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Lavender for your garden

Lavender is a delightful and useful garden plant. It can be used as a drought-tolerant low hedge, a specimen plant, a cut flower and an herb that provides a fragrant addition to many herbal projects. As garden ornamentals, lavenders have attractive gray-green foliage and eye-catching, long lasting blooms.

The name “lavender” comes from the Latin Lavare, meaning “to bathe.” Hence it has a strong association with cleansing, uch as in the bath or burning of incense to clean the air in places such as hospitals and public buildings.

In terms of its herbal uses, the flower can aid digestion, increase superficial blood circulation and has been used as an antidepressant. Lavender is also used as a natural sleep aid. It has a cool, relaxing scent and may be restorative when mentally or physically exhausted.

In culinary use, flowers from the English lavenders can be used in herbal teas, cookies, lavender ice cream, as a flavorful additional to wine and as a spice rub for beef and lamb.

Lavender’s most well-known uses, however, are in aromatherapy and for its fragrance in soaps, lotions, bath salts and potpourri.

Growing lavender

Lavenders can be grown from seed or cuttings taken in spring or fall. It is a perennial shrub that enjoys full sun, well-drained soil and low water. Space plants 1 to 2 feet apart. Depending on variety, they will reach 2 to 4 feet in height.

There are numerous varieties featuring different flower colors and heights. English varieties (Lavandula angustifolia) are considered number one for scent. French hybrid varieties (Lavandula x intermedia) such as ‘Provence’ or ‘Superior’ do well in the San Joaquin Valley. Spanish varieties (Lavandula stoechas) have a distinctive flower form. ‘Otto Quast’ is a UC Davis Arboretum All-Star selection.

Lavender is adapted to very well-drained soil and requires a pH of 6.5 to 7.5 to grow well. They will not tolerate wet, poorly drained soils. Irrigation, however, is needed in dry areas while the plants are being established.

Proper irrigation while the flower heads are developing is also very important, since water stress during this time may decrease the number of flowers and oil yield. Drip irrigation systems are recommended.
Lavender grows best in full sun in well-drained gravelly soils with low fertility.

Prune lavender as you harvest the flower stalks. Even if you are not planning to harvest the crop, the best time to prune is just after the plants have completed their flowering cycle.

Pest control

The most frequent problems associated with lavenders are related to root and crown rots, usually the result of too much water or poor drainage in heavy soils.

Lavender is not often bothered by insect pests, although they may occasionally attract spittlebugs. These insects are not usually a problem unless the plants are being grown for cut flowers and the spittle is in the flower heads.

— Information provided by UCCE Master Gardeners of Sacramento County and “Lavenders for California Gardens” by Pamela M. Geisel, UC Coop Farm Advisor, Fresno County and Carolyn L. Unruh, UC Coop staff writer, Fresno County.