Q. I just love lavender. It just seems to die off quickly in my garden. What am I doing wrong?
A. The type of lavender you choose, and how you plant and maintain it make a real difference in its longevity in the garden.
Lavender is primarily native to Europe, northern and eastern Africa and the Mediterranean region.
At one time, early Europeans believed that lavender placed at the entrance of a home or in a keyhole would repel ghosts and protect against the evil eye.
The dried flowers have long been used in sachets to scent chests and closets, and the ancient Romans used lavender in their baths. It is still widely used commercially in candles, perfumes, air fresheners and soaps.
Lavender was used during in the Middle Ages as an anti-plague herb. It was effective because it successfully repelled the fleas that carried the disease. It was one of the essential herbs in traditional Four Thieves Vinegar, a concoction used by grave robbers during the plague years to protect the thieves.
One has to be careful to select a type of lavender that is cold hardy to our area.
In general, English lavenders (the most popular) do well in cooler climates and are generally considered hardy to USDA zones 5 to 9.
English lavenders are not really native to England but are from Spain and nearby regions. Two common cultivars are Hidcote with purple flowers and Munstead with violet-blue flowers.
Lavandin, also known as Dutch lavender, are hybrids of English lavender and Portuguese lavender. The lavandins have long, gray-green leaves and are hardy to our area. Popular cultivars are Phenomenal, Grosso and Provence.
Lavenders that are not cold-hardy to our area are French and Spanish lavenders. They can confuse buyers who think they are perennials in our region. Spanish lavender is the lavender most used to make expensive French perfume. Spanish lavender, ironically, is a noxious weed in Australia and also is regarded as a weed in parts of Spain.
Lavenders in general are somewhat short – not doing well in our area because they struggle in our hot, humid region with poorly drained soils.
I plant lavenders in areas where they will receive at least eight hours of sunlight. Lavenders prefer well-drained areas where the soil is warmed by the sun, so I plant them on slopes exposed to the morning or afternoon sun. Rocks or stone near the plants help warm the soil. Avoid using heavy bark mulch around the plants. Avoid rich heavy organic soils. Cover the plants during the winter months with evergreen boughs or straw.
Over time, lavenders develop woody stems that result in decline of flower production. At this stage, it is probably best to remove the plant and begin again.
The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Saturday. Kemery retired as the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County branch of the Purdue Extension Service.