Choose the best lavender for your garden

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 just right for you.

While there are over 400 varieties of lavender, they can be grouped into three main types:

  • English (Lavendula 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 of L. 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.

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Goodwin Creek Gray Lavender
Zone: 7 – 9

Compact silver-grey toothed foliage backs spikes of dark lavender flowers. Very heat tolerant. Reaches up to 3 feet tall.

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Munstead Lavender
Zone: 5 – 9

Compact, mounding, aromatic gray foliage and abundant, fragrant, rich flower spikes. Reaches up to 18 inches tall.

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Fat Bud French Lavender
Zone: 5 – 9

Gray-green foliage and abundant spikes of fragrant, purple flowers that attract butterflies. Reach up to 3 feet tall.

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.

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Hazel™ Spanish Lavender
Zone: 7 – 9

Large, vibrant bluish-purple flowers complement gray-green finely textured foliage. Reaches up to 30 inches tall.

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Provence French Lavender
Zone: 5 – 9

Gray green foliage and abundant, fragrant, purple flower spikes that attract butterflies. Reaches up to 2 feet tall.

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With Love™ Lavender
Zone: 6 – 10

Pink flowers with very long ‘wings’. Superior heat tolerance and long bloom season. Reaches up to 20 inches tall.

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.

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Winter Bee Spanish Lavender
Zone: 7 – 9

Rich, purple, fragrant flowers on a robust selection. Thrives in hot, humid and cold, wet weather. Reaches up to 28 inches tall.

Lavandula angustifolia 'Folgate'

Folgate English Lavender
Zone: 5 – 9

Fragrant purple blooms abound on this compact evergreen with narrow foliage. Reaches up to 2 feet tall.

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Thumbelina Leigh English Lavender
Zone: 5 – 9

Compact selection produces spikes of violet-blue blooms up to three times per year. Reaches up to 18 inches tall.

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.

Lavandula angustifolia 'Ashdown Forest'

Ashdown Forest English Lavender
Zone: 5 – 9

Dense clusters of pale purple flowers on upright, slender stems cover this compact lavender. Reaches up to 20 inches tall.

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Phenomenal Lavender
Zone: 5 – 8

Notably cold-hardy and disease resistant with remarkable and heat and humidity tolerance. Reaches up to 3 feet tall.

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Hidcote Blue English Lavender
Zone: 5 – 9

Improved strain that’s one of the cold hardiest of the English lavenders. Reaches up to 3 feet tall.

Or, Just Plant Them In Containers

If dealing with soil, light, and weather complications are simply too complicated, you have a simple alternative–lavenders love to live in pots.

Make a lean soil mixture (1/3 sand, 1/3 topsoil and 1/3 compost is ideal) and add a handful of gravel or a pile of broken pottery shards to the bottom for additional assistance with drainage.

Place in full sun in a location with good air circulation. In colder zones, overwinter containers in a sheltered location, and top plants with a thick blanket of fallen leaves or mulch.

Need a primer on how to plant lavender? Here you go!

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