Lavender is a gorgeous herb with gray-green foliage and bright purple, aromatic flowers that grow on spikes above the foliage. If you’re short on space but want to grow this beautiful plant, don’t worry. Lavender can thrive in containers! Read on for all the details about how to grow lavender in pots, including everything from seeds to harvest and beyond.
There are so many benefits to lavender!
- Lavender is pretty as an ornamental on a patio or deck or in the yard, garden or walkway.
- It smells amazing and can help attract pollinators to your herb garden.
- English lavender can also be used for cooking (especially tea and baking) and aromatherapy.
- Its essential oils can be used for perfume, home cleaning, and other uses.
- In aromatherapy, lavender is considered calming, often used in essential oil blends, teas and sachets.
Depending on conditions and when you plant, you can get those amazing purple flowers anywhere from early spring to late summer in colder climates.
Part of the mint family, English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a bushy perennial that does best in Mediterranean conditions: warm and dry. So in hot, humid summers like in the Southern U.S., containers actually help keep lavender cool and aerated and can reduce the risk of fungal growth.
French lavender (lavandula dentata) and Spanish lavender (lavandula stoechas) are other common lavender varieties out of 47 in the genus lavendula. English is the most versatile and most commonly grown in home gardens.
Most varieties have purple flowers in common, ranging from light purple to blue. Most also favor dry, sandy soil; alkaline soil ph; and little to no fertilizer.
When it comes to growing lavender in pots … it not only thrives in container gardens, it prefers them in some climates. So the right kind of pot, careful watering, and a sunny spot are key to growing your own beautiful lavender.
With the right conditions, 6-8 hours of direct sunlight, and not too much water, you can grow your own lavender on your deck or patio container garden! Here’s how …
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How to grow lavender in pots
To plant lavender, you can either sow lavender seeds, transplant starter seedlings, or directly plant a softwood cutting in the soil.
The first step is to choose the lavender variety you want to grow.
English lavender like Munstead are the most popular for home gardeners, in part because it’s drought-resistant and frost-tolerant. With milder but high-quality essential oil, English lavender is favored for culinary use, while its French and Spanish cousins have stronger fragrance and are used more often in aromatherapy and home uses.
While English lavenders tolerate the harshness of winter easily, French and Spanish lavenders are not as tolerant.
Here are two great English lavender seed varieties to consider from Botanical Interests, my favorite seed company. Super high-quality, mostly organic/heirloom selection.
- Munstead English lavender: 15-90 days to emerge, 12″-18″ tall blooms (great for containers!)
- English Tall/Vera lavender: 21-35 days to emerge, 24″-36″ tall blooms
Best containers for lavender
Because lavender loves dry conditions and needs to avoid sitting in damp soil, it’s a good idea to use unglazed ceramic, clay or terracotta pots. Pots made of these materials are porous and facilitate better drainage, which helps prevent root rot.
Planting in containers at least 12 inches deep provides adequate room for the roots to develop. Good drainage is really the most important factor, so be sure whatever container you’re using has at least 1-2 drainage holes (or use a fabric grow bag).
Lavenders can grow as high as 3-6 feet, so choose a container based on the size you plan to keep your lavender. (Regular trimming can help you maintain whatever size you prefer.)
For a tall plant, choose a large container with at least 10-15 gallon soil capacity. Smaller plants can do well in 12-inch wide containers.
My favorites are always the fabric grow bags! They’re a great choice and so easy, reusable and versatile, and everything I’ve planted in them thrives. I really think they’re the best way to grow healthy plants with well-drained soil.
The 15-gallon Vivosun fabric grow bag is the best … I have so many of these and grow everything from herbs to peas to pumpkins in them!
Once your lavender is home in its container, the next step is to make sure it’s in a spot that gets full sun, ideally at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.
Lavender is notoriously happy with low quality soil, which means you can use just about any potting soil you have on hand. (I would still avoid garden soil or topsoil, which aren’t designed for container gardening. To learn more about soils, check out my Potting Soil 101 post!)
Pro tip: Lavender prefers slightly alkaline soil ph. Since most commercial potting soil is more on the acidic side, it’s recommended to add a bit of lime to your soil before planting.
Jobe’s Organics (my favorite fertilizer brand) has this high-quality lime garden soil amendment, a best seller with excellent reviews.
When it comes to mulch, be careful not to use compost, wood chips or other organic matter, as they can hold in moisture and encourage fungal infection. Remember, lavender doesn’t like to stay wet! If you do decide to mulch, use rocks or perlite and keep it to a minimum.
Growing lavender from seed
Lavender is not the easiest plant to start from seed because it takes a long time and needs cold to germinate, but it’s not impossible!
Lavender seeds can take up to two months to germinate and need cold temperatures to do it. If you’re going to start from seed, the best way is to start indoors about 10-12 weeks before your last average frost date (find yours in this handy frost calculator!).
