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Lavender Plants – Pruning Makes them Beautiful

Lavandula angustifolia –

I’ve had English Lavender (Munstead and Hidcote Blue) in my borders ever since I can remember but for years never gave much thought to pruning them.  What a shame because it makes them much more beautiful and enjoyable.

Lavender plants are great investments for borders, especially those that are dry and well-drained.  A plant can live for 20 years and be beautiful, well-shaped, and produce a 1000 flower stalks beginning its third year. All this —- IF its pruned at least once a year beginning its first year. Without pruning they tend to become woody in the center and sprawl.

Front borders on each side of our entrance walk with lavender on both sides. Lavender on this side is center of photo.  Plant on other side is slightly above and to the right of photo’s center.

An Important Point

Never cut into or cut off any of the older wood of a lavender plant unless you’re sure it’s dead. To tell a dead branch you can scrape the stem and if you see any green it’s alive.

Cutting old wood will kill the plant. (Unfortunately, I’ve done it.)  Always cut only into the new growth – called soft wood.

Pruning a First Year Plant

The best time to prune a first year plant is in the spring just after the flower blossoms on the stalks start to open.

First year lavender plant. Raise from seed.

First year lavender plant. Grown from seed.

Holding the branches of a year old plant together in one hand cut the stalks all the way to 2 inches above where the soft wood starts. (The soft wood is where the new growth is.) From the top of the stalks to 2 inches above where the soft wood (new growth) starts will probably be approximately 1/3 of the plant.

Save Those Flower Stalks

Put them in a vase WITHOUT water and enjoy them in the house.  I like to put them with bed linens to make them smell wonderful.

Pruning the Second Year

Your lavender bush will double in size by year two.  Prune in the spring after flowering and prune approximately 1/3 of the plant.  This will take off the flower stalks and about 1 or 2 inches of soft wood (new growth).

Second year lavender plant.

Second year lavender plant.

Pruning the Third Year

By its third year the bush will have more than have doubled last year’s size and you should have a good size bush.

You can prune in the spring after flowering or in the fall.  If you prune in the fall do it well before danger of a hard freeze, otherwise your lavender could suffer damage.

For Longer Bloom Time

Once my bushes reach 3 years I like to dead head the stalks for longer bloom time. Just keep in mind that dead heading is not pruning.

Final Words

If you don’t have lavender in your borders or garden I urge you to get several. Or if you’re patient — start them from seed via the wintersown method.

The flowers smell wonderful and bring lots of pollinators. It’s one of the most enjoyable plants you could have – especially if you start pruning its the first year and once every year of its long life.

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Related Posts:

You Can Plant in December

Seed Starting the Easy Wintersown Way

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8 comments to Lavender Plants – Pruning Makes them Beautiful

  • Cynthia Hall

    Hi Theresa!

    Coming over from the gardening side, but I keep up with both and love both your blogs!
    I LOVE lavender! But growing it in the ground in Florida just seems to be a recipe for disaster if it starts raining very much. The combination of rain and high humidity just seems to turn it into a rotten mess, at least for me.

    So this year I put one in a big plastic pot and I put pine cones in the bottom third of the pot for drainage and to save on expensive potting soil. I am trying the pine cone thing because I got tired of picking out rocks or packing peanuts when I would start over the next year with my containers. I am hoping the pine cones will break down and add organic matter that I can dump out in the garden when the season is over. We will see.

    Any way I wanted to see what you thought about pruning back the container grown lavender, it is all over the place. And also if you think I can keep this lavender over winter and re-pot the next year?

    Thanks!
    Cynthia

  • Theresa

    Glad you lovin’ both blogs Cynthia.
    I love your idea with the pine cones! That should work extremely well. I think henceforth — I’ll use pine cones rather than rocks. They will eventually break down and be better for my use than rocks.

    I had some questions in my mind about a few things you mentioned.
    I don’t know how big your pot is but 1/3 of the pot could be a significant amount depending on the size of the pot. If the roots go down and get to all that air — I don’t know how that would work out. If the potting soil has sifted through the pine cone enough to protect the roots — that might be better.

    If I were you I would go ahead and prune the container grown lavender.

    I don’t pot herbs and bring them in — so I have no experience to share with you there. However I can tell you —

    I grow lavender from seed. The poor little great looking seedlings always seem to get a back seat to whatever it is I’m doing and I really leave them uncared for to the point of abuse. Last year I put some seedlings in small pots because I couldn’t plant them right then. They stayed there all summer with only an occasional watering when they were bone dry. In the fall I transplanted them to the worse section of my borders. (Very dry in summer with lots of tree roots from the neighbors.) They looked awful this spring but have really come into their own now. My point is — you never know until you try. I would over winter the lavenderl in the pot outdoors and then try to repot the next spring. Put it in a good sized pot — so that if it makes it — you won’t have to repot again.

    Good luck with this Cynthia.
    Theresa

    PS — If you have a place in your borders or garden with excellent drainage — lavender will fair better even if you get lots of rain. It won’t mind the humidity, but it does not like sitting in water.

  • Sandra

    Just realized that I have killed several by cutting them back into the old wood. I am amazed at how large your first year plant has grown. Any tips for germinating, or do you just use straight wintersown method without anything special. I’ve often tried to start them, but have never had any success.

  • Theresa

    Just straight wintersown in January without anything special, Sandra. Be sure to tape the jug.
    Theresa

  • Lisa

    Hey Theresa! Thanks for this post. I had the prettiest lavender for three seasons but now I realize I was pruning it the wrong way and it started to spread and get woody last year.
    I finally pulled it up. I plan to plant some more in that bed this fall. I was wondering if you had any recommendations for spacing. I think my previous plants could have been closer but I want to be sure not to crowd them. I only have lavender in this bed because of the width and location of this particular bed. i lved the way it looked on its own. I’d appreciate your advice.

  • Theresa

    Lisa, Lavender — as you know — can cover a spread of 3 or more feet. I think your spacing will really depend on what look you want.
    Everything likes its own space but lavender — again -as you know — can thrive in dry poor soil. I still think they’d appreciate at least 2 feet between each.

    Just guessing but if you planted it two feet apart — it would probably grow ok — but would grow into each other. If you don’t mind that I don’t see a problem.

    I have some young lavender plants in the back border that I’ve spaced about 3 feet apart. Looks pretty bare now — but next year or the year after they should be quite large and fill in the bare space.

    I have two lavender plants in a spot in my front borders that are only about 2 feet apart. They’ll grow together but that’s ok with me.

    Love your idea of having all lavender in one bed. Bet it’s beautiful!

    Lavender is easy to start from seed. That way you can have all you want.

    All plants like to start small at a location and grow big there — as opposed to being moved there when they’re already big. That’s how to have the best success with almost anything.
    If you ever take a picture I’d love to see.
    Theresa

  • Carlos

    Is it possible to prune lavender 2nd season? I forgot to prune it after the 1st year.

  • Theresa

    Since you didn’t prune the first season, start the second season. Better late than never Carlos.
    Theresa

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