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DayBreak Lavender Farm
rows of lavender plants

GROWING GREAT LAVENDER!!
TLC ... TENDER LAVENDER CARE!!

Lavender (Lavandula) is such a romantic flower that every gardener sooner or later succumbs to the urge to grow it. Some of us go a little overboard but that's another discussion entirely!!

Undeterred by the fact that it is a native of the Mediterranean and a lover of dry, sunny, rocky habitats, we decided to give it a try anyway, hoping it would adapt to our Ohio farm and winters. After all, England can hardly be considered dry or particularly sunny, yet English gardeners are renowned for their lavender plants. This perennial grows well in a sunny border with other herbs and flowers.

WHICH LAVENDER?
1. Buy and plant lavender in the spring and summer. Do not plant after Labor Day.
2. Look for plants in nurseries in 4-inch to one-gallon containers.
3. Choose healthy-looking plants that have leaves to within 3 inches of the base.

To determine the lavender variety that is best, drop by the best garden center in your area and ask their plant specialist which varieties do best in your climate. If you have hard winters, make them promise the plants are winter-hardy. Many lavenders are hardy down to -10 below freezing but you have to get the right varieties and too many places will sell you a plant that is pretty when you buy it but won't be there in a year! If you don't have winter to worry about, the sky's the lavender limit!! Most of our lavender plants are propagated and field-grown on the farm. Some of our favorites include 'Grosso', 'Provence', 'Royal Purple', 'Purple Velvet,' 'Hidcote' and ‘Munstead.'

THE BEST SOIL FOR LAVENDER
Lavender plants will thrive in alkaline, well-drained soil warmed by full sun – 6 hours a day and 8 is better. Like many plants grown for their essential oils, a lean soil will encourage a higher concentration of oils. An alkaline and especially a chalky soil will enhance lavenders fragrance. While you can grow lavender in Zone 5, you can expect to have plants that will do well when the weather cooperates and to experience the occasional loss of a plant or two after a severe winter or a wet, humid summer.

It is said that "Lavender doesn't like wet feet." So, it's dampness, more than cold, that kills lavender plants by rotting its superfine root system. Dampness can come in the form of wet roots during the winter months or high humidity in the summer. If humidity is a problem, make sure you have plenty of space between your plants for airflow and always plant in a sunny location. Areas where the ground routinely freezes and thaws throughout the winter will benefit from a layer of mulch applied after the ground initially freezes. Also protect your lavender plants from harsh winter winds. Planting next to a stone or brick wall will provide additional heat and protection.

When planting, place plants in a sunny location with well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil (6.0 to 8.0). Add a little lime if the soil is too acidic. We prefer ground oyster shells often sold in the form of chicken grit. Inexpensive and slow release!! Sandy loam is an ideal soil. We add a little bone meal when planting and rarely if ever fertilize the plants. Keep your lavender weed free to ensure healthy plants!

Now, if you have clay soil, you have two choices: containers or raised beds. You can amend clay soil forever and it won't grow lavender. And that's that. There's no secret ... lavender won't grow in clay soil!

planting lavender shoots

PLANTING LAVENDER
1. Plant lavender in a sunny place in well-drained soil.
2. Add a light application of organic fertilizer to the planting hole.
3. Set plants 12 inches apart.
4. Place plants no deeper than they were growing in the containers.
5. Mulch around but not on top of the plant with ground oyster shells. If you use fertilizer you will get leaf growth and less bloom.
6. Water well until the soil is completely moist

The best time to plant your lavender is in the spring. That way it has all summer to set down a great root system. When first starting your lavender plants, don't be afraid to give them a handful of compost – or fish emulsion watering -- in the planting hole and to keep them regularly watered during their first growing season. Yes, lavender is a drought-tolerant plant, however good irrigation or adequate rainfall is important for new plants and good flower production. Do not over water as too much water will stress lavender and promote mold.

LAVENDER IN POTS: CONTAINER LAVENDERING!!
You can always grow your lavender in pots and move it to follow the sun or even bring it indoors for the winter. Keep in mind that although lavender has a large, spreading root system, it prefers growing in a tight spot. A pot that can accommodate the root ball with a couple of inches to spare would be a good choice. Too large a pot will only encourage excessive dampness.

Place about an inch of loose gravel and grit at the bottom to guarantee good drainage. Root rot is one of the few problems experienced by lavender plants. Use a mix of 1/3 sand, 1/3 seed starter and 1/3 loose, soilless mix for planting and remember that container grown lavender will require more water than garden grown plants. How much more depends on the environment and the type of pot. Terra cotta or other ceramic pots take up to _ the water you put in the plant. I always make sure my terra cotta containers have 2 inch deep faux-terra cotta (plastic!) saucers that can hold a good dose of water. Water when the soil, not the plant, appears dry and water at the base of the plant to limit dampness on the foliage.

lavender that has been planted

TO MULCH OR NOT TO MULCH
This is a controversy among lavender growers. We believe in mulching with ground oyster shells. We put a handful around the base of each plant at the beginning of each season. The shells are white, reflecting sunlight up through the plant and boosting lavender bloom and they help to reduce spore/mold infections, which—knock wood – we haven't had. But they can take out a whole field if they get established.

PRUNING LAVENDER
Prune lavender plants in the early spring or late fall after flowering to maintain their shape and keep the plant from becoming woody and sprawling. Although lavender plants get regularly pruned simply by harvesting the flowers, to keep them well shaped and to encourage more floral growth, a bit of post-bloom pruning is in order. The taller varieties can be cut back by approximately one-third their height. Lower growing varieties can either be pruned back by a couple of inches or cut down to new growth. Prune plants by cutting back about one-third of the plant.

If you live in an area where lavender suffers some winter die-back, don't decide anything is dead until after Mother's Day.

PROPAGATING LAVENDER
If you want to increase your stock of lavender plants, propagate a few cuttings on your own. Cuttings taken in the spring or fall will do the best. Prepare a potting soil of damp perlite and sand to start your cuttings. Cut a 2-3 inch sprig from the main stem, leaving a little heel attached. Strip off the lower leaves and dip the stem in a rooting compound. Press the cutting into the potting mixture and place in a protected, warm sun-filled room. Keep the cutting moist. Once rooted, moving them outdoors for a few hours each day should harden off cuttings. Once the cuttings have reached 3-4 times their original size, plant in the garden in a sunny well-drained location.

LAVENDER GROWING KNOWLEDGE
Once you have developed a passion for lavender like we have or just want to know more about this wonderful herb, we highly recommend Lavender - The Grower's Guide by Virginia McNaughton. This is our bible for growing lavender. But beware ... she is writing about Australia so when she says Winter it's Summer here and vice versa! This book provides a wealth of information on lavender with color photographs of hundreds of plants for identification.

rows of blooming lavender
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