Lavender is a plant that knows what it likes and if you give it what it needs, it will give right back. So when fall comes around, and your herb is preparing to go to sleep for the winter, let’s make sure you tuck it in comfy. Check out our top tips to care for your lavender plant in the fall so it comes back bright and bushy in the spring.
Tip 1: Do A “Touch Up” Pruning In Fall
When To Prune
There are really two times in the year that are good for pruning lavender. One is in the early spring when new growth is starting to appear and the second is in summer after the first flowering. Early fall can be a time to do “touch up” pruning as I like to call it. Further, how you prune depends on if you have a young plant versus a mature one. Take a peek at the whole cycle so you can get the context of a fall “touch up”.
And, as a reminder, lavender is an evergreen perennial, which means it stays green in winter! A splash of color in the bleakness is always a treasure.
Depending on if you have a new plant or a mature one (see sections below for more details), a spring pruning may be just the ticket to discourage woody stems and promote new growth in your plant. Look at your lavender, and notice that it has woody stems near the base. Then go up 2-3 inches from that woody base and find some green shoots. Cut your plant with sharp, clean shearers or a hand pruner.
Also, always keep some green shoots otherwise your plant may not survive. Lavender is notorious for not sending out new growth from the old woody stems. You can also cut back any old stems that aren’t producing anymore. If you aren’t sure if they are dead, wait until the summer pruning to see if they sprout any fresh growth.
Finally, I know cutting like this feels drastic, but your plant will most likely be happier this season with a haircut. Lavender bushes out after it gets this cut.
After your lavender has flowered, you are going to want to trim the plant into a dome shape. All this means is that you leave longer stems in the middle as you trim your way down and around the entire plant. The dome shape is supposed to help provide good air circulation and a way for leaves and snow to fall off the plant in winter.
Clip off about one third of the foliage when you are making the dome shape. Be sure to use what you harvested from the plant! Lavender flowers can be harvested for their essential oils or making teas and other culinary items. If you are interested in how to use this plant for cooking, read our post on edible lavender plants. We break down how to use this fantastic herb in the kitchen!
This is also where you can trim those dead woody stems you weren’t sure about in Spring. If there still isn’t any new growth on them, you know they have passed and to give them a clip. It’s important to cut old stems so that water doesn’t get trapped in the dead pieces and snaps the plant. Lavender has shallow roots, so cutting old stems puts less strain on the herb.
Early Fall “Touch ups”
Finally, we are in fall. You are not making any drastic cuts here, but are tidying up the work you did in the summer if you had a second round of flowers. Clip off any dead flowers that may be leftover from a second bloom so they are not decomposing on the plant in winter. After the summer cut, lavender needs a chance to regroup and store its energy. Cutting the plant too late in the year won’t let it gather its energy, and it could die.
First Year Plant
If the plant is in its first year, only do a summer trim. This gives the plant time to establish itself and develop healthy roots. Skip the spring pruning the following year and only do a summer pruning once again. After that, it’s time to start pruning regularly in spring and summer for robust and healthy plants.
In the plant’s second year after the summer cutting, set up a regime for pruning your lavender the following spring and summer. Regular care will prevent woody growth from becoming too prevalent in your plant. It would be a good idea to add this to your yearly plant maintenance planner.
Tip 2: Bring Your Plant Inside (Or Not…Depends On the Plant)
Common Lavender Species and Their Hardiness Levels
- Lavandula angustifolia: Common Name [English Lavender]: One of the most common species grown in the garden for culinary use and it is also the most cold hardy. It can survive most winters planted outside in USDA zone 4 and tolerate temperatures as low as -10 °C (14 °F) if not lower. A few common varieties/cultivars include ‘Hidcote’, ‘Munstead’, and ‘Royal Velvet’.
- Lavandula x intermedia: Common Name [Lavandin]: This is another species good for cooler climates. It can withstand temps as low as USDA zone 5. Some great varieties include ‘Provence’ and ‘Grosso’.
- Lavandula stoechas: Common Names [Spanish Lavender, Topped Lavender] : Bring inside for winter. They cannot endure cold weather, but is hardy up to USDA zones 8-9. Check out these varieties/cultivars: ‘Blueberry Ruffles’, ‘Bandera Pink’, and ‘Anouk’.
- Lavandula dentata: Common Names [French Lavender, Fringed Lavender]: Same directions as Lavandula Stoechas. Cool varieties and cultivars include: ‘Lambikins’ and ‘Ploughman’s Blue’.
Planted in Soil
If you planted your lavender in the ground and it is a cold tolerant variety, your plant should be set for winter. You may want to cover your plant with a blanket as a temporary cover in the event of a super harsh freeze. A light layer of pea gravel or sand can also be a good mulch for extra warmth.
Potted lavender plants may need some winter protection if you are in a usda zone with colder temps. Depending on the variety, you may want to bring your lavender indoors where it is cooler, but not near freezing temps and light. Potted plants cannot stay as warm as those plants grown in the ground.
There is also the option of digging a hole and burying your plant in its pot for the winter in an area with full sun. Dig it up in the spring and put it out in its normal spot. You might also get away with covering your pot with a thick blanket and leaving it outside. Do not risk leaving L. stoechas or L. dentata out in winter unless you are in a warmer climate.
Tip 3: Clean Around the Base of the Plant Before Winter
Our beloved lavender can be finicky about getting root rot. The roots are shallow and if it receives too much moisture, it can suffer. With that being said, in the fall (and throughout the year) you want to clear around the base of the plant of any debris such as leaves, straw, dead flowers, and other organic matter. You’re looking to remove anything that can retain water. Depositing a little sand or pea gravel as mulch around the base of the herb can provide warmth while also contributing drainage to the plant.
Cleaning around the base of your lavender is even more important when you plant in clay soils that retain a lot of water.
Tip 4: Water Less
This is a follow-up to Tip 3 in that you want to start watering your plant less in the fall and even fewer times in the winter. Lavender will go dormant in winter and will only need to be watered 2-3 times indoors, while your outside plants may get enough rain from nature so that you do not need to water at all during this time.
If you are potting a plant up and bringing it inside for winter, make sure it has good drainage.
That’s it folks! Lavender fall care is pretty easy and once you get into a routine maintaining your plant throughout the year, it will become second nature.
As a side note, if you have lavender, you might also be growing rosemary in your garden. My question to you is, do you have trouble telling them apart? I have in the past and, if you are like me, you might enjoy our article on rosemary vs. lavender. It gives you the inside scoop on how to tell them apart using three essential differences.
And now we come to the end. Until next time!