Friday, July 3, 2009

Growing lavender

I've had a lot of emails today about lavender. I'm going to try to post some sort of tidbit about lavender every day- until I run out of things to say (which could be a loooooong time....)

This photo was taken in September of 2007. The photo I posted yesterday was the same plant in July of 2009.

Let's start with growing lavender. You can do it from seed, but I don't have any experience with that. I bought 2 1/2 inch starts from a wholesale lavender producer. I planted them in the fall of 2007. My first harvest was last summer (July 2008) and this is my second harvest. I'm getting about 1 1/2 large bundles per plant this year already! It's amazing how fast this stuff is growing! The first winter, I lost about 20% of my crop- mostly due to moles, voles and gophers. They burrowed under the plants and left air pockets around the new little root balls. I replanted where the dead ones were and this second year, I only lost ONE out of 300 plants! I think it just helped that the root balls were more established. Or maybe the underground varmints didn't like our harsh winter. Who knows. Last winter, we had 27 inches of snow- a record for this area. They didn't mind a bit. In fact, I think they loved the white blanket.

To plant your little lavender plants, the best time to do it is in the spring or fall. We did better in the spring, but don't hesitate to plant in the fall. Summer is ok, but it will need to be watched a little more to make sure it stays moist, but not too moist. VERY IMPORTANT.... lavender does not like wet feet! They can't thrive in standing water, or hard, wet soil. Raised beds can help with the soggy soil--- even small raised beds. If you have clay soil, you have to add some sand or peet or something. I dug large holes (don't skimp here-- dig a big one!). I made a mixture of 1/3 clay, 1/3 sand, and 1/3 peet moss. There's no magic to this, although I'm sure people will say there is. The point is to get a lot of sand in there. I've known people to plant in almost all sand. You could just mix whatever soil you have with sand... just make sure your drainage is good. And you don't want to get your soil TOO rich. They are native to rocky alkaline Mediterranean. If your soil is really acidic, throw in a little lime (calcium carbonate). They really don't want you to fuss with them too much. My field is on a hill, which is perfect. No low-lying areas where water pools. Then I put the sandy mixture back into the big hole and then scooped out a little hole (for the 2 1/2 inch plant). In that little hole, I put a mixture of steer manure and a little bone meal. I used about a handfull of manure and about a tsp of bone meal but you don't have to be exact about it. Then in went the little plant. Don't burry the woody stem under the dirt line. Leave it right at the dirt line or a little above.

In addition to not liking wet feet, lavender does not like the shade. Stick it in the sunniest spot you have. They like at least 8 hrs of full sun each day. Less sun will give you leggy plants. Moisture will cause rot and all kinds of yucky stuff. In areas where too much rain is a problem, some people put white landscape rocks under and around the lavender. When it's sunny, the white rocks reflect the sun and dry it from underneath. At least that's what they say. That's also why some people put white sand under the plants. I haven't bothered with the rocks or white sand, but that's mostly because I'm too busy. I might stick sand out there one of these days.

The first season, make sure they get some water and don't dry out. After that, unless you live in a really dry area, it pretty much takes care of itself. I almost never water, unless we have a week of 90 degree, sunny dry days. And even then- they don't need much. I put a little of the magic potion of manure and bone meal after I harvest and that's about it. I do keep them weeded because weeds in the bundles are not good.

Don't try to transplant lavender in the middle of the summer. Transplant in the early spring or fall for best results.

More tomorrow.....


Happy Cottage Quilter said...

Wow this is really interesting. Living in the deep south, I don't think we have ever seen lavender plants.

Sue said...

You should be able to grow lavender in the south. You should give it a try!