English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), with its aromatic leaves and flowers, is often considered an herb, but it is actually an herbaceous perennial with a semi-woody growth habit. A member of the mint family, it is often grown to produce leaves and flowers to dry for sachets and potpourris, but it is also a very attractive garden plant with vibrant purple flowers.
This plant is typically 2 to 3 feet tall, with narrow, gray-green leaves (to 2 1/2 inches long) on square stems. The bluish-purple flowers appear in late spring to early summer. In warmer climates, the leaves may be evergreen.
Lavender is best started with small plants (rather than seeds) planted in spring. It has a moderately slow growth rate and gets a little bigger each year, as its woody base gradually expands, and new growth extends several inches during the warm season, but it should be actively pruned for overall shape and neatness.
|Botanical Name||Lavandula angustifolia|
|Common Name||English lavender|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous flowering perennial|
|Mature Size||2 to 3 feet tall, 2 to 4 feet wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Dry to medium, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral (6.7 to 7.3)|
|Flower Color||Blue to purple|
|Hardiness Zones||5 to 8 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to dogs, cats, horses|
How to Plant English Lavender
Plant English lavender with a spacing of 1 to 3 feet. Once the plants are well established, in their second season and beyond, it's usually best to prune the new spring growth after the plants leaf out, cutting about one-third of the green stalks. Shearing the plants to about eight inches from the ground in early spring, once every three years, helps to control the plants' size and promotes new growth. At the northern edge of the hardiness range, these plants should be protected over winter with a thick layer of mulch until spring.
English lavender provides good mid-summer color to the garden and is often used in perennial borders and rock gardens as well as in herb gardens and scent gardens. Its intermediate height makes it just about right for the middle row in a decorative border comprised of shorter annual flowers in the front and taller shrubs or trees in the back. It also works well when massed and is sometimes used as a low hedge. This aromatic plant is very attractive to butterflies, and also has the advantage of repelling deer as well as cats.
English lavender is susceptible to leaf spot and root rot. Plants may not survive in winter if soils are not well-drained and/or if temperatures dip well below zero degrees without protective snow cover or mulch.
Watch Now: How to Prune Lavender Plants
English Lavender Care
Grow English lavender in full sun. Shady locations usually cause the plant to get leggy, with reduced flower production. In very hot climates, though, the plants respond well to some shade in the heat of the afternoon.
English lavender must be planted in a relatively sandy, well-drained soil; damp soils frequently cause root rot. Strive for a soil similar to its native Mediterranean region; adding organic material to the soil is not only unnecessary but may cause problems. To combat humidity problems, it is best to mulch them with rock or gravel rather than organic mulch.
Young plants should be watered well, but once established they are quite drought-tolerant and don't like too much water. Water mature plants as needed for your climate, increasing the frequency after flower buds form to promote a healthy harvest.
Temperature and Humidity
These plants grow best in conditions that are warm but not oppressively hot. They prefer relatively dry climates and respond poorly to high humidity.
Feeding is usually not necessary with English lavender.
Is English Lavender Toxic?
Lavender is mildly toxic to dogs, cats, and horses, due to the presence of linalool and linalyl acetate. According to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), ingestion can lead to nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite, but it does not cause vomiting in horses.
English Lavender Varieties
- Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote' is a lower variety (about 20 inches) with a mounded growth habit.
- L. angustifolia 'Hidcote Giant' is a larger version, achieving a height of 36 to 40 inches.
- L. angustifolia 'Munstead' is a short, 12-inch-tall variety with flowers that combine blue, lavender, pink, and purple.
- L. angustifolia 'Sarah' is a 6- to 24-inch tall cultivar with violet flowers.
- L. angustifolia 'Jean Davis' has light-pink flowers and grows to 20 to 24 inches.
English vs. French Lavender
The "French" variety of lavender (Lavandula stoechas) prefers a warmer climate and is not as cold-hardy as its English cousin. It is also somewhat more sensitive and less durable than English lavender. Because nursery labeling is sometimes imprecise, make sure you are buying true English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), especially if you live in the colder zones of the hardiness range.
Mention of this old favorite immediately brings to mind the use of its aromatic quality to lend a fragrance to linens, sachets, and potpourris. To dry this perennial plant, harvest the flowers just as they open, then hang them to dry in a dark room with plenty of ventilation. English lavender plants have also been used as a flavoring herb (for example, in cordials) and as a medicinal herb (for example, in aromatherapy for sleep).
Propagating English Lavender
Lavender is best propagated through stem cuttings. Cut 6-inch-long shoots, remove the lower leaves, dip the cut ends in rooting hormone, then plant them in a pot filled with potting soil or sand. Keep the cuttings in a part-shade location and water frequently until they are well rooted.