Question: I live in Somers and am considering growing lavender for hobby purposes. Do you know of anyone else that has grown lavender in the area that is successful with these plants? Growing from seed? I have a sunny area. It would be helpful to learn from others who have tried. J.N.
Answer: Fields of lavender are scare in the Midwest but many backyard gardeners and farm market growers cultivate the herb. Lavender is easy to grow as long as you choose a hardy variety and provide the right growing conditions.
English or true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) cultivars are the cold hardiest of the lavenders. In the demonstration plantings at the Kenosha County Center, Master Gardener Volunteers are growing Oxford Gem and Lavender Lady. Oxford Gem is a newer introduction from Blooms of Bressingham . It bloomed the first year and is flowering now. Lavender Lady is borderline hardy in zone 5 so we will see how well it survives winters. I’ve grown Munstead in my garden at home for a number of years. Hidcote is another reliable performer in southern Wisconsin.
Munstead and Lavender Lady are easiest to start from seed. Lavender Lady reportedly blooms the first summer. Most other lavenders flower the second year from seed. Seeds should be started indoors. It may take a month or more for the seeds to germinate. Keep the potting soil moist and temperature 60 to 75 degrees. Lavender can also be propagated by stem cuttings in February or March. Or you can purchase small transplants.
Despite its common name English lavender is native to the Mediterranean area, not the British Isles. Lavender must have excellent drainage or it will develop root and stem rots. Full sun is another must have. Lavender prefers alkaline soil like we have in southern Wisconsin. Lavender should not be fertilized; instead mulch with compost between plants.
Lavender is an evergreen perennial but the leaves will die during a cold winter. In spring trim the dead stems and leaves back to live wood. The plant re-grows quickly after pruning.
Lavender is one of our more versatile herbs. It can be used fresh or dry in cooking, dried for arrangements, and used as a fragrance in lavender water, potpourri, candles and perfumes. The aromatic oils peak when the last flowers on the stalk begin to open. This is the best time to harvest for maximum fragrance and flavor.
Barb Larson, Horticulture Educator
Kenosha County UW-Extension