How to plant, grow and harvest lavender
Lavender plants have attractive flowers, grey-green foliage and a delightful fragrance after rain, or when the foliage is crushed. The perfume is one of the most recognised scents in the world.
What you need to know about lavender
Name: lavender (Lavandula)
Height: typically 80cm–1m. Dwarf forms 30–50cm tall
Foliage: grey and fragrant.
Climate: southern parts of Australia.
Soil: well-drained alkaline soil.
Position: full sun or full sun-part shade.
Flowering: mostly spring and summer, spot flowering at other times.
Feeding: yearly feeding with a complete fertiliser.
Watering: drought tolerant once established. Weekly to twice weekly watering in summer, and weekly watering in winter.
Appearance and characteristics of lavender
Lavender is a small shrub, and flowers are borne on short or long stems, depending on the variety. Flowers are usually a shade of lavender-purple, but can also be white, pink or green. The leaves, which are usually narrow and silver-grey or green-grey, provide foliage contrast.
Lavender is perfect in pots and makes good low edging. Using a range of lavender forms and colours creates a relaxed country ambiance, while a display of one variety planted as a hedge (French lavender is one of the best for this), topiarised or massed in a garden bed adds a more formal structure to the garden.
There are about 32 species of lavender. Dwarf varieties range from 30–50cm tall and about 20–40cm wide. Allardi lavender, which is the tallest, grows to 1.8m tall and about 1m wide.
Species include English, Italian (also known as Spanish), French lavender, Lavender pedunculata and fern leaf forms.
Newly developed Australian and New Zealand bred lavenders have outstanding flower colour, form and disease resistance. Some of the best are the “ Lavender Lace” collection, “The Princess” Lavender, Lavender “With Love”, Lavender “Pukehou” and lavender “Ruffles”.
Uses for lavender
Spikes of lavender flower look good in the vase and can be dried for potpourri sachets. The scent differs between species and ranges from the sweet lavender fragrance found in English lavender, which is used in cosmetics and perfume, to the more lavender-camphor smell of the French and Italian varieties, which are used in cleaning products.
You can also rub the leaves on insect bites to take the sting out, and the fragrance is said to aid sleep, promote relaxation and relieve headaches.
How to grow lavender
Lavender comes from a climate with dry summers and winter rain, and needs at least six hours of sun each day to look good. Once established, it is a water miser and enjoys coastal conditions, but will need once to twice weekly watering in summer and winter. Lavender will turn up its toes without perfect drainage and needs regular pruning by half to two-thirds to slow down its tendency to get “woody” at the base.
Lavender originated in the Mediterranean, but grows well in most climatic areas of Australia and New Zealand. Gardeners in sub-tropical areas should choose Lavender dentata (French lavender) and Lavender stoechas (Spanish/Italian lavender), and varieties bred from them, as these cope with summer humidity if provided with good air circulation and gravel mulches. Gardeners in the tropics should buy lavender plants during the dry season and treat them as a temporary potted plant.
Caring for lavender
Lavender prefers alkaline soils, so incorporate some dolomite lime into acid soils before planting and provide slow-release fertiliser each spring. Do not use organic mulch around the plants, as these maintain moisture around the trunk and lower branches.
Most varieties of lavender flower in spring and summer, but some hybrid forms also spot flower at other times of the year.
Trim back English and Italian lavender in summer and French lavender in autumn to encourage a new flower flush. Plants are moderately wind hardy, and most species tolerate frost.
Diseases and pests affecting lavender
When grown in ideal conditions lavender is generally trouble-free. Fungal problems such as root rot and dead lower foliage can occur in humid conditions, especially in older plants. Applications of a seaweed solution will help.
Pests are not usually present, but whitefly, aphids and scale can sometimes be a problem. Treat with two sprays of horticultural oil about ten days apart.
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