A little bit about lavender

Botanical name: Lavandula

A member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family, lavender is a hardy plant best known for its beautiful fragrance. It’s a low-growing but mostly upright shrub featuring silvery leaves rich with aromatic oils. Lavender is a great low-maintenance choice as it’ll flush into fragrant, colourful bloom with very little attention.

Lavender flowers in a range of shades, from pink and purple to off-white, depending on the variety, and can flower for much of the year.

Height: Between 30 and 60 centimetres

Width: Usually less than 60 centimetres, but occasionally extends to one metre.

Lavender varieties

There are three main lavender varieties: English, French (pictured) and Italian/Spanish.

English lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia)

Of all the lavender varieties, English lavender (often referred to as true lavender) is the most popular, thanks to its remarkable scent and colour. Its peak flowering season is midsummer but its aromatic leaves are fragrant year round. You can make the most of its long spikes by drying them or turning them into potpourri. One of the best known English lavenders is Hidcote, which grows well in cool, mountainous areas like New South Wales’ Southern Highlands and Sydney’s outer western suburbs.

French lavender (Lavandula Dentata)

Just as popular as English lavender, French lavender billows with strong-scented grey-green toothed leaves and long, furry, purple flowers. French Lavender is particularly happy in a pot, as a hedge and can also be mass planted.

Spanish/Italian lavender (Lavandula Stoechas)

This variety is distinguished by its flowers. Each bloom (in mauve, pink or white) is topped with a distinctive pair of petals which look like rabbit ears. Unlike other varieties, Spanish/Italian lavender doesn’t mind humid Sydney summers.

Best lavender for Sydney’s climate

Due to its Mediterranean origins, lavender likes hot summers and dry winters.  If you haven’t had much luck with lavender, we recommend Super French, a variety that’s bred from French lavender but is more tolerant of Sydney’s humidity. If you like the look of Spanish/Italian lavender, you’ll love stoecha varieties like ‘Avonview’ and ‘Lace’. Both are bred from Italian/Spanish lavender in Australia and relish our humidity.

How to use lavender

Gardeners and landscapers grow lavender as an ornamental plant but it’s also grown as a culinary plant and for the commercial extract of essential oils. Flower spikes can also be dried for arrangements or used in linen pouches to keep drawers and cupboards smelling fresh and to help deter moths.

Lavender is a great choice for coastal, cottage or rockery gardens and can make a striking impact when mass planted. Try growing it as an informal hedge, a specimen plant or near your vegie patch to attract bees.

Caring for lavender

The ideal position for lavender

Your lavender plant will perform best in a bright, full sun position. Plant in dry, well-drained, sandy or gravelly soils where it can enjoy good air circulation.

Watering

Once established lavender requires little water so if your garden doesn't have excellent drainage be careful not to overdo it. Lavender hate wet feet.

Pruning

Cut off dead flowers to help prolong flowering periods. Prune plants after the main summer flowering period to keep plants tidy and dense. If needed, you can do a harder prune (by about one third) however don’t go past green foliage and into the older wood as these branches don’t always recover and can leave patches in your plant.

Feeding

When in the ground, fertilise with well-decomposed compost and a little lime in spring and autumn to encourage flowering.

In pots feed with a slow release fertiliser twice a year in spring and autumn.

Pests and diseases

In areas of high humidity or if over watered, root rot due to fungus infection can be a problem. Organic mulches can trap moisture around the base of the plant, also encouraging root rot. To prevent root rot, avoid mulching and plant your lavender on a slight mound, to encourage drainage.

Lavender is rarely attacked by pests however whitefly, aphids and scale can creep in when the plant is under stress. Look out for these pests and spray with pyrethrum to control whitefly and aphids or try eco-oil as an organic alternative to control of aphids, whitefly and scale.

Companion plants

Plant with pansies, roses, iris, scabiosa and other cottage plants or near vegies and fruit trees to encourage bees and other pollinators.