Deb Babcock: Consider lavender for aroma, color
July 3, 2011
Steamboat Springs — When I lived in Michigan, my garden along the front walkway was filled with lavender plants that reached chest-high and provided wonderful aroma every time I walked by … especially when I ran my fingers through the branches and released some of the oils in the flower and foliage. But here in the mountains of Colorado, my lavender plants seem to just eke through the season, never getting any bigger or taller than perhaps 12 inches high.
This year I decided to check into the care and feeding of this wonderful plant to see if there is something we can do at this altitude to get lavender to flourish in the garden. It's such a wonderful plant with silvery green foliage and purple-pink flower buds that can be dried and used in sachets and potpourri, mixed into honey and butters, used in dried flower arrangements, and more, including some medicinal purposes and aromatherapy.
And it certainly should grow well here.
The lavender grown on the Plateau de Vaucluse and Mt. Ventoux in Provence, France — an area famous for its proliferation of wonderful scented plants — is propagated at about 6,300 feet, an altitude fairly close to ours here in Routt County.
So to start with, get the right variety of lavender for our Zone 4 environment. Munstead and hidcote are Zone 4 lavenders; many of the English lavenders need a warmer climate and won't do well here.
Second, plant your lavender in the sunniest spot in your garden in soil that drains well. Lavender plants do not like wet roots; clay soil will cause them to be stunted or even die. If you have clay soil, you'll need to amend it so it will drain well. If you have sandy soil, that is a perfect place for this plant.
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The plant doesn't like a lot of fuss and really doesn't need to be fertilized. If you feel obligated to give it some fertilizer, do it only once in spring. You can plant lavender by seed or from cuttings, but it's easiest (and most successful for most of us) to simply buy small plants from the nursery to plant in your garden. They form 18-inch mounds and should be planted about 20 inches apart so they get some air movement between the plants.
Because of our harsh environment, it is recommended to not prune the plant in fall. Instead let the spikes capture snow that will help insulate the plant through winter. Then in spring, you can prune away any die-back.
It's a very drought-tolerant plant, so it will need little care. Water it to get the plant established and then water sparingly after that. The plant does not like its feet wet and will respond accordingly.
Unfortunately, it's not a plant that likes to be dug up, separated and moved around. But if your lavender plants are like mine, they'll need to be moved to a sunnier location in some amended soil. So that's my plan this summer to rejuvenate my lavender, even though it might take a couple of years for the plant to recover from the stress of moving. Or I'll just stop into the nursery and pick up a couple of new plants.
Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the Colorado CSU Cooperative Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825.