In the Gulf Coast South, growing lavender is a challenge. This queenly herb, native to Mediterranean-like climates and soils, finds our clay soils, hot summer nights, and endless humidity inhospitable. By taking certain steps, and by choosing the lavender variety carefully, it can be done. Provence Lavender is a great choice for local gardeners.
A few pointers:
First, plant your lavender during the fall either in extremely well-draining soil, best achieved in raised beds with some sand or grit added, or in large clay or concrete pots. A healthy lavender plant will fill the pot with its roots in about 3 years and then can be moved to the garden.
Second, choose a spot in full sun and with excellent air circulation. Lavender leaves must remain dry, so tucking it away in a corner, crowded by other plants, won’t produce the desired results.
Third, choose a variety that thrives in our region: In addition to Provence Lavender, I’ve had success with the following: French Lavender (l. dentata), Sweet Lavender (l. heterophylla), Fern Leaf Lavender, (l. multifida), Spanish Lavender, (l. stoechas), and Goodwin Creek Gray Lavender (l. spp.). The English lavenders (l. angustifolia), such as Lady Lavender and Munstead Lavender, are best considered annuals. Our summers simply defeat these European favorites.
Fourth, whether planting in the ground or in a large pot, provide a wide circle of gravel mulch around the lavender’s base. The gravel serves two purposes — it provides rapid draining away of rainfall and also reflects heat and light into the middle of the plant to dry foliage quickly. Be sure to plant your lavender away from automated lawn sprinklers, and when watering by hand, place the water source at the ground level instead of showering the foliage. When it stays damp, the foliage easily develops an unsightly black fungus, starting with the lower stems and spreading upwards. Try a neem-based spray to combat the fungus.
Fifth, cut Provence Lavender (and the others except Fern Leaf) back to 1/3 – 1/2 of their height during late December to early January. Since it blooms on new wood, this early pruning will produce more shoots with their potential for flowering.
Your devotion and determination to grow lavender, beginning perhaps with the Provence variety, will reward you every time you pass by your garden, and the dried stems will continue the fragrance far into the winter indoors.