What Is Lavender?

Learn about lavender plants and whether or not these fragrant herbs are right for your garden.
Lavender Elegance

Lavender Elegance

Lavender 'Elegance'

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Lavender 'Elegance'

What is lavender? It’s a perennial herb that’s native to the Western Mediterranean region. Different types of lavender plants are hardy in different zones, but most lavender is hardy in Zones 5 to 11. This herb’s heritage as a Mediterranean native gives a clue about the kind of growing conditions lavender plants crave.  

For healthy lavender plants, start with a sunny spot because lavender loves heat. You can raise the temperature around lavender plants by using a stone mulch. This type of mulch is especially helpful in regions with humid summers. Lavender plants don’t thrive in high humidity, and a rock mulch can help reduce humidity beneath plants because water evaporates more quickly from the warm stones.  

In the garden, give lavender plants plenty of elbow room. Lavender plants need good air circulation to maintain healthy leaves. A good rule of thumb is to space lavender plants as far apart as they’ll grow tall. This ensures ample air circulation between plants. This type of spacing, coupled with the way that lavender plants need to be pruned, makes stone mulch not just a helpful growing aid but a way of adding quiet beauty to the landscape.  

Tuck lavender plants into well-drained, lean soil for best growth. Lavender plants prefer slightly alkaline soil. Many gardeners enhance drainage by planting lavender into raised soil mounds 12 to 24 inches tall. To improve alkalinity, consider adding crushed oyster shell or limestone fines into planting beds. Many commercial lavender growers add a mixture of equal parts of agricultural lime, bone meal and compost into planting holes. Use one-half cup of the mixture per planting hole.

Lavender plants reward with pretty gray-green leaves that are packed with a refreshing scent. The fragrance that lavender plants offer is sweetly spicy and clean. Flowers also bear the same perfume. Lavender plants most often open purple blooms—that’s their signature blossom. But you can find different types of lavender that have pink or white flowers.  

Pick lavender blooms to use in fresh bouquets or to dry. Drying lavender is one of the easiest floral projects you’ll undertake. You can dry lavender flower heads by standing them upright in a vase without water. They’ll slowly dry while scenting your room with classic lavender perfume. Or you can bundle flower stems together using rubber bands, and hang them upside down in a dry, dark, warm spot to dry. With either method, you should have dried lavender in about two weeks.  

Use dried lavender to make lavender bouquets or lavender wreaths. Or you can separate lavender buds and blooms from the flower heads and use them to make sachets or potpourri. Lavender buds also make a terrific addition to handmade soaps or candles.  

Lavender flowers and young leaves are edible. They infuse a sweetly herbal flavor into desserts, beverages, sauces and marinades. Lavender can stand in for rosemary in recipes. Use twice as much lavender as rosemary.

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