As their native habitat is along the Mediterranean coast, lavenders are happiest in places with moist, cool winters and hot, dry summers. And, full sun and well-drained soil. That’s pretty specific, right? If none of this sounds like your backyard, don’t be deterred from trying lavender as, with the exception of very cold zones, there’s probably one that’s right for you.
While there are over 400 varieties of lavender, they can be grouped into three main types:
English (Lavandula angustifolia):The classic with long spikes holding fragrant flowers. While some varieties better tolerate heat and others might bloom longer in cooler climates, most flower in late spring to early summer. Even after they’ve slowed in the blossom department what remains is a silvery mound of intensely fragrant leaves.
Non-English (French, Spanish, Sweet, Wooly, etc.): These bloom earlier in the season in warmer zones, often in very early spring. A diverse collection, the variation in fragrance, size, color, texture, and flower heads in this group make it a truly exciting panoply of plants.
English hybrids (Lavandula x intermedia): Known as the lavandins, varieties in this group come latest in the bloom cycle, starting just as the the English lavenders are finishing, and continuing to mid summer. Lavandins have long gray leaves, twice or more the size ofL. angustifolias, and grow much larger and faster. Some are more adept at dealing with heat than their English parents.
So what grows well where? Here are our top picks for the best lavenders by region.
Hot and Dry
Southwest, West Coast, California
Yes, conditions in these areas are heaven for lavender in terms of growing well with little fuss, but some, such as the hybrids, do perform better than others. If you have either very clay or sandy soil amend well with organic matter such as compost, add gravel to the planting hole, and do not mulch around plants. This is true for all regions! Although lavenders are native to the Mediterranean, they need consistent moisture during the first few years while they establish a strong root system. Once rooted in, only occasional water is needed.
New triploid with large flowers that yield five times the aromatic oil of their parent types. Up to 3′ tall and wide.
Hot and Humid
Mid-Atlantic, Upper and Lower South
In these humid places, try Spanish lavender or French lavender. Both seem to be more tolerant of steamy climates. As an extra precaution, make sure your plants are located where they will receive good air circulation as this will cut down on disease which can impact their overall health and flowering.
Pink flowers with very long ‘wings’. Superior heat tolerance and long bloom season. Up to 2′ tall and wide.
Cool and Wet
Coastal California, Pacific Northwest
Where the summer marine influence is strong, disease can affect some lavenders. Some (but not all) English and Spanish varieties do well here; as noted previously, proper soil prep will yield the best results. All of these varieties also do very well in containers.
Compact selection blooms up to three times a year. Up to 1′ tall and wide.
Cold (zone 5 and above)
Northeast, Upper Midwest, Interior West
These regions pose all sorts of challenges to growing lavender–cold winters, humid summers, often rich or heavy soils. But, yes, you can grow many varieties of this plant, particularly some of the English lavenders and the hybrids. First, select varieties that are cold tolerant. Some lavenders will survive temperatures as low as -10 degrees F., then amend soil with sand and gravel, plant high (an inch or soil above soil line), and prune every spring.