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Lavender Beds - What to do before you plant English Lavender

Preparing the ground for lavender plants Preparing a lavender bed

Lavender is such a favourite that just about everyone wants some. A traditional remedy for burns and insomnia, lavender plants were often found by the front door in cottage gardens, and it makes sense to plant it where you pass by often, so that you can enjoy its lovely fragrance. These instructions apply whether you are planting Hidcote Lavender or Munstead Lavender or one of the fancier lavender varieties - although these tend to be less hardy than the first two which are definitely best for growing outdoors.

Choose your position

  • Location, location. Like nearly all plants with tough, narrow leaves and small flowers, lavender loves a hot, sunny position. It will tolerate light shade, but must have lots of light so does not like being planted under trees where it's likely to be overshadowed most of the day. And it HATES cold, wet areas. Never put your lavender where its roots will sit in water. Sodden soil in winter is bad news.
  • Choose an open, sunny position, facing south or west, if possible. 
  • One thing you don't have to worry about is wind or salt. Lavender thrives by the seaside and is quite happy in a windy position.
  • It's best to plant lavender in soil that is warming well, which is why we only deliver from April onwards. It makes a huge difference to how fast the plants become established.  (And we won't deliver if it is unseasonably cold anyway).

Preparing the ground

  • You really do not have to do too much. 
  • The soil should ideally be neutral to alkaline. Lavender does really well on chalk. If your soil is slightly acidic, then adding lime will help increase the pH and a handful per square metre (with an application every spring) is likely to be enough, but always apply according to the instructions on the packet. 
  • The soil should also be low in fertility (the technical term for "poor") ; if it's light, well-drained and sandy, your lavender will be very happy. With rich soil, you will get more foliage and fewer flowers. So do NOT improve the soil before planting. Dig it over, remove the normal detritus and take care to get the weeds out before planting. It's no fun trying to disentangle couch grass or ground elder from the roots of an established lavender plant. If the weather is cold leading up to planting time, then covering the area to be planted with black plastic for a couple of weeks before you receive the plants will help raise the soil temperature.

What to do if you don't have the ideal conditions for lavender

  • There's no need to despair if your soil is not ideal. Lavender will tolerate clay soil if other factors are right and it is in a warm, sunny position. You could, for example, plant it at the top of a bank, thus ensuring a drier spot for it. However, it tends to become more woody at the base in clay and be shorter lived, so soil amendment is advisable.
  • Dig in a little coarse, well-rotted compost. ideally mixed up with plenty of horticultural sand or grit. The idea is to increase drainage and the amount of oxygen held in the soil, but beware of creating a “sump”, whereby water in the heavier soil surrounding the plants drains into the amended soil and is held there. This tends to happen if you only improve the soil in the planting holes, so spread your amendments over a wider area.
  • It's also advisable to mound up the soil (or make it into a ridge, if planting a lavender hedge) and plant into the top of the ridge. This, again, improves drainage.

Growing lavender in containers

  • If you prefer to grow your lavender plants in pots, then choose a loam-based compost (John Innes No 3) and mix in the same volume again of grit. A VERY little slow release fertiliser added in spring of the second and subsequent years should see it flowering like mad.
  • See more about planting a lavender hedge in our advice sheet on Planting Lavender
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Thank you, The Ashridge Nurseries Team.

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