Lavender Flowers: How to Grow and Use this Versatile Herb
Discover the beauty and usefulness of lavender flowers and learn to grow your own. Lavender plants, once established, will bloom year after year, attracting pollinators to your garden and producing a useful material for crafts, cooking and more.
Grow lavender and you’ll be raising a plant that’s beautiful and useful for the flowers and beyond. Lavender's purple blooms bring beauty to the garden and vase, and they’re also a terrific addition to all kinds of craft projects and kitchen dishes. Lavender flowers are prolific and easy to grow, and harvesting them for various uses is a snap.
A mature lavender plant can produce up to 1,000 lavender flowers. So each plant you tuck into your garden can provide an ample supply of blooms for a multitude of uses. Lavender flowers open in a spike comprised of tiny individual blooms. Small bracts cradle the base of the blooms.
How to Grow Lavender Flowers
In Zones 3 to 7, plant lavender in spring after all danger of frost has passed. If you must plant in fall, do so at least eight weeks before the average frost date. In Zones 8 and warmer, planting lavender can be done in spring or fall.
Grow lavender in a spot that receives six or more hours of direct sun. Lavender is native to the Western Mediterranean, which offers plenty of heat and sun. You can amplify the heat plants receive by using a stone mulch or tucking lavender into planting areas near surfaces that radiate heat, like a stone wall, driveway or south-facing building wall.
Give lavender enough elbow room to accommodate flowers. Ideally, try to space plants as far apart as they’ll grow tall. Lavender needs good air circulation to grow at its best.
This flowering plant has a rich history and there are a plethora of ways to utilize lavender, from cooking to keeping bugs away.
Plant into mounds of soil 18 to 24 inches tall. This provides the sharp drainage that lavender demands, and it also helps in situations where native soil is clay, which doesn’t drain well. Mix sharp sand or small limestone fines (very finely crushed limestone) into soil to enhance drainage.
Pruning is key to successfully growing lavender. Prune lavender after it flowers. Most commercial lavender growers prune their plants after flowering in late summer or early fall. Pruning lavender slows down the process of green stems converting to wood, which helps maintain plant shape and flower numbers.
How to Use Lavender in Your Garden
In the garden, lavender flowers stage a long-lasting show each summer. The purple blooms beckon all kinds of pollinators, including bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. A host of beneficial insects also visit flowers, making lavender plants an ideal addition to a wildlife or butterfly garden.
Consider lavender flowers in a xeriscape garden design. Established plants are relatively drought-tolerant and do best when they don’t receive supplemental watering (except in times of severe drought). When it’s in flower and out, lavender has a strong architectural shape that suits modern, geometric garden designs. Surround your plants with gravel to enhance the modern ambience.
Lavender is a natural fit in a cutting garden. Lavender plants achieve their peak bloom usually during their third growing year.
Types of Lavender
English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is probably the most famous and familiar types of lavender. Mounding plants grow roughly 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. Sweetly scented ‘Hidcote’ English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’) is well known for its deep purple blossoms. It makes a great choice for edging walkways or garden beds and the fragrant flowers also make this a tasy edible lavender.
‘Munstead’ English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’) is another well-known type of lavender. It boasts the trait of better heat tolerance than other English lavender varieties.
‘Grosso’ lavender flowers(Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’) are favorites for drying and crafting because the bracts are purple, creating an even more intense lavender flower.
2013, Taken from "Seeing Flowers" by Teri Dunn Chace. Photography by Robert Llewellyn. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
The blooms of Lavandula stoechas, a Spanish lavender, make beautiful and unusual cut flowers.
Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) has unusual blooms. The flower spikes are stouter than English lavender and petals stand upright, creating a flag effect. These lavender flowers are favorites in the garden and vase.
Lavender flowers that work well in the kitchen include ‘Provence’ lavender (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’), which makes a nice addition to Herbes de Provence spice blends. English lavenders bring a sweetly floral flavor to desserts, and ‘Hidcote’ English lavender adds a rich fruity taste. English lavenders ‘Rosea’ (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Rosea’) and ‘White Ice’ (Lavandula angustifolia ‘White Ice’) bring sweet, candy-like flavors to cakes and cookies.
Using Lavender Flowers in Bouquets
To harvest lavender flowers for bouquets or drying, cut stems when roughly three-quarters of the individual buds on a flower spike are open. When that many blossoms are open, you should see a few of the lower buds open, too. This is an ideal time to harvest lavender flowers because the essential oil concentrations are highest, which means you’ll have a rich fragrance from the blooms.
Dry lavender flowers by gathering them into bunches and hanging them upside down in a dry, dark, warm place. Or arrange lavender flowers upright in a vase without water. With either method, drying time depends on relative humidity, but you should have dried lavender flowers in 7 to 14 days.
If you’re harvesting lavender flowers for cooking, choose ones that are fresh and fully open. Avoid picking blooms that are spent and dried up. These tiny dried up flowers can resemble insects in dishes. Use lavender flowers fresh, dried or fresh frozen in desserts, meat rubs, beverages or marinades.
Use lavender to add some savory flavor to meat marinades or rubs, or substitute lavender for rosemary in entrees or vegetable dishes. When pruning lavender, toss stems onto hot grill coals to infuse meat and veggies with a delicious, smoky, herbal flavor.