eternity- so don’t! Instead, very thinly spread your peat/sand and seed mix over the top of a few damp-soil-filled pots, so that the seeds have a minimal chance of being covered too thickly. Cover with a greenhouse top or plastic wrap.

Regardless of which way you stratified your seeds, place the pots containing them somewhere warm and with lots of light! If you don’t have grow lights to help with this, place your pots in the sunniest windowsill you have.

Watch your pots, keep them evenly moist and warm, and wait: Lavender can take anywhere from 14 days to 90 days to germinate, so patience is key!

steps for gathering and planting lavender cuttings

How to Grow Lavender from Cuttings

Seed-starting lavender not seeming worth it to you after all that? Consider trying to root lavender cuttings instead!

Taking cuttings

Using sharp scissors or pruning shears, clip off the top 4-6 inches of a fresh stem that isn’t flowering. Plunge the ends of these cuttings right into a jar of water as soon as you cut them so they don’t dry out on you!

Once you have all the cuttings you want, prepare your pots. Fill any sized pot with your choice of soil- I like to use an organic potting mix- and soak well, making sure the soil in the pot is moist all the way through from top to bottom.

Use a pencil (or your finger) to poke holes in the soil. Strip the bottom half of the lavender of its leaves, and tuck the bare section of the stems into the holes, gently using your fingers to push the soil in closer and tamp it down. I recommend doing several plants per pot, as you never know how many will actually end up succeeding.

(Don’t discard the leftover lavender leaves! They’re useful for food and natural medicinal purposes!)

Keep the soil moist, warm, and in indirect sunlight. It may help to secure a clear plastic bag with a few airholes stabbed along it around the top of the pot, enclosing the cuttings, helping to keep a constantly moist and warm environment.

Discard any completely dried out or hopelessly withered cuttings, as they won’t root. You’ll know if your cuttings have rooted by the appearance of new growth- that means you’ve succeeded, if your cuttings are actually growing!

The roots will be very few and fragile- ideally, leave the cuttings in the pots to keep growing for at least another month or so, but start letting the soil dry out more between watering. Breaking the roots will most likely kill the plant completely, at this stage, so if you have to transplant it into another pot early, be careful!

Cuttings will most likely take 3-6 weeks to root. Grow up cuttings in pots until they are large enough and have a strong enough root system to survive being planted into the garden.

SuperBlue Lavender
Lavandula angustifolia “SuperBlue”

Growing Tips for Lavender Plants

Plant lavender 2-4 feet apart.

There are two times of year that people tend to plant lavender in: spring or fall.

When to plant

Spring, after all risk of frost has passed, is the ideal time (unless you live in a very, very hot climate) for planting most lavender plants. It gives them plenty of time to get well-established before winter and cold weather hits, raising their chances of survival.

Fall is a bit chancier- only very well established, large and healthy lavender plants should be planted in fall, as the cold weather looming on the horizon can take out young or weak plants.

However, if you live in a climate that doesn’t exactly experience winter, but does experience an exceptionally hot summer that tends to bake your plants, then fall planting may be your friend. Sometimes climates that get very heavy rainfall in spring are also better off planting lavender later in the year, so the young plants don’t get drowned, or so waterlogged that they end up with root-rot.

Your best bet is really to experiment- if planting in spring doesn’t work for you, try planting in fall next! And if none of your fall-planted lavender survives, then plant it in spring next time. And if neither of them give you the results you want, well, then, there’s always summer, isn’t there?

Light

Lavender wants full sun! That means it needs a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight a day to be happy. They can tolerate a little shade, but they don’t really like it- a lavender in the sun is a happy lavender.

Soil

Avoid planting your lavender anywhere that stays constantly wet or moist- that’s a recipe for root-rot waiting to happen.

Lavender can take a lot, so long as it’s not waterlogged, so odds are you’re good just to dig a hole and plop it right in. As long as the soil drains well, you’re probably safe.

