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Lavender in Winter: The Best Ways to Prepare for The Cold Months Ahead

Lavenders are a relatively low-maintenance plant, however, there are some winter care best practices that you need to be aware of to ensure your lavender survives or is ready for the new growing season.

Lavender plants generally enjoy mild winters. Although English lavender varieties can withstand the cold reasonably well, other varieties of lavender will struggle. It is therefore important to prepare your lavender for winter to ensure that come spring it is alive healthy and ready to burst into bloom.

Quick Guide to Winter Lavender Care

  • Light pruning of your lavender in the fall as this will encourage new growth and greater flower production in the spring. This should be done early enough to allow new growth to establish before the plant goes dormant for winter.
  • When pruning, be sure to remove any dead or dying stems, as well as any stems that are crossing or rubbing against each other. This will help to ensure that your plant stays healthy and disease-free.
  • Conduct a soil test to check the ground’s pH and nutrient levels. Lavender generally thrives in neutral to slightly alkaline soil around 7 to 8 pH. Add amendments, such as lime, if necessary to correct the pH level
  • Removing fallen leaves from around the base of the plant is also important. Fallen leaves can lead to root rot, which can be very damaging to your lavender plant.
  • Look for compacted soil around the plants. Aerate the soil if necessary to ensure there is good air circulation and drainage.
  • Finally, be sure to mulch around the base of your plant. This will help to protect the vulnerable woody base from the cold weather. Adding sand or gravel will also help with the dispersal of rainwater.

Optional Depending on Variety

  • For non-English varieties, to protect from frosts and the worst winter cold, dig up the plants and pot. Then bring the pots into a warm sunny room or greenhouse.

Perennial or Annual the Wintering of Lavender

Perennial or Annual the Wintering of Lavender

Lavender is a sun-loving herb that originates from  Western Asia and Europe. It is usually grown outdoors, although potted lavender is not uncommon, and has a very strong fragrance. Depending on the type of lavender and the climate, when grown outdoors it can either be a perennial (produces new green growth each year) or annual plant.

In general, lavender is a perennial plant if grown in conditions where the minimum winter average temperatures don’t drop below -10 to -20°F. This is because the plant can withstand reasonably cold temperatures in these areas.

However, if you live in an area where the average winter temperature drops below -20°F, then lavender will be an annual plant. This means that it will only last for one season and will need to be replanted the following year.

The type of lavender also plays a role in whether it is a perennial or annual plant:

English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most common type of lavender and is a perennial plant. Although native to the Mediterranean region it got its name because it adapted well to English climatic conditions. Two of the hardiest species are Munstead and Hidcote Blue, both do well in winter.

French lavender (Lavandula stoechas) is another type of lavender that is also a perennial warm climate or annual cold climate plant. Although substantially less hardy than English Lavender the Phenomenal french hybrid is better suited than other French lavender species to surviving winter outside.

Spanish lavender (Lavandula latifolia) is the third type of lavender and like French Lavender is a perennial warm climate or annual cold climate plant. When compared to other common lavender species, this one can handle higher temperatures better and is a good indoor plant.

Pruning Lavender Ready for Winter

One of the most important things you can do for your lavender plant is to prune it in the fall as this will encourage new growth and greater flower production in the spring.

Your approach to pruning will depend on the age of the lavender with different approaches needed. Young plants, lavender in their first year of growth, need more careful nurturing than mature lavender, plants that have been established for a couple of years. 

Young Lavender

If you’re growing lavender from seed or cuttings, you’ll want to pinch out (a form of plant pruning that stimulates the growth) the new growth tips to encourage a bushier plant and help it grow with a rounded shape.

Using a sharp, sterilized pair of secateurs, from each stem remove the flowers and around a third of their growth. This will help your lavender plant to put all its energy into developing new growth for the following season.

Pruning your young lavender in this way also helps to prepare it for winter, as the shorter stems are less likely to be damaged by frost.

Mature Lavender

With more mature plants you can be slightly more aggressive. You can prune the stems and flowers back by about half the foliage to maintain their shape when they next flower. However, it is important that you do not prune too short as, if you give your cut back your lavender too severely in the fall, the plant might have trouble surviving the onset of cooler weather.

General Pruning Advice for Winter Preparation

General Pruning Advice for Winter Preparation

When pruning it is important to allow enough time for the plant to have redressed themselves with new shoots that have developed before they go dormant in the late fall. This will allow them to better able to cope with the unpredictability and possible harshness of the winter weather allowing the lavender in spring to be ready to bloom.

You can check to see if the plants have gone dormant by examining the branches. Plants that are dormant will have browning along their branches, while those that are not dormant will have green lavender foliage and possibly still have purple flowers.

Harvesting 

If you intend to harvest rather than prune then you will follow a different pruning schedule. The best time to look to harvest lavender flowers is early spring. If you harvest at this point you will give the plant time to flower for a second time toward the end of summer or early fall. If you live in a warm climate without, frost lavender can bloom all year, allowing you to harvest small amounts at regular intervals.

