The scent of lavender holds so much emotion for so many herbalists and gardeners; the nostalgia of your grandmother's home, the revitalisation following a good night's sleep, the reminder of total relaxation. How to care for lavender is an art in itself.
This very special shrub is a mainstay in many herbal gardens because of its aromatic fragrance and pretty flowers — but lavender is so much more than decorative. With over 30 different species, the beloved plant's properties have long been revered by its devotees as stress relief and sleep aids. For these qualities, lavender has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years.
When you consider gardening has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol — the stress hormone — in various studies, it stands to reason that growing your own relaxing lavender sits at the sweet spot of stress-busting activities, both in the act itself and in the results. So, let’s learn how to care for lavender and start reaping the benefits.
How to Care for Lavender
How can you best grow and care for your lavender plant?
Lavender — particularly the hardy English variety — is a wonderful plant for green-fingered beginners, as it is relatively easy to grow and can be practically ignored once planted, save a bit of pruning. It's also suitable for urban gardening, as it can happily live in a plant pot.
But it is tough to grow from seed. For that reason, we'll look at how to care for an English lavender plant you have propagated or bought, ideally from a local nursery so it will suit your climate. Hardy or not, to give your lavender the best start in life, plant in spring when the danger of frost has passed.
Once you've found your plant, follow this simple 8-step planting and care guide:
- Choose a sunny, sheltered spot in your outdoor space — and remember, lavender likes dry, sandy, nutrient-poor soil with a pH level between 6.5 and 7.5
- Dig a hole just large enough to contain your lavender's roots
- If you're planting multiple lavender plants, dig your holes two feet apart to allow the room for growth and air circulation — as well as the bees!
- Toss a handful of small rocks into the hole to prevent root rot — lavender doesn't do well with wet roots so good drainage is key to the health of your plant
- Prune off any dead or decaying parts of the plant so its energy will be directed toward new growth, shaking excess soil from roots and removing any that are torn or damaged
- Nestle the plant's roots in the hole, fill with soil and pat down
- Once planted, water your lavender deeply, soaking the roots, but do so infrequently and only when the soil is dry
- Prune dead or dying shoots promptly all year round, making sure to avoid cutting back to the woody stems
The act of growing lavender will provide you with a great deal of enjoyment, a sense of achievement and self-care after spending time connecting with nature. There is no greater, nor simpler, pleasure than seeing your planting and care result in a flourishing life form.
How to Harvest Lavender
When it blooms, it's time to harvest your lavender plant. There are differing opinions as to when to begin the process, but you can start harvesting when the flower buds are swollen and the flowers are just beginning to open. It is recommended that you harvest in the morning hours, after the dew has evaporated, to take full advantage of the fragrance and concentration of oils.
Here's how to harvest your lavender:
- Cut the stems about 5cm above the wooden stem to avoid damaging the plant, using a pruner or harvesting knife
- Tie a bunch of stems no bigger than what you can hold in your hand (usually about 50 - 100 stems) together with string or a rubber band
- Rinse your lavender to remove dirt and pests and keep in fresh water until you’re ready to use it — this is especially important if you plan on eating the lavender
- To dry your lavender, hang your bunches upside down in a dark, dry place with good circulation for a few weeks, retying the bunches together as they shrink during the drying process
- Seal the dried lavender in an airtight container
- Store in a cool, dry place that won’t drop below freezing
While fresh lavender can be great for decorative purposes, it only lasts a few days, so it's important to understand how to care for lavender. However, your dried lavender will hold its scent and oils for months, meaning you’ve got a lot of time to plan what to do with your plant.
How to Use Dried Lavender
Here are some ideas for dried lavender:
- Sew lavender into sachets for sleep and relaxation
- Wear a lavender amulet, believed to deepen your spiritual connection to the universe
- Place a lavender wand in your wardrobe to keep clothes moth-free and smelling fresh
- Cook with the dried lavender — lavender cookies are particularly delicious
- Infuse dried lavender flower buds into your favourite oils for skincare and wellbeing
- Craft your lavender into a magical flower crown
- Create a lavender stick to be used in energy healing rituals
- Make a wreath, flower arrangement or potpourri for your home
- Cleanse with homemade lavender bath bombs, bath salts and soaps
- Relax with a lavender tea, which some say is great for sleep and nausea
Of course, there is a multitude of joys lavender can bring into your life, whether you have experienced its relaxing energy firsthand, the self-healing qualities which come with growing your own herb garden, or believe in lavender's magical powers of love, purification, and happiness.
While we ask you to please remember to consult your doctor in consideration of lavender use for medicinal purposes, if you take care of your lavender plant, there's no doubt it will take care of you.