How to grow English lavender, tips on cultivars, growing conditions, harvesting, and creative lavender ideas. Includes a video showing how to harvest lavender.
With most plants and flowers there’s typically one reason to grow them. With English lavender there are many. It’s a stunning architectural plant that you can grow in hedges, on its own in a pot, or scattered throughout the garden. Unlike other lavender species, it’s hardy down to zone 5 so can survive the winter in most temperate regions.
When English lavender opens its flowers in mid-to-late summer they are literally humming with bees. Some beekeepers in France take their colonies to the lavender fields in Provence where the bees collect lavender pollen and nectar to make aromatic honey. It’s sold as miel de lavande and is touted to taste amazing and to work wonders on your skin. It’s no wonder since both honey and lavender are both natural skin healers.
Lavender in skin care
Many of us are well aware of the soothing scent of pure lavender essential oil. A drop or two before bedtime helps send us off on a good night’s sleep. Lavender essential oil is made from various cultivars of Lavandula angustifolia and a small 15ml bottle requires about three pounds of flowers to make.
Though it’s possible to invest in a distiller and make your own, you can also use lavender in other ways in skin care. The buds make pretty decorations for soaps, bath truffles, and bath bombs. They also create light exfoliation in this skin cleanser recipe. You can also infuse the buds into oil, honey, or water to use as ingredients in lotions and salves.
One of the best oils to infuse with lavender is fractionated coconut oil. This light, nourishing oil is liquid at room temperature which makes it a great massage oil. It’s tasteless and odorless so it doesn’t compete with the scent and flavor of lavender. Some liquid coconut oil is edible so the infused oil can be used in the kitchen as well as your beauty regime.
Lavender is an edible flower
Aside from being an ornamental, a bee-friendly plant, and a skin care herb, English lavender is also edible. If you’ve not had it before, you need to try it at least twice. It’s an unusual flavour that tastes like it smells and sometimes needs that second chance.
I use it to make lavender cookies and have fond memories of lavender ice cream on a hot day in the south of France. You can also make lavender shortbread, lavender cake, and even lavender-infused vinegar. The latter is not only edible but can be used as a household cleaner too.
English Lavender at a glance
- Evergreen perennial
- Green to gray leaves with typically purple flowers
- Flowers are deeply fragrant
- Is one of 47 different species of lavender
- Within the species are about 40 different cultivars
- English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, is best for skin care and food recipes
Why is it called English Lavender
There are a few names for English lavender including common lavender and its scientific name, Lavandula angustifolia. Contrary to its more usual name, it’s not native to the British Isles and actually comes from the Mediterranean and the middle east. Places with long hot summers and wet winters. Even so, it thrives in Britain.
Did you know that there are 47 species of lavender? English lavender is just one of them. Within the species are over 40 different cultivars with flowers that range in color from light purple, to deep blue-purple, to pale pink. Some of the most popular varieties of lavender include:
- ‘Hidcote’, a compact dwarf variety with deep purple flowers
- ‘Little Lottie’, grey-green foliage and pale pink flowers
- ‘Vera’, an old-fashioned variety with dark lavender-blue flowers
- ‘Munstead’, a loose light purple flower that was Gertrude Jekyll’s favorite
However, most of the time you’ll find English lavender listed as just that without a cultivar name. It’s a little frustrating if you want to know the cultivar but I have several in my garden that are ‘nameless’. I’m happy with them and have even propagated them on to create new plants.
English lavender growing guide
- Zones 5-8
- Full sun
- Well drained neutral to alkaline soil
- Does not like wet feet or humidity
- Plant height 1-3 feet with a 1-5 foot spread
- Flowers in mid to late summer
Growing English Lavender
You can grow English lavender very easily as long as you provide it with the right soil and situation. It likes planting in a sunny place in free-draining soil with an alkaline pH. Because of this, you’ll often see it growing very happily in poor chalky soil.
