Does lavender die in the winter? That depends largely on where you live and the type of lavender plant you choose. Herbaceous perennials die back to the ground in the winter and come back to life with the bright, warm days of spring. Lavender (Lavandula spp.) is a woody perennial, so it does continue to grow from year to year, but the stems remain upright through the winter in preparation for new spring growth. With proper care and pruning, lavender will survive in the garden for years to come within its hardiness range.
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Lavender can survive and grow as a perennial, retaining its foliage, in many plant hardiness zones.
Lavender Plant Varieties
Growing a lavender plant that's hardy in your zone allows it to survive the winter without dying. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 9, allowing it to survive the winter in these areas. Other varieties aren't as hardy. Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) and French lavender (Lavandula dentata) are only hardy in zones 8 and 9. In colder climates, they can be grown as annual plants, or you can bring them indoors for the winter if they're potted.
Planting and Soil Conditions
Lavender needs well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil pH, full sun and limited organic matter added to the bed. Use a soil pH tester to determine if your soil is acid. To increase the pH level and increase alkalinity, add a small amount of lime around the base of the plants, or dig wood ash into the garden. Amend clay soil to allow for good drainage. Lavender is a drought-tolerant plant and the addition of mulches can increase dampness and promote fungal disease.
Rooting New Plants
Once the plant has finished blooming, take cuttings from stems without flowers. Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the stem and plant them in well-drained, fertile potting soil or garden-quality vermiculite. Mist the stems regularly and water well. The planted stems should root in less than a month. Transplant them into larger pots, and once a good root system has developed, plant them in the garden.
Pruning Lavender Plants
Lavender blooms each year on new wood, so pruning should occur in early spring, before the stems begin to flush new growth. Once new green stems become visible at the base of the plant, cut the older lavender stems back by about one-third. Pruning helps to prevent the lavender plant from becoming overly woody and promotes healthy, new growth. Remove any damaged or dead wood stems at ground level.
Pests and Diseases
Lavender doesn't suffer from many pests or diseases, but it can be susceptible to soilborne diseases such as root rot if water stands around the plants. Don't overwater your lavender. Water new plantings once or twice a week until established, and mature plants every two to three weeks until buds begin to form.
Preparing Lavender Plants for Winter
If you choose a lavender plant that's hardy in your zone, it should overwinter well without much intervention. You can use fabric row covers or winter mulch options, such as evergreen boughs or straw, to create a barrier against the cold and wind.
Potted lavender can come indoors for the winter. A south-facing window with lots of light is best. Keep the plants away from heaters, which can dry them out, and drafty windows, which can make them too cold.
You only need to water lavender plants occasionally in the winter. Wait to water the plants until the top inch is dry. Too much water, especially in the winter, causes root rot.
Harvesting Lavender Plants
Harvest lavender in the early morning hours, as the oil is most concentrated early in the day when about half of the buds are open. Using sharp pruning shears, cut the stems as long as possible and form bundles of up to 100 stems, securing them with string or rubber bands. Let the lavender hang upside down in a cool, dark place with good air circulation until dry.
Use in vases to scent the air or create a homemade potpourri. Try adding lavender buds to marinades and sauces, vegetables and meats in place of regularly used herbs. Toss lavender stems on the hot grill to enhance the grilling flavor and send waves of lavender scent through the air.
An avid gardener and nature enthusiast, Cheryl Losch has been writing since 2008. Her work has regularly appeared in "Strathroy First Magazine" and the "Strathroy Age-Dispatch," as well as a variety of garden related websites. Losch is also a member of the Garden Writers Association and is a member of the London-Middlesex Master Gardeners.