These questions will hopefully guide you to making the most of your lavender plants and products! Answered by our own Dan McGavin, caretaker of our lovely gardens.
- How can I best take care of my own lavender plant? Potted? On the ground? The answer to this question is going to be short because books can be written on the subject. Let me mention soil conditions, watering, and weather. First, soil type. Think about where lavender was “discovered” first. It grows naturally in the high desert plateau of the Mediterranian region, in all the countries surrounding the Mediterranian sea. Typical of all these regions is a very rocky soil. It is not the rich, dark, mulchy, peaty solid we are tempted to put our new baby lavender into. Please don’t give in to temptation. Grow lavender tin well-drained soil, soil that does not hold water. Sand, pea gravel, anything that allows the roots to stay dry after the water has fed them. If the roots stay wet, the roots will rot and your plant will die a slow death! Next is watering. Again, think of the conditions around the Mediterranian where lavender grows naturally. It;s called a high dessert for a reason. It doesn’t rain often. So, you want to water your plant enough to be sure it is attached to the ground and it is growing, but after that, wait. Let the plant tell you when to water by flower heads drooping or a dried branch that is turning to straw. That leaves only whether to consider. In this case, I am referring to seasonal watering and feeding. Watering (and even a 10-10-10 fertilizer) should be done in the spring and at mid summer.
- What is the best lavender to cook with? Cook with English lavender only. Varieties like Folgate, Buena Vista, Violet Intrigue, Munstead, and Hidcote are some examples. Lavender tate is ten times as strong as the lavender smell, so if you like the smell, and it doesn’t smell of camphor (think Vicks Vaporub or eucalyptus), it’s ok to cook with it. Bewarned, it is easy to use too much lavender. It is easy to overpower a dish and ruin a perfectly fine recipe. One more thing, the leaves of lavender look a bit like rosemary and can be used in the same way.
- What can I cook with my lavender? Should I dry it first? I don’t know the answer to this question. It depends, is the real answer. Do you like baking? infusing liquids? Grilling? All are possible. Perhaps the easiest is infusing. We have all made sun-tea by placing a container with tea in it in the sun and, after a few hours, made tea. Likewise with any other liquid and lavender. Make lemonade. Then place a handful of lavender sprigs in a container, seal it from the elements, and put let the sun do its work for a few hours, and viola, lavender lemonade. English lavender leaves look like rosemary and can be used the same way. The flowers are quite strong so be careful not to use too many. When baking, lemon and lavender are great together, like lemon lavender sugar cookies, of short-cake or scones, you get the idea. …..
- How can I dry my lavender? Lavender has two harvest times: 1) when the small flowers on the plant are only ⅓ open. At this stage the flowers are stuck to the stem and when dry, will stay on the stem. These make the best dry flower arrangements. 2) The flowers have opened and are now closed back up again.There is tan colored end to each flower, if you look closely. Flowers dried in this condition will eventually fall off the stem, which is what all flowers do when they have seeded, no surprise really. Flowers like this can be used loosely for potpourri or put in small sachet bags or handkerchiefs tied with ribbon. Put these in your sock or underwear drawer! Back to your original question: How to actually dry them. Rubberband the fresh bouquet and using a paperclip or a wire clothes hanger, find a spot in a dark room or closet in the open air, and leave them for two weeks. They should be dry then. Sunlight will drain the flowers of all color, so be careful where you hang them or display them as dried flowers.
- Can lavender grow with other herbs? Lavender loves very porous soil that drains the water quickly through and away from the plant roots. Lavender does not like to be overwatered. There are many herbs that, if planted in the same soil, and have the same water requirements, will grow well. Some examples are rosemary, sage, basil, oregano, thyme
- Is lavender toxic to humans or animals? It can be toxic to some people, especially if lavender oil is placed on the skin directly. Oil is powerful and the best way to try it is a small skin test with oil. Allergies show up as a skin rash. All of our products like skin lotion, bed and linen spray, and lavendr rollerballs, follow the FDA guidelines to have no more than 12% pure oil in any container. The oil is sufficiently strong to do its job safely. Breathing in the oil through diffused air can lead to asthma-like symptoms in some people because of the VOC’s released by diffusers.
