The Difference Between English and French Lavender


English and French lavender differences

English lavenders (Lavandula angustifolia) and French lavenders (Lavandula stoechas) are two species of the same plant. However, there are some key differences between the two in terms of growth, longevity, and flowering.

The difference between French and English lavender is that English lavender is cold hardy and lives much longer (up to 15 years) whereas French Lavender does not tolerate cold, only lives for 5 years but flowers for much longer.

Summary of Differences: English and French Lavender

DifferencesEnglish LavenderFrench Lavender
When it flowers and for how longTypically flowers in mid-June and displays flowers for 4 weeks.Can start to flower in the Spring (around May) and with the right conditions and climate will flower through summer till the early fall.
Cold hardyEnglish lavender varieties are cold hardy to USDA zone 5 and can tolerate snow, frost, and ice in winter and live for many years.French lavender is not cold hardy and will not survive frost and cold temperatures. French lavenders need mild winters to survive. Hardy between USDA zones 7-9.
Soil pHEnglish lavender tolerates mild soil acidity better than French lavender although both can live at pH 6.5 (slightly acidic) but prefer alkaline soils of up to pH 8.French lavenders can tolerate mild soil acidity but not as well as English lavenders. The potency of fragrance, number of flowers, and longevity will decrease in acidic soil. Alkaline soils (up to pH 8) are preferred.
FragranceEnglish Lavenders have a stronger and sweeter aroma (especially the varieties Hidcote and Munstead).French lavender aroma tends to not be as strong as English lavender, although it still exudes a nice, more subtle fragrance.
Life spanEnglish lavender can live up to 15 years with the right care.French lavender only lives up to 5 years even with the right care.
SizeMost popular English lavender varieties are modest in size. Hidcote lavender grows 20 inches tall and 24 inches wide, Although there are larger varieties such as Vera.French lavenders come in a range of sizes but popular varieties tend to be larger. Regal Splendor can reach at maturity 30 inches (76 cm) tall and 24 (60 cm) inches wide.

Key Differences of English and French Lavenders

Flowers:

The shape and look of the flowers tend to differ between the species.

French Vs English Lavenders
English and French Lavender flowers.

In the photo The English lavender flowers are on the left (Hidcote) and the French lavender is on the right (Regal Splendor).

French lavenders are valued for the longer flowering season which can last from Spring until early Fall.

Deadheading the flowers once they have faded will stimulate the plant to produce more flowers instead of putting its energy into the seed pods. This also relies on pruning the lavender significantly into a rounded shape every year.

English lavenders put on an impressive display of flowers from around mid-June that lasts around 4 weeks which is not as long as the French lavenders. The fragrance from English lavender foliage is stronger and more valued.

Cold Hardiness:

The major difference between English and French lavenders is that English lavenders will tolerate snow, ice, and frost in winter and live for many years (cold hardy up to USDA zone 5).

Some English lavender varieties such as the compact Hidcote superior can reportedly within stand temperatures occasionally as low as -30 °C (-20 °F).

French lavender is much more delicate and does not like cold temperatures let alone snow and ice (cold hardy in USDA zones 7-9). French lavenders will only survive the winter in climates that are similar to their native environment in Southern Europe in countries like France, Spain, and Italy.

These countries typically experience mild winters where the temperature rarely drops below 10°C (50°F) and do not often experience frost.

If you are in a cold climate then always choose English lavenders for outdoor planting. Alternatively, you can plant French lavenders in pots and move them indoors to protect them over winter. (Learn more about caring for French lavender in winter in my article).

Soil pH:

Lavender soil pH
Lavender soil pH

The English lavenders are regarded as a more hardy species than the French lavender overall and this includes its ability to live in mildly acidic soils.

All lavenders prefer alkaline soils up to pH 8 but they will live in Neutral soils (pH 7) and tolerate mild acidity but English lavenders tend to grow better than French lavenders in these conditions.

If you have acidic soil or you don’t know how to measure your soil pH then read my article on lavender and acidic soils which explains the easiest way to find out.

