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Grow Lavender!

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Oh, my aching muscles...

Grow Lavender: Fragrant, beautiful and tough!
By Mary Gutierrez

Whether you're a novice gardener or a seasoned pro, lavender will make it look like you know what you're doing. It's evergreen, pest- and disease-free and fragrant. I'll take a dozen!

This small aromatic shrub with grey-green leaves has-usually-lavender colored flowers, although some varieties produce yellow, white, pink or blue flowers. Plants vary in height from as low as six inches up to three feet tall.

It's versatile, too. Lavender can be used as a low hedge or border plant. It can be mixed among perennial flowers and other shrubs in the garden. Lavender is most useful in hot, sunny spots where it will thrive.

In our climate, lavender can look a little bedraggled in winter. It hunkers down and waits for the rain to stop. To ensure that your plant survives until spring, the soil must drain well. If you have soil that drains slowly, amend with gravel and mound the soil a bit above grade. Make it impossible for water to stand in the root zone.

While it makes an excellent landscape plant, some people grow it for flower and essential oil production.

Flower Production

If you grow lavender for flower production, fertilize twice a year, first in late winter when dormancy breaks and again in July after the blooming season. Lavender, along with most of the herbs, loves well-rotted manure. When putting organic matter around lavender, keep the material away from wood to prevent stem rot. In addition, add lime once a year. Amending soil and fertilizing are important for the most abundant flower production.

Watering

Although lavender is drought tolerant, flower and oil production can be affected by soil moisture. If the plants are stressed from lack of water the stem length and flower size with be reduced. If the soil is well-drained and fertile, flowering and growth will be enhanced.

Pruning

After flowering is done, shear lavender plants. Don't take off more than half of the length of the foliage, as the plant needs to be able to photosynthesize and maintain sufficient energy stores. Groom plants lightly in late winter, at the same time as you fertilize.

Harvesting

Lavender is harvested at different times for different uses. For dried flower production the crop is picked selectively and harvested when the flowers have several of the florets open on the flower head. For oil production, harvest when approximately one-third of the florets are open, one-third is withered and one-third are still buds. Allow flowers to dehydrate for a few days before distilling the oil.

Propagation

Named lavender varieties should be propagated by cuttings. Mid-spring and late summer are the best times to take softwood cuttings. Place treated cuttings in heated beds at around 70 F. Keep the soil moist and roots should develop in four to six weeks.

Lavender is an essential element of a fragrant garden. Plant it in front of your old garden roses for the ultimate scented garden.

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