To plant lavender seeds, press gently into the surface of the potting soil or seed starting mix, or cover with a scant 1/8″ of the mix. They need light to germinate, so burying too deep will greatly inhibit growth.
Keep soil moist with a spray mister, and thin when seedlings are about 1-2 inches tall.
Personally I recommend starting your plant from a cutting or seedling. You can find lavender at most garden stores in spring — or try your farmers market (find yours in this handy local farmers market directory).
Germinating lavender seeds in paper towels
If you want to start them in spring, or if you live in a very warm climate with mild winters, you can simulate low temperatures through a process called stratification. Spread out the lavender seeds on a damp paper towel. (Make sure it’s not soggy.)
Seal in a ziplock bag and refrigerate the bag for about 40 days. Then place the towel with seeds in direct sunlight or a grow light. Some seeds might begin to sprout while others might take several weeks to grow. Try to be patient and give them a full 3-6 weeks to germinate.
You can then transfer them into the pot where you plan to keep them for the growing season.
Here’s more detail about stratification from Botanical Interests: Stratification and Scarification
How to take lavender cuttings
To take a softwood cutting, trim a stem below a leaf node (you’ll see the little bumps) in the soft part of the stem, above the older hardwood. (If you do get some of the hardwood with the stem, trim it off before planting the cutting for better results.)
Strip the leaves off the bottom few inches of the stem, as well as any remaining flowers. You want the stem focused on producing roots, not sustaining leaves or growing flowers.
Dip the tip of the stem in rooting hormone, then place gently in a container with potting soil. Rooting hormone isn’t necessary for lavender, but it can help speed things up.
Mist the cutting and cover with a protective material, if possible, like a plastic jug.
Here’s a detailed look at how to take, plant and protect lavender cuttings:
How fast does lavender grow?
The minimum time for seeds to germinate is two weeks. However, some can take several months … so don’t expect quick germination!
Then once it’s rooted, it can take another 90-100 days or more to reach maturity and bloom.
Softwood cuttings can develop roots in about 2-3 weeks and flower by the end of the season.
How to care for lavender in pots
Lavenders are Mediterranean plants. They grow very well in dry conditions and do not respond well to frequent watering.
Lavender only requires weekly watering during the seedling stage and less once it’s more established.
Once they mature, water the plants about once every two weeks in summer, at most. You want at least the top 2 inches of soil to dry out in between.
In humid climates, you might need less frequent watering. If you live in a very dry climate, you might want to water a little more often. Either way, keep an eye on the soil for guidance and don’t overdo it.
While watering, remember to soak the soil well, to reach the deep roots.
If leaves start to yellow, you’ll know you overwatered. Back off until the top 2-3 inches of soil dry out.
During the cool seasons in fall and winter, lavender goes dormant and regular watering becomes unnecessary. An occasional drink isn’t a bad idea in a dry climate, but overwatering can cause more harm than good.
Lavenders grow fairly well in low-nutrient soils. They do not have any special fertilizer requirements, and some say soil with added fertilizer can even make lavender less fragrant.
In most plants, too much nitrogen leads to dense foliage growth and prevents or inhibits flowering. So make sure that if you do add any kind of fertilizer, you’re using a well-balanced one, not heavy on the nitrogen.
How to prune lavender plants
Pruning lavender is important to keep it looking fresh and to facilitate flowering.
In cold climates, the best time to do it is spring. When it starts flowering, cutting back the woody stems bearing the damage of winter and withered flowers will allow a healthier bloom.
Pruning during summer, after the flowering is over, will also do good by stopping overgrowth and preventing the plants from becoming scrawny.
When pruning, trim from the top throughout the plant in a way that encourages airflow (meaning don’t chop down a cluster … trim from several areas of the plant).
And to keep the plant healthy and growing, be sure not to trim more than 1/3 of the plant back at a time.
With a woody plant like lavender, you also want to make sure not to cut down into the hardened old wood in the stem. Soft growth will regenerate; woody older stems will not produce new growth.
How to harvest lavender
You can take cuttings anytime, but if you’re going for the essential oils, it’s best to cut them just before the blooms open, preferably in the morning. Flowers still in bud form retain the oils better.
Clip using sharp garden shears or scissors, starting from the base of the stem. If you want regrowth, be sure to leave some softwood at the base.
Lavender can last for years and will steadily produce more flowers each year for the first several years, with proper care. Even in a container!
Does lavender spread?
Lavender spreads by dispersal of seeds, which generally isn’t an issue in a container garden. And lavender is notoriously challenging to grow from seed anyway.
So unlike some of its mint cousins, lavender is unlikely to spread wildly in your yard or flowerbeds. But yes it’s possible, if your flowers go to seed and you get a windy day!
How to dry lavender flowers
After you’ve harvested the beautiful flowers, it’s time to dry them. Snip low on the stem and tie into bunches, then hang them upside down in the open air or in a room with cool temperatures and good air circulation. Keeping harvested flowers away from the sunlight will help retain colors.