Spice Up Your Life: A Beginners Guide to Growing Lavender

Do you enjoy cooking with fresh herbs or admiring them in your garden? If so, growing lavender at home could become your new favorite hobby. In this guide, we’ll delve into how to grow lavender in Central Florida, featuring varieties that thrive in the region, essential growing conditions, pest and disease management, and seasonality. 
“Young lavender” by Nawarona is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/?ref=openverse.

Commonly Grown Varieties  

Lavender is renowned for its calming scent and versatile uses. You may think lavender is ornamental, and while it is, it is also edible (you can even add it to homemade soaps, lotions, and perfumes)! These low maintenance plants offer an array of flavors and growth habits. There are 39 species of these flowering plants, but below are the ones that can tolerate the conditions in Central Florida: 
  • English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia):
    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-11
    • Growing Conditions: Full sun, well-draining soil
    • Uses: Ideal for culinary purposes, crafting sachets, and aromatherapy
    • Most difficult to grow in Central Florida due to the high temperatures and humidity in the summer season
  • French Lavender (Lavandula dentata):
    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-11
    • Growing Conditions: Full sun, sandy soil
    • Uses: Valued for its ornamental value, French lavender is perfect for borders and landscaping
    • Appropriate for Central Florida
  • Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas):
    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-11
    • Growing Conditions: Full sun, well-draining soil
    • Uses: Known for its unique pineapple-shaped blooms, Spanish lavender adds a pop of color to gardens and is suitable for culinary purposes
    • Best for Central Florida
  • ‘Phenomenal’ Lavender (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’)
    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9
    • Growing Conditions: Full sun, sandy soil, does well in humid enviroments
    • Uses: This lavender variety will bloom earlier than the others, attracting pollinators and is ideal for culinary purposes and crafting
  • Goodwin Creek Grey Lavender (Lavandula x ginginsii ‘Goodwin Creek Grey‘):
    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-11
    • Growing Conditions: Full sun, well-draining soil
    • Uses: This compact variety is prized for its silvery foliage and is perfect for culinary purposes, attracting pollinators, and edging pathways and borders.

      “Rosmaninho (Lavandula stoechas)” by Tiago J. G. Fernandes is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/?ref=openverse.

Growing Conditions

Did you know that lavender is a member of the mint family? This beloved herb originated in the Mediterranean region and has found its way to Florida gardens. Its slender stems and varying shades of flowers make it a charming addition to any garden, while its aromatic foliage adds a distinctive flavor to culinary creations. Pollinators love lavender too!
Fun fact: lavender is known to be one of the most popular plants to attract bees because they love the nectar and pollen it produces. You will also find butterflies and moths visiting the lavender plant for its sweet fragrance and bright color. To ensure successful lavender cultivation in Central Florida, it’s essential to provide the optimal growing conditions. 
“Young Living Lavender” by ka2rina is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/?ref=openverse.

Soil Preparation

If you don’t already know your soil conditions, a great place to start is with a soil test. UF/IFAS Extension provides Soil Testing Services that are affordable and available to the public. The results will provide valuable information about your soil’s pH, fertility levels, nutrient content, and how to amend your soil to achieve an optimal pH range for your garden.

Lavender thrives in well-draining, alkaline soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. It is sensitive to pH, so make sure your pH stays above 6. It does not like waterlogged soils. Once lavender is established, it will need minimal water. Water as needed and opt for a well draining soil. Allow lavender to dry out a bit between waterings. Water in the early morning so the heat of the day does not cause the water to evaporate before the plant absorbs it. In the summer, lavender that has been potted or grown in a raised bed will need more frequent waterings. 

Sunlight

Lavender requires full sun exposure to flourish. Plant lavender in a location where it will receive at least 6-8 hours of sunlight daily. In Central Florida’s hot subtropical climate, providing some afternoon shade can help prevent the plants from becoming stressed.

“Butterfly on lavender” by tanakawho is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/?ref=openverse.

Fertilization

Lavender is a low-maintenance herb that doesn’t require much fertilization. Amend the soil  with compost prior to planting to improve drainage and provide some nutrients. Excessive fertilization can lead to leggy growth and reduced fragrance. A nutrient-lean soil actually encourages a higher concentration of oils in your plant!

Pests and Diseases

While lavender is relatively resilient, it may encounter pests and diseases in Central Florida: 

Pests

Aphids: 
  • Control aphids by spraying plants with a strong stream of water or applying insecticidal soap as needed. Always follow the label instructions on the product you use to prevent plant injury.
Spider Mites: 
  • Monitor plants for signs of spider mite infestation, such as webbing and stippled leaves. Use insecticidal soap or neem oil to manage spider mites effectively. Always follow the label instructions on the product you use to prevent plant injury.

Diseases

Root Rot: 
  • Prevent root rot by ensuring proper soil drainage and avoiding over-watering. Plant lavender in raised beds or containers to improve drainage in Florida’s humid climate.

Leaf Spot

  • This common fungal disease leaves blemishes on the leaves. Prevent this disease by avoiding overhead irrigation, drainage, and air circulation. Prune infected leaves and consider fungicidal treatments, if necessary. Always follow the label instructions on the product you use to prevent plant injury.

