Does lavender die in the winter? Does lavender come back every year? 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 and come back every year for 10 to 15 years within its hardiness range. Learn which lavender varieties are hardiest in the winter as well as how to properly care for your lavender plants during the coldest months of the year.
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Which Lavender Plant Varieties Do Best in the Winter?
Growing a lavender plant that's hardy in your zone allows it to survive the winter without dying. There are 47 species of lavender with over 450 varieties. The three primary species of lavender that are grown in the United States are French lavender (Lavandula dentata), English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), and Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas). Unfortunately, French and Spanish lavender are only hardy in zones 8 through 9, making them less than ideal for climates with chilly, snowy winters.
English lavender is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 9, allowing it to survive the winter in these areas. If you don't want to stick with basic English lavender and its cultivars, such as Hidcote, Imperial Gem, Munstead, Lacy Frills, and Provence Blue, you can instead try some of the many hybrid lavenders that have genes from these hardy English cultivars. These hybrids, including Grosso, Phenomenol, and Sensational, are well suited for areas with snowy, cold winters and hot, humid summers, as the genes from less cold-tolerant species are often better suited to survive hot summers than English varieties.
While non-English lavender varieties aren't as hardy, they can be grown as annual plants in colder climates, or you can bring them indoors for the winter if they're potted.
Lavender Varieties That Are Easy to Overwinter
- English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Avignon Early Blue (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Grosso (Lavandula x intermedia)
- Hidcote (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Imperial Gem (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Lacy Frills (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Lady (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Munstead (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Provence Blue (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender Varieties That Are Not So Easy to Overwinter
- French lavender (Lavandula dentata)
- Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas)
- Woolly lavender (Lavandula lanata)
- Goodwin Creek Grey (Lavandula x ginginsii)
- Lavish Purple (Lavandula stoechas)
- Otto Quast (Lavandula stoechas)
- Primavera (Lavandula stoechas)
Winter Care for Lavender Plants
Although lavender in general is a tough plant that usually survives winter in its appropriate hardiness zones, a little extra care in fall can help lavender put out lots of healthy new growth in spring. If you choose a lavender plant that's hardy in your zone, it should overwinter well without much intervention. Varieties that are not suitable for your zone should be grown either as annuals or in pots so they can overwinter indoors.
If you live where subfreezing temperatures are common, you can protect your lavender in winter by covering your lavender plants with evergreen boughs or fabric row covers once you've had your first frost and the ground is cold. The covers shade the plants and prevent heaving of the plants out of the ground during freeze-thaw cycles. The covering also provides protection from cold winter winds that can dry out the plants and cause dieback of stems.
Lavender plants also perform well when container-grown, and winter needn't mean the end of them.
When you live within the cultivar's growing range:
- Sink the pot into the ground near a warm building wall with soil at the same level as in the pot. The garden soil helps insulate the roots.
- If putting the pot into the ground isn't convenient, move it near a wall or set it into a larger pot with leaves or mulch filling the space between the two pots.
- Add some shredded bark as mulch under the plant for further protection.
- Avoid pruning your lavender in winter, reserving this for the following spring.
- If the soil becomes dry but isn't frozen during winter, give the plant a light watering now and then.
If a potted variety isn't suited to your zone:
- Take the pot indoors for the winter and place it in a south-facing window with lots of light.
- Keep the plants away from heaters, which can dry them out, and drafty windows, which can make them too cold.
- Wait to water the plants until the top inch of soil is dry. Too much water, especially in the winter, causes root rot.
General Lavender Care Tips
To best protect your lavender in winter, you need to ensure it remains healthy in the months leading up to cold weather. These lavender care tips can help you grow lavender that's thriving throughout the year, ensuring optimal growth and maximizing your blooms at the same time.
Planting and Soil Conditions for Lavender
Lavender needs well-drained soil, 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 acidic. 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 Lavender Plants
Once the plant has finished blooming in the growing season, take cuttings from stems without flowers. Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the stem and plant them in well-drained, fertile potting mix 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 the best time to trim the plant and cut back dead stems is in spring after you see its first flush of new growth. Pruning helps to prevent the lavender plant from becoming overly woody and promotes healthy, new growth.
When trimming lavender, use sharp pruning shears that won't tear the stems. Wipe the blades with rubbing alcohol before each cut to prevent the spread of plant disease. Remove any damaged or dead wood stems at ground level.
Continue harvesting stems for their fragrant foliage and flowers from late spring through the midsummer months but stop harvesting in late August or early September. Once harvesting is finished, you can leave the plant uncut for the winter. If you experience heavy winter snow, you can minimize snow damage by shearing the plants into mounds in late summer provided you only cut back younger stems and avoid cutting into old wood because this promotes tender young growth that's easily damaged by cold.
Lavender 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 water mature plants every two to three weeks until buds begin to form.
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 lavender in vases to scent the air or create a homemade potpourri. Try adding lavender buds to marinades, 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.