Saturday, July 4, 2009

Harvesting Lavender

The lavender plant in this photo has just been harvested AND pruned. I took the stem as well as a little of the new growth off when I cut.

I'm smack dab in the middle of harvesting right now. Whew! Harvesting is simple. If you go to a u-pick lavender farm, they usually just give you a pair of scissors or snipers. That is FINE if you are just cutting a bundle or 2. But, for large quantities, the best tool for the job is a small sickle. I use one that is 6 1/2". The inside is serrated and you just hold the bundle in one hand and pull the sickle around the base of the bundle with the other hand. (I'll add a picture when I remember to take one of the sickle). For large quantities of bundles, it's best to just put a rubber band around it as you harvest.

A key point here is that harvesting and pruning are not the same thing. To JUST harvest, you can just cut the stems above the green growth of the bush. This gives you bundles that are nice and neat at the bottom. You can prune at a different time, or you can prune at the same time as harvest. You really should prune at least once a year. To prune, you want to go down into the newer growth area of the bush, itself. Think of it as a nice round ball (the bush) with spikes (the lavender stems) sticking out of it. You harvest to get the stems off. You prune to care for the bush.

Lavender is a woody shrub. To prune, you don't want to go all the way down to the woody part. Look at the soft green growth above the wood. Take off anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3 of the green growth. Just make sure you leave at least 1/3 of that green fluffy stuff. This will give you double the number of stems next year. It will also keep your plant from getting leggy. People often complain that their lavender is leggy and overgrown and doesn't look like a pretty plant the rest of the year. When I ask, they almost always tell me that they don't cut the stems (harvest) or do any pruning. You can cut before they flower, after they flower, or after they look all dead..... just make sure you cut them. If your plant is really leggy, I don't know of any way to bring it back to a nice ball of green. My advise would be to send it to the compost pile and start with a new plant.

If you aren't planning to propagate the plant (make more from cuttings) you can just prune while you harvest (go down into the plant a little when you cut the stems) and then clean up the base of the bundle to make it look pretty. If you DO want to propagate the lavender, this comes along with pruning. You can prune in the fall or spring- or both. I guess it depends on your climate. In my case (Oregon) I prune twice a year. In the spring, I do light pruning of the new growth to ensure a fuller harvest. Then, in the fall, I do another light pruning. This makes the plant bushier in less time. For those of you out there who have experience with lavender, I know some will say to prune in the spring, some when you harvest, and some in the fall. Some will prune once a year and some will prune lightly 2 or 3 times a year. Experiment. If it works for you- that's the "right" way to do it.

It depends on how you are using it and where you live, but here's what I have been doing with great results....

In the spring, I go through my field and take off just a little of the new growth. If there is a sprig really sticking out there and going crazy, I cut it down a little more, giving me a nice little "start". I might get one or 2 good starts from each plant. As they get bigger I'll get more. Then I take the little starts, and with my thumb and index finger, I strip off the lower leaves. I dip it in rooting hormone (not critical to do this) and then poke it in a little baby pot of moist sandy soil. (Note- I've read that you should be careful with rooting hormone and wash your hands after using the stuff. Read the labels. I use gloves and wash the gloves afterward.) I keep the new starts misted with water. If it's early spring, my trays of starts live in the garage a while (they'll live in the greenhouse when I get one!). As the weather gets warmer, they spend more time outside. I lose some, but most of them survive. I have a raised bed and I put these baby plants out there for the next season to plant. I just completed my first cycle of this and it has worked very well. Then- in the fall, I could do the same thing. But last fall, I just went through the field and did a light pruning. I didn't root any starts. If I do want to root starts in the fall, all I have to do is make sure they are protected over the winter- maybe with some mulch. I would bring them in the garage over the winter if it got too cold. You have to baby them a little more if you take starts in the fall. which is why I like spring better for this.

That's all there is to it. I'll add pictures of harvesting and of a sickle soon, and I'll add pictures of pruning to this post the next time I have some starts to take pictures of.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your knowledge & love of lavender. It is my favorite of all plants and a challenge to winter over here in Northern Wisconsin. Mine never have a chance to really grow extensively but the little bunches I do get make me happy! I am in awe of your harvesting technique & have a bad case of "lavender envy" :o)

Sue said...

Thank you so much for your kind words. If you prune in the spring you might get some bushier plants. You might also try mulching them- cover them with leaves in the fall. I put you in the drawing for the giveaway. Keep reading- I'll be posting about lavender for another few weeks.