- How long does dried lavender last? Fried lavender will last until you dispose of it. If it is in a sachet and doesn’t smell, squeeze it a few times and the residual oil will resurface and, like magic, it will smell wonderful. If the dried lavender is used for food, in its dried form, it's good for well over a year. As a dried bouquet, lavender can last forever, if the lavender was harvested before the flowers have closed after blooming. In this case, the worst that will happen is the flowers will fall off teh stem and you can use them for potpourri, sachets, or food.
- Does lavender oil go bad? No, if it is kept in a dark colored ceramic or glass. Direct sunlight can break down the oils.
- What is the difference between French and English lavender? See the answer to number 13.
- Where do your products come from? We are proud to have two great suppliers, a small lavender farm called “Lavender Hill” farm with a long history of using cuttings from her plants to grow new plants for others. Martha, one of the owners, is very knowledgeable and experienced at growing lavender. Our other supplier is Hortech, an earth-friendly flower of perennials, ground covers, ferns, vines and grasses. They are a wholesale grower only. Both give their new-growth the right amount of sun and water, and both use the best growing medium for lavender.
- When does lavender bloom? In general, lavender blooms between mid-June to mid-August. Lavender also blooms at different times for different varieties. The first to bloom is English “Folgae” in early June, followed by both English “Buena Vista” and “Violet Intrigue,” both of which may have a small second blooming in September. The last to bloom in early August is “Grosso” or “Gros Blue.” Grosso is the smell of French region of ______
- What types of lavender do you have on the farm? We have examples of the two main lavender plants that grow in zone 5: English lavender and French lavender. Lavender called “English: are hybridized to grow in our climate, but are missing the chemical called camphor. English lavender of all varieties can be used for cooking. We have three English lavenders: Violet Intrigue, Folgate, and Buena Vista. French lavender is a little more gray, grows on long spikes, and is used for perfume. The undersmell of camphor along with the other natural ingredients in lavender make it smell divine. We have a hybrid French lavender called “Grosso”
- Does lavender attract bugs? In general, lavender is bug free. The ground around the plant may contain insects, but in terms of insects that destroy the plant itself, not many bugs to worry about. The scent of the avenger seems to be repellent to mosquitoes, flies and other flying pests. In the arms of the 18th and 19th centuries,before the invention of screens, (or if you are in the UK, even now) lavender was put on the window-ledge of open windows to keep bugs out while allowing the fresh air in.
--In terms of bugs that land in your garden and cause problems, there is a short list:
- Spittle bugs: these are spring insects that secret a protective layer of bubbles, creating a nest for baby insects of the same kind. They do eat the foliage but the damage is minimal. They are not easy to control (spray them with water), but they do come back/ The good news is that they only lst a couple of weeks and then they are gone.
-Grasshoppers: In later summer, if grasshoppers cannot find grass to eat, they will chew on the lavender plant. They can cause damage. There is no way to kill grasshoppers since they are so mobile. As they say, the best offence is a good defense. In mid summer, especially after the plant has flowered, do what you can to water/fertilize lavender to restart vigorous growth. You can't do much to prevent the grasshoppers from eating the plant, and they may be around for 2-3 weeks, but once they are gone, you want a live plant to restart rather than a dead one
-Phytophthora: Lavender does have an enemy in this fungus-like critter. If your crop is infected when you transplant lavender into the ground, this pest can kill your crop and spoil your land for growing lavender. It's scary. The good news is that poor watering practices when the plants are in the initial stages of growth is the most likely way to acquire this pest. For this reason, know who you are buying the plant from. Reputable plant wholesale growers are well-known to nursery people. They can steer you in the right direction. University agricultural extension services can test for phytophthora, if you see plants turning brown for no reason.
-Whiteflies and Aphids: While neither of these will likely cill the lavender plant, and they can’t be killed using commercial insecticide, aphids in particular can bring in Alfalfa Mosaic Virus, which will cause new growth to turn yellow and make the plant unhealthy. Putting down a reflective layer or aluminum foil at the base of the plant will keep the population down. If the plant is harmed from these conditions, it is best to trim away injured portions or burn the plant and start over. Here is some good news. Aphids and whiteflies can be controlled with a predatory ladybug, namely Delphastus Pusillus.
These are diseases and bug-induced conditions that apply more to the commercial grower than to any homeowner, but I wanted you to get the whole picture.