How to Grow Lavender in the South

Humidity can do as much damage to a lavender plant as it does to your hair style, ladies.

Lavender plant
potted lavender. Photo: anskuw/Getty Images

Spend any time in the South and you are bound to here this common phrase: "it's not the heat, it's the humidity." While we are usually referring to our ability to withstand the summer temperature or how it affects our hairstyles, this also holds true when growing lavender, a plant that thrives on heat but doesn't do so well in the moist humidity.

While there are many plants that can withstand the humidity and perform beautifully for years and years, most lavender varieties do not fare well in the Southern climate. Thankfully, breeders are developing even tougher lavender plants, such as the 'Phenomenal' plant, so your chances of enjoying lavender in your Southern garden are increasing. Unfortunately, even if you do everything right and your lavender plants appear happy, most lavender plants begin to decline after about 10 years. All lavenders thrive in conditions similar to their native habitat along the Mediterranean coast – high, hot, and dry. If you want to add this beautiful and fragrant herb to your raised bed or container garden, follow these easy guidelines to ensure a beautiful plant.

Location, Location, Location

Lavender needs a lot of time in the full sun (consider the plant's native habitat), so save the dappled areas for shade-loving plants. When adding a mature plant to your garden, choose a spot that gets sun the majority of the day. If growing lavender from seed, however, do not expose lavender seedlings to full sun while still in their nursery pots. Place them in shade and water them as needed until you plant them in the garden. It can't be said enough - lavender thrives off of heat and does well planted alongside heat-retaining objects, such as sidewalks, along a stone wall, or around a concrete poolside.

How to Plant Lavender

As with many plants grown for their essential oils, a lean soil (soil that is lacking in very much organic material) will encourage a higher concentration of oils, so go easy on the organic matter and on the fertilizer. Lavender should be planted in a well-drained, slightly alkaline soil with a pH between 6.7 and 7.3. Because lavender will not tolerate excessive soil moisture or humidity, it is a good idea to add builder's sand to the soil before planting to aide in drainage. Create a high mound with well-cultivated soil and work in sand or pebbles to increase drainage. Using a garden trowel, dig a hole in the mound just deep enough for the plant. Remember that lavender prefers arid conditions, both beneath and above the soil. Since hardwood mulch holds in the moisture, it is best to use a light-colored mulch, such as stone, shells, or pebbles, to help keep the plant dry.

Spacing and Air Circulation

Lavender does not like to be crowded. Make sure you have plenty of space between your plants for airflow, especially in areas where humidity is an issue. Depending on the variety of lavender you purchase, a small potted plant can grow into a shrub that is 3 ft. in diameter; when choosing your location be mindful of any existing plants, ground cover, etc. that may eventually inhibit air circulation.

Proper Watering

It is important to give lavender consistent moisture, especially during the first few years while they establish a strong root system. Water low to the ground to keep moisture off the leaves; early morning is best, because the plants have time to dry before nightfall, cutting down on problems with disease. If you water during the heat of the day, moisture tends to evaporate before plants can soak up an adequate amount. Over watering leads to root rot which will cause lavender to die. Potted lavender will need to be watered more frequently in the heat of the summer because they dry out quickly.

Growing Lavender in Pots

Follow the same instructions for planting lavender in containers, know the mature diameter of the lavender, and choose an appropriate size container. Lavender is a shallow rooted herb, so you do not need a tall pot. Average depth and spread of the root system is 8-10 inches. Because lavender requires a significant amount of sunlight, these plants do not make good houseplants, preferring to live in the garden or in a pot outdoors.

Lavender is more than just a pretty plant – use it as a natural pest repellent near patios and porches. The scent deters mosquitoes, flies, fleas, and other problem insects while attracting butterflies and bees.

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