Fragrance:

Both English and French lavender produce their characteristic aroma from the foliage all year round (the fragrance tends to be strongest in the Spring).

The difference is that English lavender has a much more powerful, charismatic fragrance and French lavender has a far more subtle aroma that is reminiscent of the smell of rosemary.

Both lavender species do still waft a pleasing fragrance through the garden or home but English lavender is particularly valued for its finer fragrance.

So much so that English lavender is commercially grown for its fragrance (varieties such as Hidcote, Mundstead, and Vera are most popular) although some English and French hybrid lavenders (Lavandula x imtermedia) are also grown commercially, particularly Lavender Grosso. (Lavender Grosso was cultivated for the hardiness and fragrance of English lavender and the flowering of French lavender. Read my article, how to care for lavender Grosso).

Life Span:

How long a lavender lives is one of the most important differences between English and French lavenders when it comes to deciding which plant to buy.

English lavenders will live a lot longer than French lavenders even if both are equally cared for.

English lavenders can live and flower for up to 15 years in perfect conditions. French lavenders generally live around 4 or 5 years, even in their native Mediterranean range.

This means that English lavenders often represent much better value for money when you are deciding on plants for your garden. Lavenders are sometimes used for decorative hedging or borders and replacing each individual plant every 4 years would be very expensive.

The English lavender variety Hidcote is perfect for creating low border hedges, can withstand winters, and produce flowers and fragrance for up to 15 years.

How long a lavender lives is dependent on how well it is cared for and crucially, whether it is pruned every year. Pruning prevents leggy growth and slows down woody growth from the base of the lavender. Pruning is essential for a lavender’s longevity and will stimulate new shoots to grow which will produce more flowers. (Read how to stop lavender from getting leggy for more information).

If cost and longevity are a priority then always choose English lavenders.

Size:

Both English and French lavenders have been cultivated to be a range of sizes.

However, a lot of the more popular English lavenders (Hidcote and Munstead) are compact and therefore are excellent for hedging and decorative borders.

These varieties tend to reach their mature size after 3 or 4 years of 20 inches tall and 24 inches wide. Vera is one of the largest English varieties and is thought to be the original species of lavender that is still grown commercially for its oil.

The more popular French varieties such as ‘Regal Splendour’ and ‘Ballerina’ grow much larger than the most popular English varieties at up to 30 inches (76 cm) tall and 35 inches (89 cm) wide at maturity. These lavenders make a spectacular spectacle in any garden (in a warm climate) and produce flowers for months during the Spring and Summer.

The mature size of any lavender depends on whether the lavender has been cared for under any conditions such as sunlight and soil drainage.

The Similarities of English and French Lavender

Whilst there are several differences between the species of English and French lavender most of the care is very similar.

Both English and French lavender require the same following conditions.

  • Well draining soil
  • Medium to low fertility soil
  • Full sun
  • Infrequent watering
  • Regular pruning

Lavenders of all species and varieties grow best in well-draining sandy soil, with low to medium fertility. All lavenders flower and smell the best when in full sun.

Prune once per year in the Spring or Fall to prevent leggy growth and extend the lifespan of lavender. There is no need to feed lavenders as fertilizer causes more foliage to grow at the expense of flowers.

For more information on caring for lavenders read my article on how often to water lavenders and the optimal soil mix for lavenders in pots.

Key Takeaways:

  • The key difference between French and English lavenders is that English lavenders are more cold-hardy, produce a stronger fragrance, and live longer however French lavenders can produce flowers for much longer.
  • English lavenders have a more powerful aroma than French lavenders and tend to be grown more commercially as a result.
  • English lavender can tolerate cold winters (hardy to USDA zone 5) and grow better in mild acidity than French lavenders. French lavenders cannot tolerate snow, ice, and cold temperatures (hardy to USDA zone 7-9) and only grow in climates with mild winters.

(See my article Can French Lavender Survive Winter for more information).

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