Lavender is an aromatic plant with an unmistakable aroma that reminds many people of freshly laundered clothes. You can grow it in the garden as a border or hedge, or in a container (which is an effective solution for keeping it on a patio, or if you live in the mountains). Lavender is a genus of plants that includes various species. They are evergreen and fairly hardy perennial shrubs or bushes, recognisable by their flowers grouped in spikes. The colour of these flowers depends on the type of lavender and the variety: white, grey, light blue, blue, violet, pink, or purple.
Lavender brings together everything that is good about flowers. It's not just an ornamental plant that radiates colour and fragrance, but also a useful plant. It attracts beneficial insects to your garden, such as bees, which produce premium honey from the plant’s nectar. Lavender flowers retain their aroma even when dried, so they are traditionally used to make scented bags for freshening up wardrobes and drawers. Furthermore they are edible, so you can prepare jams, desserts, appetisers and main courses with them, or use them to flavour vinegar, salt, and so on.
When to prune lavender
Lavender is a rustic plant that is easy to grow using similar methods, whatever the species and variety. It prefers warmth and sunlight (it doesn’t flower well in the shade), but is not averse to cold weather (with the exception of the most delicate species, such as Lavandula stoechas). It requires little water, tolerates dry spells, and is part of the spontaneous flora of the Mediterranean basin. Although it thrives in poor, low-fertility soil, it can’t abide standing water, so it is important that the soil is well drained.
Lavender is suffrutescent, which means that it’s a plant with a woody base and herbaceous upper branches. The woody parts lack buds, so no new vegetation can develop from them. Consequently, lavender branches grow only by extending and producing new leaves at the tips, while remaining bare at the base. This explains why a lavender shrub can lose shape and compactness as time passes.
Among all the various cultivation treatments for lavender, pruning is the most important. It must be done every year to prevent the woody parts from proliferating over time and giving the plant an unsightly appearance. In fact, pruning lavender not only keeps it in shape and stimulates flowering, but also rejuvenates the plant.
When should you prune lavender? After flowering, at the end of the summer, when the flowers tend to turn grey, cut the inflorescences (between August and October, depending on the species and locality). Late winter or early spring (February/March) is the best time to trim it. If the local climate is cold, it is best to postpone all pruning work until late winter/early spring, to avoid the plant suffering from frost.
Speaking of evergreen plants such as lavender, here you will find a guide on how to plant them and take care of them so as to have the perfect evergreen hedge.
How to prune lavender: techniques and equipment
During late summer pruning, cut the flowering stems which, according to custom, should be dried by hanging them in bunches in the shade, before being used to perfume linen or make potpourri for the home. Bear in mind that lavender contains its highest concentration of essential oil—which is produced mainly in the flowers—towards the end of the flowering period. To cut lavender stems above the last leaves on the branch tips you can use secateurs. To get the job done faster, tie them into bundles directly on the plant using twine, then cut with hedge shears and finally tidy up the profile of the bush.
When vegetative activity restarts, remove any dead lavender branches to let in light and air. Then proceed with topping by making reduction cuts, which involves removing some of the first leaves below the stem for each branch. This way, you limit the plant’s height by preventing the branches from extending unchecked, and also stimulate flowering of the lower part, where there are still leaves and buds with growth potential (not in the woody part without buds, which is old wood). Don’t cut old wood in an attempt to encourage new growth, because nothing will happen other than that the remaining branch stump dries up.
Reduction cutting is a technique that shortens a branch by "replacing" it with a younger one: we talk about this in our article on how to prune a tree.
With gradual rather than drastic topping, you can correct unbalanced growth of lavender plants. By gradually lowering the plant’s height using reduction cutting at the top, within the space of a few years you will restore its composed shape and you won't have to replace a shrub that has become misshapen beyond repair.
A lavender plant can encroach vigorously into the surrounding area, so it may be necessary to cut and then uproot part of it. In this case, you can use a chainsaw or a brushcutter with a suitable blade or disc. Here you will find an overview of pruning tools so that you can choose the one best suited to your needs.
Among the benefits of lavender, we haven’t yet mentioned that it repels undesirable insects, so it is a good remedy for ridding the garden of mosquitoes.