As far as nutrients go, soil with poor to medium fertility are completely fine, and you probably won’t have to add anything to the soil just for that! If you have very heavy clay soil, you might want to amend with sand and tiny stones.

If your lavender is just completely failing to thrive, consider getting your soil tested- if you have super acidic soil, lavender isn’t so fond of growing in that. Amending the soil so you have neutral or slightly alkaline soils might fix the problem.

Water

Lavender isn’t water-greedy- potted lavender plants only need watering usually about once a week- and in most climates, once your lavender plants are established, the rain will often give them plenty of moisture.

Too much wetness can give lavender root rot, so don’t overwater- if in doubt, your lavender won’t be hurt by skipping a watering. Lavender is a very drought-hardy plant, so it can take a dry spell!

Fertilizing

Since lavender thrives in poor to medium-fertility soils, there’s usually absolutely no need to fertilize them. In fact, giving lavender a lot of fertilizer has the potential to make your plant decide not to bloom, or could outright kill it!

The exception here is that sometimes, in the spring, some people like to spread about an inch of good-quality compost around the base of the plant- this is something older plants may appreciate, if you’ve noticed your lavender was starting to lose its vigor, in the past year.

When in doubt, skip the fertilizer. Save the rich soil and the nutrient-dense fertilizers for your fussier plants!

Pruning

Regularly pinching off the tips of your young lavender plant as it grows encourages branching and a bushier plant, helping shape them into a denser shrub. As a bonus, you also get a mini harvest of lavender leaves when you do it!

After your lavender has finished flowering, use sharp pruning shears to cut back all the stems by one third, which will also help shape the plant, and encourage even more branching.

Pruning is important for extending your plant’s lifespan, because from the center out, your lavender plant is trying to turn into wood. Nothing can put this off forever, but regular pinching and pruning can help slow down the process, extending the lifespan of your lavender plant.

Lifespan of Lavender

With proper care, lavender plants can last about 10 years. After that, they begin to decline, so if you dearly love that particular plant, you may want to take what cuttings you can off of it and attempt to propagate it. Your lavender can’t be truly immortal, but you can clone it infinitely and it can live on that way!

Without proper care- that is to say, without pruning- you can expect a lifespan more along the lines of 3-5 years. This could be drastically shorter or possibly longer, depending on your climate, soil type, and so on. Overall, though, it’s reasonable to expect a significantly shorter lifespan on a lavender plant that has never been pruned.

basket of lavender flowers

Harvesting, Drying & Using Lavender

Lavender’s useful for more than just attracting pollinators and looking pretty! You can harvest and use both the leaves and flowers of your lavender plants, and there’s plenty to do with the both of them!

Flowers

Harvest the flowers when they’re dry and no rain or dew is upon them. Choose the nicest looking stalks, and leave behind any that are browned or aged. Use a pair of scissors or pruning shears to clip off the flower stalks. It’s a good idea to tap the flower stalks lightly against your hand to dislodge any little critters hiding within.

Leaves

Lavender leaves have lots of uses too! They can be pulled or clipped off, or saved when you’re pruning or stripping the stems for lavender cuttings.

Drying Lavender

Once you’re back indoors, spread the lavender stalks and/or leaves on a screen, paper towels, or clean dishtowels. Allow them to air dry for several days, until completely dried. Alternative, you can use a dehydrator set to around 105 degrees F, checking every hour or so until dry.

Storing Dried Lavender

Once dried, the flower stems and leaves can be stored in brown paper bags (lunch bags work great) or lidded glass jars, out of direct sunlight. Be sure to store in a dark place, so the colors and freshness won’t fade.

Don’t crumble the dried herbs to a powder until right before you’re going to use them. This helps the volatile oils stay around longer and will give you best results. Shelf life of dried lavender is around one year, or until the color and scent has faded.

Using Dried Lavender

Lavender flowers and leaves can be infused in oil, turned into salves, lotion bars, bath soaks, and soap, or infused into vinegars and tinctures.

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