If your soil is more acidic you can amend the site with garden lime to bring up the pH. English lavender also prefers being on the drier side so make sure it has plenty of drainage. If you have heavy soil, it’s recommended to plant your lavender in spring along a free-draining ridge. You create this by adding compost, gravel, and stones to the soil and drawing it up.
It grows well in arid climates and prefers dry feet to wet. In fact, it can fail to thrive if it’s watered too much. Humidity is also a downer for English lavender and although it does well in hot climates, it won’t do well in humid ones.
Though some varieties of lavender can be less hardy, English Lavender can withstand very cold winter temperatures. That makes it a hardy evergreen perennial that will grow in zones 5 and above. You can see it growing in gardens from the American mid-west to Great Britain.
Planting English Lavender
When planting standard sized lavender varieties, space the a foot apart to create a hedge and three feet apart for an airier planting. If you’re planting dwarf types, you can place them a little closer together.
Begin pruning the plants in their second year to maintain vigor and shape. After flowering, cut the spent flower stalks down and shape the plants. I also prune my plants in the spring just after they begin showing the first flush of new leaves. Run your fingers along a stem until you come to the first of these fresh new leaves. Cut just above it. Also take off any stems or branches that appear dead.
Propagating Lavender from cuttings
From experience I know that lavender can successfully be grown from seed. However, it’s much easier and quicker to increase your plants by propagation. This involves encouraging pieces of a parent plant to grow its own roots.
Propagating lavender is most successful when using semi-ripe cuttings from the current year’s growth. Lavender easily takes root so it’s an economical way to create more plants for free.
Growing lavender in containers
Since lavender prefers drier conditions, it’s very happy growing in pots. Breathable terracotta pots with a 12-18” diameters are best. Grow English lavender in a free-draining mixture that incorporates one-part vermiculite or grit with two parts multi-purpose compost. Top dress with grit.
You can optionally feed with an organic slow-release feed in the summer after the first couple of years. It probably won’t need it but if it’s looking sad it may be that it needs a little something extra. Rule out that you’re not over-watering it though first.
When growing in pots, keep English lavender watered through the warmer months but drier in the winter. Remember that it doesn’t like wet feet and cooler temperatures aren’t conducive to evaporating the excess off. If you have a greenhouse place your potted lavender inside for the winter. They’ll be happier for the slightly warmer temperature.
Another thing to take into consideration is that English lavender doesn’t thrive indoors. It’s better to place your potted plants in the garden, on your balcony, or grow them in a window box. When you grow lavender for skincare recipes having it in a pot can be an ideal solution.
Harvesting lavender flowers
Harvest lavender flowers in the summer just before the buds open. They’ll have more of their aromatic oils intact on a fine, dry morning so pick them before the sun gets too high. When cutting, trim the stems just above where the plant’s main green foliage begins.
Tie the stems into bunches about ¾-1” in diameter and hang in a cool, dark, and dry place. They should be fully dried within two weeks. Lavender loses its color in the sunlight so be aware of this while drying it or infusing the buds into oil.
When fully dry, run your fingers down the stem and pull off the buds. Store them in a bag or jar in a cool, dim place, for up to a year. They can still be usable after that point depending on how you’ve stored them. Make a call on using them based on whether they have decent color and scent still.
Once you’ve dried English lavender, you have time to use it over the year for all manner of projects.
If you’re interested in making lavender essential oil then you’ll need to invest in a still. The way it works is that the fresh or dried flowers are steamed and then the lavender saturated steam is condensed into an aromatic liquid. As mentioned previously, it takes three pounds of lavender buds to create one small bottle of lavender essential oil.
Other projects are easier, quicker, and less expensive. Have a browse of my lavender ideas:
- Honey & Lavender soap recipe
- Vanilla Lavender Lip Balm
- How to make Rose, Lavender, & Oatmeal Bath Bombs
- Lavender & Honey soap-less face cleanser
- More lavender ideas