Which lavenders are the most fragrant for my garden?
While all lavenders are wonderfully fragrant, there are certain cultivars that tend to be more fragrant, and others which are less fragrant but produce better essential oil. Consider lavender like grapes... each has its own chemistry which produces a unique combination of naturally occurring chemicals. The best way to discover which is your favorite is to visit a farm or nursery with many different cultivars (the OSU Extension Garden in Medford has over 100!) rub the leaves and flowers between your fingers and smell them! The fragrance and the quality (and quantity) of the oil the plants produce can vary tremendously each year. A lot will depend on the weather, how much sun and rain the plants receive, how harsh the winter is, the type of soil that the plants are grown in, when the lavender is harvested, and how soon after harvest we process it.
Here on the farm we grow mostly English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) which are typically the most fragrant. The cultivars that we like for fragrance include Buena Vista, Folgate, Maillette, Royal Velvet, Sharon Roberts and Tucker’s Early Purple. We have examples of each of these on the farm. Of the Lavandins (Lavandula x intermedia), the most fragrant cultivars are Grosso and Provence both of which we grow here.
Which lavenders have the best purple?
Again, English lavender cultivars (Lavandula angustifolia), have the darkest colors and include Hidcote, Imperial Gem, Purple Bouquet and Royal Velvet.
Which lavenders have the darkest blue?
English lavender cultivars (Lavandula angustifolia) have the darkest blues with Betty's Blue, Blue Cushion and Violet Intrigue.
Which are our all-round favorite lavender plants?
We are often asked which are our favorite lavenders and it is really hard to answer because they all have different qualities that we enjoy! If we had to pick our top 6 plants though, these cultvars would defintely qualify:
1. Lavandula angustifolia Folgate - this plant is amazing - it can withstand the colder temperatures we see here in winter; it is one of the first to bloom and the soft periwinkle blue flowers make great fresh cut bundles and dried bundles alike. It is a really good all-rounder.
2. Lavandula angustifolia Buena Vista - A really sweet fragrance and rich purple color which has bloomed for us up to three times a year! We have also used this cultivar for cooking.
3. Lavvandula angustifolia Royal Velvet - The color is rich and "velvety" and it has lovely long stems which are good for making wreaths and wands. This is a favorite one for use in cooking as it has a subtle sweet taste.
4. Lavvandula angustifolia Hidcote - This one we love for the color - it's a really dark purple plump flower that looks great in a landscape setting
5. Lavandula angustifolia Purple Bouquet - we like the combination of long stems with rich purple flowers which bloom twice in the season.
6. Lavandula xintermedia Grosso - This is the one we recommend for making lavender wands because of the very long stems and strong fragrance. It also makes a wonderful dried product for sachets and pillows and looks stunning in the field.
How are English lavender plants (Lavandula angustifolia) different from lavandin (Lavandula x.intermedia) plants?
English lavender plants produce seeds and are the largest group of lavenders. The average size of a mature English lavender plant is 18-24 inches. The fragrant foliage of English lavender is generally a green/gray and they tend to have shorter leaves on the stems. The flower stems themselves are an average of 12 inches long. The fragrance of the flowers is generally sweet. English lavender cultivars come in a wide variety of colors from light blue to purple and light pink to white. In Southern Oregon our English lavenders start blooming in early to mid June, usually finishing around mid to end July. Some will bloom two or three times especially if the first flowers are harvested early in the season.
Lavandin is a cross between Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula latifolia. This hybrid, typically forms much larger, rounder plants - up to 48 inches in height. The flowers are generally lighter in color, the leaves are wide, long and more gray. Lavandins start blooming 2-4 weeks later than most English lavenders which in Southern Oregon is usually mid July and into August. All lavandin plants have long flower stems that grow in a fan-like shape from the plant, so they need to be planted further apart and have more space in the garden. These plants will grow faster than English lavender plants and they hold their shape better. The fragrance is less sweet and more pungent because of the higher camphor content in the oil produced by lavandin plants.
How do I take cuttings from my lavender plants?
Experiment a bit because methods vary from one grower to another but this is the method that works for us:
1. Make up your rooting soil using 60% perlite and 40% peat moss and place in a sterilized cutting tray with holes for drainage.
