Plant Pick for July: ever popular lavender

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This Mediterranean native and member of the mint family can also be found in the Canary Islands, southern Europe, North and East Africa and in Arabia and India.

lavenderLavenders like full sun, moderate water, sharp drainage, good air circulation, and little or no fertilizer. Soil pH should be between 6.5 and 7.5. It will tolerate cool coastal conditions or hot inland valleys. Sandy soil is perfect, clay soil will need amending.

Although they are drought-resistant when established, they will grow larger and produce more blooms with regular watering. Water when dry, and allow them to dry out before watering again. They can be planted in the fall to develop a strong root system in our mild rainy winter for a vigorous plant next spring.

Deadheading old blossoms will encourage the plant to keep blooming all summer into the fall. This is different than pruning. The correct annual pruning is necessary to prolong the life of the plant, some can live as long as ten years. Lavender can be sheared lightly after blooming has finished in the fall, taking off the stem about an inch into the leafy part of the branch. This keeps the plant in a tidy dome shape. If lavender is not sheared it will get leggy and ragged looking and even sprawl apart. Never cut back to bare wood, especially late in the year. If, in the spring you see new growth breaking at the base of the plant, then you can prune down to it to encourage replacement growth.

There are many varieties to suit all tastes, with green, to gray-green to soft gray foliage and blossoms from white and pink to violet-blue and purple. The plants can be as small as 1½ feet tall and wide to 3-4 feet tall and wide.

As for use in the landscape; they make fine informal hedges or edging or as background plants in a border. Lavender looks great mixed with Purple Fountain Grass, Loropetalum, euphorbias, or bronze phormiums, or Culinary Sage and Erigeron, or combined with the clean lines of gorgeous succulents. We even know of a small meadow of English lavender edged with Festuca glauca in a backyard in the outer Richmond in SF.

Use near fruit trees and veggie beds to attract pollinators. Yes, the pollinators love lavenders! There’s something very soothing about seeing all the butterflies, bees and hummingbirds fluttering and hovering, and going about their business. Leaving some old blossoms will delight the seed-loving dark-eyed junco in the fall.

Harvesting Lavender

  • The flower heads look gray before the flowers open. Once the color is bright and vivid, that it the time to start cutting. Cut the long flower stems during the cool of the morning after the dew has dried.
  • Tie stems together and hang upside down in a cool, dark dry place. Once the buds are dry, they can be stripped and used for potpourris, etc.
  • Small bunches can be used to make wreaths and swags. Tuck a few sprigs into the ribbon of a gift.
  • To flavor ice cream, pastries, salads or beverages use fresh flowers only from Lavandula angustifolia or L. x intermedia varieties.
To make on old-fashioned Lavender Bottle/Wand
1. Take 15-21 stalks of freshly cut lavender (including extra long stems) and tie together just below the flower heads. Let wilt slightly.
2. Gently holding the flower heads, turn the stems upward. Now carefully bend the stems back down over the flower heads to make a ‘cage’ for the buds, arranging them as evenly as possible. (For a colorful bottle weave a pretty ribbon between the stems.)
3. Using twine or a pretty ribbon, tie the stems together just below the flower heads to encase them. Gently knot and tie into a bow.
4. Clip the stems so they are all even. (Stems can be wrapped with ribbon too.) Place flat in a basket and then dry in a cool, dark closet for a few days.
5. Use in linen cupboards, lingerie drawers and closets, or give as gifts.

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