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Doreen Fogle: Prune lavender correctly for prettier plants, more flowers

Doreen Fogle
Columnist

Everyone loves lavender. Whether it’s the purple flowers, the fragrance, or the images of a lavender harvest on a French country farm, lavender has an allure.

It’s also a great landscape plant for us in dry summer regions. Coming from the Mediterranean, it’s an excellent choice for low-water-use landscaping.

It tolerates ordinary soils, just some compost mulch will do. It’s deer resistant. And it’s a feast for many, many pollinators!

It’s a high benefit, low maintenance plant overall. Except it needs proper pruning to look it’s best, and that even promotes more flowering to bring you a second round of flowers.

Summer uglies

I see so many lavender plants that don’t get proper pruning, and that makes them ugly from mid-summer through till their winter pruning. These plants should be maintained to stay beautiful as a landscape plant and it could result in more flowering. But timing is a must.

The lavender types I’m talking about here are the English lavenders and the French hybrid lavenders. The English include the ‘Munstead’ and ‘Hidcote’ varieties, and the French hybrids include ‘Provence’ and ‘Grosso’ (my favorite). Both types have taller, more upright flower stems. I’m not talking about Spanish lavender here.

Pruning twice a year will pay off in a nicely shaped landscape asset.

First pruning

Exactly when you harvest your lavender will depend on what you want to do with the flowers. I’ll discuss the options below.

First, let’s look at how to harvest. Grab a bundle of flower stems and cut them at the bottom of the stems. Cut just below the foliage level where the stems emerge above the foliage.

If the plant looks ragged at the end, even it up with hedging shears, all around the plant. This will shape it up nicely. My tool of choice is manual hedging shears. I think they give a cleaner cut. Cut just a tad into the foliage below the cut stems. Flowers that you can’t use can go into the compost.

What you’ll have is a sheared lavender, looking a little raw on the surface. But it will grow back nicely and quickly, and the plant will have a nice shape.

If you don’t do this, the stems dry up and fade, looking dead later in the summer. It’s not attractive! And, if your lavender puts out some more flowers it will be mixed with the dead stems and difficult to cut for a bouquet.

Harvesting flowers

You have a few purposes to harvest for. You can harvest for dried buds for herbal use, fresh flower use, and dried flowers. Each one has slightly different timing.

1. Dried flower buds

For dried flower buds for herbal use and for sachets and potpourris, harvest just as the first few buds open and there is color in all the buds. This way you’ll capture the buds at peak oil content, which is what you’re after. The stems will wilt if your dry them upright at this point, so tie them in bundles and hang upside down in a cool, darkish, airy spot. Or lay them on a screen. I’ve used simple nursery flats for a screen. When the buds are completely dry, rub them off the stems and store them in a sealed jar in a dark spot.

2. Fresh flowers:

For bouquets, start harvesting when the buds have begun to open. Up till they’ve all opened. This is when the stems are thicker.

3. Dried flowers:

Dried flower stems are nice for lavender bundles and to mix with other dried flowers. I find it best to harvest when more than half the flower buds have opened. This is when the stem is strongest and thickest and it lets the flowers stand up with no water and no wilting. You can cut them and stand them up in a vase to dry.

Cut all flowers off to complete the first pruning.

What about the bees?

Bees are one of the wonderful things about lavender. It feeds many of them and many kinds of bees, especially the native bees that are powerhouse pollinators.

But I’m asking you to keep your landscape lavender plants harvested at the right times — when they are in flower. So there will be bees.

First of all, I’ve harvested lots and lots of lavender full of buzzing bees and I have never been stung by them. The native bees, especially, are not at all aggressive. They’re all so busy, and happy, that they don’t notice or care that you’re cutting the flowers.

But if you’re allergic to bee stings then you want to take precautions. So you can harvest very early in the morning or late in the evening when bee activity is quiet. Or, have someone else do it for you. And if you want to keep the flowers for the bees, wait till the end of the bloom and then do the flower harvest pruning.

Second pruning

In late winter, before any new growth has started, cut back the foliage a little harder this time. Cut just a one or two inches deeper than the summer pruning. Don’t cut too far into the wood because they don’t recover well. Shape them well and they’re ready for a pretty summer bloom.

Plant a hedge of lavender

If you want a lavender hedge, place the plants closer together. I think it’s best to plant with a six to eight inch overlap of their mature width. That means to plant a ‘Grossso’ lavender hedge, and ‘Grosso’ gets up to 36 inches wide, you’d plant them 28-30 inches apart, measuring from the centers.

To prune your hedge, skip the deeper planting on the inside edges between the plants and go a little harder on the outside edges as it grows. This will let them grow together faster and overlap for a hedge.

So, please, harvest your lavender during bloom or at least immediately after

Those fading, drying flowers on the plant do not look good, trust me. What does look good is a nicely shaped lavender plant with some new growth and new flowers coming out through the rest of the summer and fall.

For more on lavender growing and harvesting and other cutting flowers check out my website, growyourflowers.com.

Doreen Fogle is a landscape designer and writer in Nevada County. More of her articles can be found on her website mydelightfulgardens.com and she can be reached at mydelightfulgardens@gmail.com.


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