2. Take a hardwood cutting by finding a branch close to the top of the plant and feel for a "bump" indicating a leaf node. Using sharp sterilised pruning shears cut a 3 1/2" piece at a 45 degree angle just below the node.
3. Remove the leaves from the bottom two inches of the cutting.
4. Using a sharp clean knife scrape the skin from the bottom portion of the cutting on one side.
5. Dip the cutting in rooting hormone powder and place in the rooting soil. Do not remove the cutting once you have placed it in the rooting soil.
6. Keep the soil moist and the cutting warm (68 - 70 degrees using a heating mat if possible) through the rooting process which may take up to 4 weeks.
7. Do not allow the cuttings to become too hot or to dry out completely
8. Check for roots by gently tugging on the cutting - you should feel resistance if roots have formed.
9. Transplant the cuttings into a larger container - water and then allow them to get a little dry. Water occasionally but do not allow them to get too wet. Feed with an all purpose fertilizer to promote growth. Protect from extreme temperatures.
10. When the cutting begins to grow it will produce a top shoot that will need to be snipped off to promote branching. Remove foliage from the bottom of the start.
When is the best time to prune lavender plants?
We have found that pruning lavender plants in September and then lightly in the Spring helps them to look and grow better over a longer period of time. This has worked well for us in our location, but not everyone growing lavender will work to this pattern. Some like to prune heavily in the Spring and only lightly in the Fall.
Whatever the pattern you chose you should begin pruning when the plants are young, but not too much in the first year. Your plants will have a better start however if they are not allowed to flower the first year so as soon as you see spikes forming cut them off; that way all the new growth will go into the foliage and roots and will produce less woody looking shrubs that have more growth at the base of the plant.
English lavenders and Lavandin plants will live for many years if they are pruned well. Most lavender plants will hold their shape at least 10 years, if you start pruning them when they are young and you prune them hard at least once a year.
In late June and throughout July, we harvest lavender for fresh and dried bouquets. We cut the flowers with as long a stem as possible so the stems have a few sets of leaves on them. At this time, we are lightly pruning the plants to encourage new growth. Some of the English lavenders will bloom again if the plants are harvested early on in the season.
Established plants may be pruned back by 1/3 to 1/2 their size. If necessary, they can be cut back to three sets of leaves from the base. This drastic pruning may help revive some older lavender bushes. Lavender plants that have not been pruned become woody sooner. If you already have old woody bushes, it may be too late to revive them. If they have reached three years of age or older and have never been pruned, then pruning at this stage may not help. You might be better off replacing the plants. If you can see young green growth just above the woody part, the plant may be pruned back to within 2 inches of the new growth. But, if you cut it back too far, it may die.
When is best time to pick lavender for drying?
Both the English lavender and the lavandins can be dried successfully on the stem. There are certain cultivars that dry better than others; more of the buds (calyxes) will stay on the stem when dried. On mature plants, it is hard to cut all the flowering stems at the perfect stage, without sacrificing some that are not really ready but it is easier to cut all the flowers on a plant all at once, instead of individually. You will have to watch closely as the plants begin to show more color. Usually the lavender is ready to harvest when the colors are dark or bright; most of the flowering stems are in the bud stage; the buds are plump, and just a few of the flowers (corollas) have opened on each stem. Another good indication is when the bees begin to start working the plant!
It is best to harvest the flowers in the morning after the dew has dried. You will not want to pick the lavender flowers if it has rained within the last 24 hours. A good size bundle is usually around 100 stems. Use a sickle to cut your stems (a curved serrated blade with a wooden handle).
How do I dry lavender?
To speed up the drying process, you should strip the leaves off the stems. Hang the lavender bundles (use rubber bands to secure each bundle and an opened paper clip to serve as a hanging tool) upside down. Choose a drying area that is warm but not in direct sun, with good air circulation and low humidity. The lavender bundles should be dry within 3 to 7 days. Remove them from the drying room and store them loosely in a covered cardboard box, in a cool area.
No matter how carefully you dry your lavender, you can expect that a certain amount of the buds will fall off but you can collect these to use in crafts.
For more information we recommend Sarah Bader's great book
Which is avaialble from our online store.