Growing Lavender

LavendarFebruary 19, 2015 – Kenosha News

Question: I love lavender and would like to grow it in my garden. I’ve heard many types of lavender won’t grow here. Do you have suggestions on which lavender would be best for Kenosha? I’d like to try growing it from seed.  J.H.

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. Many borderline hardy plants, including lavender, didn’t survive the winter of 2013/2014. In the demonstration plantings at the Kenosha County Center, we lost Oxford Gem and Lavender Lady. The eight year old Munstead lavender plant in my home garden didn’t make it either. Lavender plants are fairly short lived so I’m not sure if my Munstead died of cold, old age, or a combination of both.

The occasional unusually cold winter shouldn’t stop you from growing lavender in your garden. Munstead and Hidcote are reliable performers 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 must 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.

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. Lavender prefers slightly 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 in southern Wisconsin the leaves will die during a cold winter. In spring trim the dead stems and leaves back to live wood. The plant will re-grow 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 soaps, candles and perfumes. The best time to harvest lavender for maximum fragrance and flavor is when the aromatic oils peak as the last flowers on the stalk begin to open.

 

Barb Larson is horticulture educator for Kenosha County University of Wisconsin Extension. Barb has a Master’s of Science in horticulture from the UW-Madison. If you have a plant or gardening question, email Larson at barbara.larson@kenoshacounty.org  or call her at 262-857-1945.