How to 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  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 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

Heat tolerant and rugged with a compact, taller habit that makes for a charming short hedge. Up to 4′  tall and wide.

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Munstead Lavender
Zone: 5 – 9

Compact habit and aromatic foliage with abundant, fragrant, flower spike; perfect for  hot, dry slopes. Up to 2′ tall and wide.

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Riverina Thomas French Lavender
Zone: 5 – 9

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.

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Silver Anouk Spanish Lavender
Zone: 6 – 10

Heavy spring bloomer of tall winged flower spikes that stand up to summer heat and drought. Up to 2′ tall and wide.

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Provence French Lavender
Zone: 5 – 9

Gray green foliage and abundant, fragrant, purple flower spikes that attract butterflies. Up to 2′ tall and wide.

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With Love™ Lavender
Zone: 6 – 10

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.

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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. Up to 2′ tall and wide.

Blueberry Ruffles French Lavender
Zone: 8 – 10

Early bloomer of ruffled violet-purple petals that flutter above the profusion of fragrant, stout bloom spikes. Up to 2′ tall and wide.

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Thumbelina Leigh English Lavender
Zone: 5 – 9

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.

Melissa Lilac Lavender
Zone: 5 – 9

Petite and pretty, perfect for edging paths and borders; aromatic foliage perfumes garden when brushed against. Up to 2′ tall.

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Phenomenal Lavender
Zone: 5 – 8

Cold-hardy, does not die back in the winter; notable for its disease resistance and heat and humidity tolerance. Up to 3′ tall.

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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