The Secret to Lavender

What this fragrant favorite wants and how to provide it.

We can't tell you how often we are asked for the secret to growing lavender. Its often when a customer brushes past the lavender on the table, gets a hint of its lovely aroma and even though they've never had luck with it, the enticing purple blooms convince them to give it one more go. 

So, is there a secret? 

No, the only secret to lavender is understanding what this fragrant favorite wants and how to provide it. Here are our tried and true tips:

Let's start with soil: Lavender can be planted in containers, raised beds, or in the ground. Because lavender is borderline hardy in our zone many people prefer to plant it in the ground as the soil offers insulation and gives it a better chance of making it through the winter. 

This plant likes a sandy, well draining soil that allows it to dry out quickly. Unfortunately, the dense red clay of North Carolina does not offer the drainage lavender needs and you are almost guaranteed to fail if you plant it in the ground without amendments. We recommend removing the original soil and using an outdoor potting mix amended with perlite (4 parts soil:1part perlite) or gypsum (follow directions on bag).  You want to dig a BIG hole. Think 4x larger than the pot or look at how big the plant will get and dig the hole as if you were going to put a mature plant in it. To really set yourself up for success dig the hole 16-18" deep. This will ensure the lavenders roots aren't sitting in water.


Of course, there are some exceptions, a few of you may have a spot of bottom land with sandy soil and won't need to be as extreme. Also, do not add compost to your lavender as it holds moisture and make sure you allow good air flow between each plant. 

Sun: Lavender requires full sun, that means 6+ hours (or ideally more). Think of it this way, if there is a heavy rain your lavender needs to be able to dry out quickly to prevent root rot. Water: Lavender wants to dry out completely between waterings, if you feel any moisture in the soil don't water. You really shouldn't need to water lavender once it is established. 

Fertilizer: Lavender is a low feeder and once you get your lavender in the right soil it really doesn't need a lot. 

Overwintering: If you're worried about your lavender not making it through the winter you can add mulch (its not always necessary), but be careful to leave enough room around the crown for the plant to breath. Mulch can hold in moisture and for lavender moisture is a bigger enemy that the cold. 

Pruning: The key here is to not allowing your lavender to get too woody. We recommend you prune it in the late fall or very early spring, removing any older branches and giving it a light shaping. 

Know your varieties: Every year Painters researches which lavenders do best in WNC. This research combined with our own experience and customer feedback informs the varieties we sell. Phenomenal Lavender is a tried a true choice. This year we offered Hidcote lavender for the first time as its said to be hardier and more vigorous. Co-owner Dana swears by Spanish lavender. She finds it is not as picky about soil and while some say it can be more tender that has not been her experience. There are lots of varieties to choose from and it may require some trial and error to find which works best for you!