Depending on your use case, if you are looking to press and extract essential oil then you should be harvesting at an early point in the bloom cycle. If on the other hand you are looking for bouquets or creating lavender pouches then you should wait until the flowers are fully open. 

Dividing Mature Lavender Plants 

In order to get older lavender plants ready for growth in the spring, it is often best to divide them. Plants that appear particularly woody in the middle should be split. Dividing mature lavender plants is a great way to propagate them. By splitting the plants and replanting the smaller pieces, you can create new plants that will bloom and thrive.

The easiest way to divide a lavender plant is to use a spade, and push it through the middle of the plant splitting it into two pieces. Then, prepare new planting spaces and replant the pieces, watering them well. Soon your divided plants will be blooming as two separate plants.

Best Watering Practices For Lavender in Winter

As the weather cools and the days grow shorter, many plants begin to enter a state of dormancy. This is a natural process in which the plant conserves its energy and resources in preparation for the colder months ahead. One of the most notable changes during dormancy is a reduction in water needs. Many plants, including lavender, become much more drought tolerant during this time and require minimal watering.

This is due to a number of factors, including the lower evaporation rate in cold weather and the fact that most lavenders are native to Mediterranean climates where winter rainfall is relatively low.

That said, there are a few things to keep in mind when watering lavender over winter. First, established plants will generally not need any additional water beyond what they receive from rainfall.

The problem usually arises with first-year plants, which may benefit from occasional watering (once every 4-6 weeks) if rainfall is insufficient. However, in most cases, they will receive enough water from rainfall alone.

Second, be mindful of the type of lavender you are growing. Some varieties, such as English lavenders are more sensitive to moisture than others and may require more careful watering.

Drainage

Lavender does not enjoy overly wet conditions, as mentioned above. With mature plants rainfall, depending on climate should be enough to provide the plants the necessary moisture they need. 

Make sure the soil around your lavender is well-drained. Overly wet conditions can lead to root rot, which is a serious problem for lavender and can be difficult to recover from. To ensure that the soil can’t become waterlogged or over-saturated, aerate the area around the plants and add organic material, such as compost or peat moss, to help with soil structure.

In addition, you can help further with drainage by adding fine gravel or coarse sand around the base of the plants as the gravel and/or sand will help dissipate excess rainwater. 

French and Spanish Lavender Varieties over Winter

The various types of lavender other than English, such as the French and Spanish species of lavender, differ in the climate conditions they can tolerate with neither able to survive in freezing conditions. The consequence of this is that if you live in an area that experiences prolonged winter frosts, you’ll need to choose an English variety of lavender.

If you grow French or Spanish species outdoors in colder climates they will become an annual species and will need to be replanted each year. In addition, there are a number of hybrids varieties of non-English lavenders that are bred to be more cold-tolerant, but they will still die if exposed to prolonged heavy frosts.

If you’re in a climate that receives frosts in winter and have non-English varieties, one course of action is to transplant the lavender into a pot and bring it indoors, or into a heated greenhouse. Indeed,  lavender of all species, grows very well in pots, as they tend to provide the ideal drainage conditions.

Potting Lavender for Winter

Potting Lavender for Winter

One option for helping lavender survive cold climates is to dig up the plants and pot them. There are though a number of things to remember when potting lavender. 

The first is to ensure that there is adequate drainage. The roots of the plant are very sensitive and can easily rot if they’re sitting in water. To avoid this, make sure to use a pot with drainage holes and to use a growing medium that drains well. The best option is dry soil, watering occasionally as lavender is relatively drought-hardy. 

A second consideration is to make sure that your lavender is getting enough light. If you’re bringing them inside to protect them from the cold you should place them near a sunny window. If you’re growing it in a greenhouse, make sure to provide adequate ventilation and light.

As we have mentioned with non-English varieties the plants are not used to freezing temperatures. But when you pot lavender even English varieties can b adversely affected by frost. This is because, with potted lavender, the roots can’t grow as deeply as they would in the ground outside, with the roots sitting at a much shallower level. This results in it being much more vulnerable to cold weather as there is less soil to insulate the root ball.

Unexpected Cold Snaps

Where you experience unexpected cold snaps the danger of frost can have a significant negative impact on plants that would usually be fine overwintering in the ground. In circumstances where you get an unseasonable frost, you can use a cloche to insulate your plants. Cloches are excellent at protecting plants from the cold and can help your lavender survive the winter.

Summary: Lavender in Winter

With the right variety, lavender can be a good hardy plant that will survive the winter well. Harvesting in spring and summer with light pruning in the fall will help your lavender cope with winter and be ready for the next growing season. 

If you have lavender varieties more suited to warm climates then digging up and potting so they can overwinter indoors is the best strategy for maintaining healthy plants, ready to be replanted in late winter when the temperatures begin to rise.