Few fragrances are as calming as lavender—and few herbs are as pretty. With its frosted, pale-green leaves and vivid purple flowers, lavender is a must for any home herb garden, especially in stressful times like these.
Lavender (Lavandula), a genus of the mint family, includes more than 40 different species. Two of the most common varieties of this woody herb are French lavender (Lavandula stoechas) and English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). Both feature stems tipped with tiny, fragrant flowers ranging from pale to deep purple.
Lavender has long been used in aromatherapy for promoting relaxation and even concentration.
Best Growing Conditions for Lavender
Choose a spot with full sun to keep your lavender plant. While a very bright, sunny south-facing kitchen windowsill could work for an indoor plant, your lavender will grow best outdoors on your patio, deck, porch, or fire escape. If you live in a particularly hot climate, finding a spot with afternoon shade—or moving your plant to a shadier spot during the hottest part of the day—may be beneficial.
Plant your lavender in a well-draining soil mix formulated for growing vegetables in containers. When transplanting your lavender, make sure that the top of the plant’s root ball is at the same level as the soil line in the new pot. Unlike some herbs and vegetables, lavender grows better in less-fertile soils than in particularly rich soils, so avoid adding compost or fertilizer to the mix before planting.
How to Care for Your Lavender Plant
Unlike soft herbs like basil or parsley, lavender is pretty tolerant of dry conditions once it’s established. Overwatering can stress lavender plants, so be sure to go longer without watering your lavender plant than you might with less hardy specimens.
When your lavender flowers in summer, you can cut off the green stems tipped with fragrant purple blossoms, which will help promote a second bloom later in the season. The blooms can be used decoratively in bouquets with other flowers or dried for year-round use. You can also use them to scent homemade sachets or eye pillows, or cook with them in desserts.
Because lavender grows so well in soils with medium to low fertility, it's not necessary to fertilize your lavender plant.
After you’ve had your lavender plant for a few years, prune it back each spring, removing about a third of the foliage. This will stimulate the plant to grow full and create more flowers during the growing season.
How to Propagate Your Lavender Plant
Lavender plants can be propagated by rooting cuttings. Both hardwood cuttings (the thick, woody stems of the plant) and softwood cuttings (the young, green shoots at the ends of the branches) can be used, although softwood cuttings are easiest to propagate in spring. However, softwood cuttings will root a little more quickly than hardwood cuttings will.
You’ll have the most success rooting lavender cuttings when the plant isn’t in bloom, since it’s putting its energy towards making more flowers during that time. To propagate lavender, you’ll need a healthy mother plant, pruners, a knife, small containers, soilless rooting medium, a clear plastic bag large enough to contain the small containers, and optional rooting hormone.
Step 1: Prepare the pots with the soilless medium and water it until it’s moist. Identify a few straight, healthy-looking cuttings (softwood or hardwood) with lots of vigorous growth. Make sure that the cuttings don’t contain any blooms.
Step 2: Cut four-inch stems from the mother plant. For hardwood cuttings, take care to make the cut just below a growth node.
Step 3: Trim off the leaves on the bottom two inches of the cutting. Using a knife, gently scrape the bark from the bottom half-inch or so of each stem. Dip the stripped end of the stem in rooting hormone powder, if using.
Step 4: Plant the cuttings in the growing medium about two inches deep. Enclose the container in the clear plastic bag, which will create a humid environment for the cuttings.
Step 5: Keep the cuttings in a warm place with lots of bright light, and water when the top inch or so of the soil is dry. Every few weeks, tug carefully on the cutting to see if any roots have formed. Once the roots have formed, you can remove the plastic.
Step 6: Feed the cuttings with houseplant fertilizer diluted to one-quarter strength once per week. You can transplant the cutting into a larger container two to four weeks after the roots have established.