Whether or not French lavender survives winter depends on your climate. French lavender is not cold hardy (USDA zones 7-9) so it will not survive winter in climates that experience frost, snow, ice and consistently low temperatures.
French lavender is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, where thrives in the warm temperatures of southern France, where it cultivated extensively for commercial lavender oil.
Climates French Lavender can Survive Winter
French lavenders will only survive winters with mild temperatures that only occasionally go lower as 10°C (50°F) at night. English Lavenders is the only species that is cold hardy and will tolerate frost (hardy to USDA zone 5).
Therefore French lavenders will only grow in warmer climates that are similar climatically to their native home of Southern Europe.
French lavenders will not survive in persistent frost and freezing temperatures.
The only way to grow French lavenders in cooler climates is to plant them in pots. The unique advantage of growing lavenders in pots or containers is that you can place the plant outdoors for the summer and enjoy their sweet fragrance and beautiful flowers.
When winter begins to approach and the temperature starts to drop below 10°C at night then you can move the pot inside for winter protection and return the pot to your garden once the temperature has warmed up the following growing season.
(There are a few best practices when it comes to growing lavender in pots which you can read more about about in my article, growing lavenders in pots)
Increase the Chance of French Lavender Surviving Winter
French lavenders are susceptible to damage from the cold, however there are a few steps you can take to mitigate risk and increase the lavenders chance of surviving winter:
- Do not prune your French lavender too late in the season. It is always best to give french lavender a good prune in the spring in order to maintain an attractive mound shape. Pruning will stimulate more flower growth, prevent the lavender from becoming leggy and extend the life span of the lavender. You can harvest french lavender for its flowers and fragrant foliage (to make potpourri or for decoration) and to maintain shape during the summer but do not prune after late august. French lavender is tender and vulnerable to cold and the cuts from pruning will take some time to heal so that it is ready to endure cooler temperatures in winter. (Read more about pruning lavender and maintaining a neat and tidy appearance)
- Ensure the lavender is planted in the appropriate soil. It is essential for lavenders to be in soil that is well draining and does not retain water. If the soil is too rich in organic matter it will hold onto water and with cooler temperatures in winter this will mean the french lavenders roots will be in cool, moist soil for months. This will more then likely lead to root rot or stress the plant because of the lower temperature of wet soil. Amend the soil with around 30% sand or gravel to 70% organic soil or potting mix to ensure that the soil structure will allow water to infiltrate quickly, so it drains away from the roots. (Read more in my article about the optimal soil mix for potted lavenders)
- Do not water outdoor french lavender during winter (unless indoors in a pot) as the lavender is in a state of dormancy and will attain enough water from the environment. Additional water will stay in the soil for longer during winter which is contrary to the dry soil conditions in which lavenders thrive. (Read how frequently to water lavenders to learn how much and how often to water lavender in different conditions).
- Clear away leaves and other organic material from around your lavender as organic matter is very effective at holding moisture which will damage french lavender.
- Planting french lavender in the ground can afford the lavender more protection for cold weather as the soil acts like insulation, protecting the lavenders root system from the cold. However this will mean that you cannot easily move the lavender indoors if the temperature drops drastically in winter so, if winter temperatures tend to fluctuate in your climate then I would recommend planting french lavender in a pot rather then in the ground and taking the plant indoors if there is frost, snow, ice or freezing temperatures forecast for your area.
- If your have a potted French lavender then it is important the pot measures at least 16 inches across. A good sized pot will contain more soil. The soil acts as insulation in the winter and does not dry out as quickly in the hot summer. French lavender is already vulnerable to cold so if the pot is too small then the lavenders roots will be more exposed and at risk of stress from cooler temperatures. (Read my guide about the best pot for lavenders)
- Move French lavenders indoors for winter protection if you live in a cold climate and place by a sunny window.
French lavenders are much shorter lived then English lavenders and typically last 4 or 5 years in good conditions so even with the best winter care.
French Lavender Care Indoors for Winter Protection
Planting French lavenders in pots and moving them indoors before the temperature gets too cold 5°C (41°F) is a great way to grow French lavenders in colder climates.
The foliage will still exude some fragrance in your home, although it will not be as strong as in the growing season.
However it is not as simple as just bringing the plant indoors and placing it in a corner till spring. There are a few specific care instructions that you need to be aware of.
- Indoor french lavenders will only need to be water once every four weeks as they are in a dormant state. Give the plant a light water so that the soil isn’t dry for the whole of the winter.
- Although they are in a dormant state, French lavenders will need to be in as much sun as possible. Place the lavender in the sunniest window in your house and your plant should be okay until its time to return it outdoors when the temperature warms up.
- Keep the lavender out of the way of persistent draughts and air currents such as those from forced air or radiators. Persistent heat from the indoors can heat up too much french lavender whilst in its state of dormancy, however french lavenders will be tolerate any heat fluctuations in most houses.
- French lavender only survives winter in warmer climates (USDA zones 7-9) and will not tolerate winters with cold temperatures, frost, ice and snow.
- It is possible to grow French lavender in colder climates in pots, as long as they are brought indoors before winter and preferably placed by the sunniest window in the house.
- It is important to plant French lavender in well draining soil which will make make the lavender less susceptible to root rot in cold wet winter soils.
- Scale back watering of French lavender over winter. Outdoors french lavenders will attain enough moisture for the environment. If you have brought the pot indoors water once every 4-6 weeks or in winter and resume watering with a generous amount of water once every two weeks when the weather warms up again.
- English lavenders are more cold hardy then French or Spanish lavenders, capable of tolerating frosts and cold temperatures and they are hardy up to USDA zone 5.
- Plant french lavender in a large pot (16 inches across) to provide the roots with insulation from cold temperatures.
- Even with the right care French lavender will only live for 4 or 5 years.