Caring for your lavender plants in New England
Lavender is a perennial herb that will live for 15 years or more if properly cared for.
Step One: prepare the planting site
Before you plant, know your zone and plant lavender suitable for your area (usually zone 5-6 in New England). In New England, plant lavender from May until late September in a location with full sun and well-drained soil. The soil should be at a pH of 6.5 to 7.5 (neutral to alkaline). If needed, amend soil with lime to reach proper pH. Lavender roots are 8-12 inches deep and will rot if the soil does not drain properly. Consider planting lavender on a garden slope. If you have clay soil it’s best to amend the soil with organic material and pea gravel to promote good drainage. Water twice a week until roots are fully established (about 2-3 weeks in most cases). Do not over water.
Step two: harvesting
Lavender will take up to three years to fully mature, but in most cases you will see some blooms the first year. You may start to harvest when the first buds opens into a flower. Cut the stem to right above the first or second leaf structure. Never cut into the woody stem. It is best to harvest lavender first thing in the morning, when temperatures are cooler, fragrance is at its peak, and the honey bees are less active. If you decide to harvest the lavender, some varieties will produce a second harvest in August/September, however the second harvest will not be as abundant as the first.
Step three: drying lavender
As with all lavender, never place in water. Lay flat or hang upside down to dry in a climate controlled well air circulated area and out of direct sunlight. In New England, we can have summers filled with humidity, which may cause lavender to mildew, if not cared for properly. For best color and fragrance, keep lavender away from direct sunlight.
Step four: pruning in fall
Pruning lavender prevents woodiness and encourages new growth in your plant. In late September/early October, trim your lavender plant back by one-third. Never cut into the woody stem.
Step five: pruning in spring
Our New England winters can take a toll on many plants. In most cases, snow cover will properly protect lavender plants, but as in the winter of 2017-18, we experienced several days of -20 degree wind chills and an inch of freezing rain, which can take its toll on any plant. Better known as “winter burn”, lavender may appear dead during spring thaw, but have faith, and wait until mid-May to prune any dead leaves from your lavender plants. After an exceptionally harsh winter, it may appear dead, but the new silvery sage growth will start to appear in May.
Enjoy the harvest!
Culinary lavender (Munstead or Hidcote) can be used in desserts or in seasoning savory dishes!
Decorative lavender (Provence or Grosso) is best used in sachets.