Seasonality

Lavender is a resilient perennial herb that thrives in dry, low fertility soil. This herb blooms from June – August. But since this herb is native to the Mediterranean, it grows best in Florida’s cooler seasons. In the winter, protect the crowns with several inches of mulch. When the soil is wet and heavy in the winter, it could cause injury to your lavender plant.
Read more about protecting your veggies from the cold here.
“Blue Mountain Lavender Farm” by GaryPaulson is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/?ref=openverse.

Tips for the Floridian Gardener

Lavender is a perennial herb that thrives in Central Florida’s spring and summer seasons. To cultivate thriving lavender plants in Central Florida, consider the following tips: 
  • Water Wisely: Lavender has low water needs and is susceptible to root rot in soggy soil. Water plants deeply but infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. Most likely, lavender does not need supplemental irrigation with regular rainfall. 
  • Provide Air Circulation: Lavender does not like to be crowded. Space plants adequately and avoid overcrowding in planting beds. Plan ahead, depending on the variety of lavender you purchase, a small potted plant can grow into a shrub that is 3 ft. in diameter. Improve air circulation around lavender plants to prevent fungal diseases like powdery mildew. 
  • Mulch Moderately: Apply a thin layer of Florida – Friendly mulch around lavender plants to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Avoid mulch buildup around plant stems to prevent rotting.
“Lavender Plant” by Alabama Extension is marked with CC0 1.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/?ref=openverse.

Pruning Lavender for Optimal Growth

Pruning, or selectively removing parts of a plant, is essential for promoting bushy growth, preventing premature flowering, and enhancing flavor. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to prune lavender effectively:
  1. Identify the Nodes: Nodes are where leaves attach to the stem. To encourage bushy growth, prune just below the nodes, using sharp scissors or shears. This will help the lavender plant maintain a compact, bush-like shape. 
  2. Prune Regularly: Pruning lavender should be done as needed once the plant is established. Prune to shape in spring after new leaves appear. Avoid pruning more than one-third of the plant at a time to promote new growth without stress.
  3. Remove Flower Buds: Lavender produces beautiful purple flowers as it matures. While these flowers are lovely, for culinary purposes, it’s best to pinch off the flower buds as soon as they appear. This redirects the plant’s energy into producing flavorful leaves. Allowing lavender to flower and set seed can shorten its growing season.

How to Harvest and Store Lavender

Pruning is key to maximizing your lavender plant’s yield, since it encourages new growth. When it is time to harvest, use sterile scissors or shears to clip the stems, leaving 2-4 sets of leaves on the plant. Place the harvested stems in water away from direct sunlight for immediate use. For longer storage, cover the leaves with moist paper towels and store them in the refrigerator. Extra leaves can be used to make lavender-infused recipes like tea or baked goods.

“Lavender + Mint SOAP” by certified su is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/?ref=openverse.

Tips for the Floridian Gardener

Florida’s subtropical climate presents both advantages and challenges for growing lavender. Here are some additional tips for success:
  1. Choose Heat-Tolerant Varieties: Select lavender varieties suited to hot climates, such as Spanish lavender or ‘Phenomenal’ Lavender. These varieties can better withstand Florida’s high temperatures and humidity.
  2. Provide Afternoon Shade: While lavender thrives in sunlight, intense afternoon sun in Florida can be harsh. Consider planting lavender in a location that receives partial shade during the hottest part of the day to prevent wilting or sunburn.
  3. Mulch and Water Wisely: Mulch around lavender plants to retain moisture in the soil and regulate temperature. This is especially important in the summer and during Florida’s dry spells and heatwaves. Water lavender deeply and consistently, but allow the soil to dry a bit before re-watering. Avoid waterlogged conditions.
  4. Monitor for Pests and Diseases: Keep an eye out for pests like aphids and diseases like leaf spot, a common disease for lavender in Florida’s warm, humid climate. Regularly inspect plants for signs of infestation or disease and take prompt action.
“Blue Mountain Lavender Farm” by GaryPaulson is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/?ref=openverse.

Conclusion 

Growing lavender in Central Florida is rewarding, adds culinary versatility to your dishes, and attracts pollinators to your garden. By using these tips, you can cultivate a thriving lavender garden right at home. Also, leave a few plants for the pollinators to enjoy! Happy gardening!

Next in the series, we will explore sage!

More resources from UF/IFAS Extension:

General:

  • https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/VH020
  • https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/plant-of-the-month/what-to-plant/herbs-for-spring.html
Pests:
  • https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/pests-and-diseases/pests/

 
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Julia Sirchia, Program Assistant at UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County
Posted: May 7, 2024


Category: Crops, Fruits & Vegetables, Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: #RightPlantRightPlace, Central Florida, Community Garden, Community Gardens, Eating, Fertilizer, Florida Friendly Landscaping, Food, Garden, Gardening, Gardens, Health, Healthy, Herbs, Horticulture, Irrigation, Landscape, Landscaping, Nutrition, Produce, Resilient Landscaping, Right Place, Right Plant, Smart Irrigation, Soil, UF/IFAS Pasco Extension Office, Water-wise


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