How to Grow and Care for French Lavender

French lavender

French lavenders are appreciated around the world for their long flowering season and fine fragrance.

Fortunately, growing French lavender is easy, although they do require some specific care and conditions so that they grow healthy and flower to their full potential.

This article covers all aspects of growing and caring for French lavender in the following sequence, so scroll down for more information on:

  • Which climate is best for growing French lavender?
  • When do they flower?
  • Best time for planting?
  • How to water French lavender
  • The soil requirements
  • How and when to prune French lavender?
  • How far apart to plant each lavender?
  • How long do they live?
  • What size do they grow to?
  • Does French lavender need feeding?
  • Will they grow in pots?
  • Winter care for French lavender

Where will French Lavender Grow?

The most important aspect when it comes to growing French lavender is knowing which climates it will grow in successfully.

French lavender grows best in hot climates that experience mild winters. French lavenders are not cold-hardy and will die if exposed to frost, snow, ice, and freezing temperatures. Most French lavender varieties are hardy in USDA zones 7-11.

Therefore you cannot grow French lavender outdoors if your climate experiences cold winters, however, you can grow them outdoors in pots and move them indoors for winter protection. (For more information on the precautions to take read my article will French lavender survive winter).

As with all lavender species and varieties, French lavender will not cope well in areas of persistent high humidity.

French lavender grows best in climates with high temperatures, with infrequent rainfall in the growing season (Spring to early Fall) in sunny locations similar to its native Mediterranean climate.

When do they Flower?

French lavender is valued for its particularly long flowering season which may last several months, if the faded flowers are regularly deadheaded which encourages more flowers.

Spring is when the first flowers emerge usually in May or June and it can flowering into the Fall as late as September if the growing conditions are perfect.

Always grow in full sun. French lavender is native to the countries of Southern Europe that are on the Mediterranean coast. In their natural environment, they are in blazing full sun all day with high temperatures and low humidity.

It is under these conditions that they produce the most flowers, strongest aromas, and most oil.

Plant French lavender in the sunniest place in your garden for best results, although they will grow with 6 hours of sun per day during the growing season.

The more sun the more potential for flowering. Lavenders do not grow well in the shade and will not last long.

Best Time for Planting

The best time for planting French lavender is in the early Spring. This will give the plant the opportunity for its roots to develop and establish in the new soil. Once established the roots will be able to draw up water better before the intense heat and sunshine of summer threatens to dry the plant out.

Because French lavender is suited to warm climates and does not have to prepare for a cold winter with frost and snow, there is more freedom for the timing of your lavender planting.

French lavender varieties can be planted successfully any time from early spring until early Fall.

If you do plant in the summer then flowering may be affected as the plant may suffer stress from planting which is why I would recommend planting in the Summer at the height of the lavender flowering.

Watering French Lavender

Establish French lavenders only need to be watered once every 2 weeks during the growing season if there has been no rainfall.

Suppose there has been significant rainfall since you last watered the lavender then delay watering for another few days and test to see if the surrounding soil is dry first. If you detect any moisture then refrain from watering for another week or so.

French lavenders are drought-resistant and thrive in the seemingly harsh conditions of blazing sun sunshine, high temperatures, low rainfall, and soils that do not retain much water.

This is simply an adaptation to their native Mediterranean climate. More problems arise from overwatering French lavender than they ever will from underwatering.

French lavender varieties do not appreciate frequent watering as this will keep the soil moist and the roots will develop root rot. Signs of an overwatered lavender are brown foliage and a drooping appearance.

For best results…

  • French lavender that has been planted for more than a year requires watering once every two weeks in the Spring, Summer, and Fall if there has been no rainfall. If there has been significant rainfall delay watering for a few days until the soil has dried out.
  • Newly planted French lavender will require more attention. Lavenders are drought resistant but they are somewhat vulnerable to the effects of heat when they are recently planted or transplanted as their roots will not have had the chance to establish properly in the surrounding soil. Water newly planted French lavender straight after planting and continue to water every 3 to 4 days in the first month and then once per week till three months after planting. After three months, scale back watering to once every two weeks. This will help mitigate transplant shock and help the lavender to establish itself in its new surroundings.
  • Do not water French lavender during winter. Winter is the time when lavender is more vulnerable to root rot and watering will only compound the problem. French lavender will attain enough moisture from the environment if left outdoors over winter. If you have brought your potted lavender indoors for protection from frost then water it once every 4-6 weeks. (For more information read my article, caring for lavenders in winter).

Always water with a generous soak for every lavender and make sure the surrounding soil is wet, but it also should drain very quickly and not hold onto the moisture.

For French lavenders in pots, water till there is a trickle of water appearing through the drainage holes in the base of the pot. For the right pot read my article on choosing the best pot for lavender as this is very important.

Soil Requirements for French Lavender

French lavender is known as a plant that thrives on neglect, however, it does have a specific set of soil conditions that it requires to grow successfully and flower well.

As gardeners, it is our job to recreate the soil conditions of their native environment.

The soil conditions for French lavender are:

  • Soil pH of 6.5 to 8. French lavenders prefer to be in alkaline soils (soils over pH 7 but under pH 8) but they will tolerate some mild acidity.
  • Well-draining soil is very important. The soil must have an open porous texture to allow water to drain effectively and to allow the roots to respire. French lavenders need the soil around their roots to dry out between each watering otherwise they can be susceptible to the fungal disease root rot.
  • Low to medium fertility soils. This soil condition is often a surprise to most gardeners because most plants will grow their best in rich, high fertility soils. The French lavender (not just native to France but other countries in Southern Europe) is adapted to grow in sandy soils with fewer nutrients. It is in these soils that they produce the best flowers and finest fragrances. Planting them in high fertility soils will do them a disservice and they will grow leggy with yellow foliage and fewer flowers.

To replicate these conditions you will need to add some sand or gravel to your soil so that they make up at least 30% percent of the volume of the planting mix with the rest composed of organic soil.

The added sand or gravel will increase drainage, improve soil structure, and balance the fertility of the soil (as sand and gravel are relatively low in nutrients).

If you have acidic soil then it is a good idea to add some lime to the soil which has the effect of raising the pH of the soil from acidic to alkaline. Lime is available online and from any good garden store. Read more about growing lavender in acidic soils in my article.

If you do not know your soils pH then it is a good idea to find out before buying French lavenders. The easiest way to do this is with a soil gauge from Amazon I personally use and does not require any technical knowledge, as it just gives a clear reading of the pH of the soil and it is available for a great price.

Soil gauge that measures the soil pH.
Soil gauge that measures the soil pH.

Chalk soils are ideal for growing French lavender as they have all the characteristics of the optimal soil type.

Pruning French Lavender

Pruning lavender
How to prune French lavender

It is important to prune French lavender every year as pruning:

  • Extends the lavender lifespan by slowing down woody growth from the base of the plant
  • Encourage flower-bearing stems to grow
  • Maintains a nice compact shape
  • Stops lavender from becoming leggy and untidy

When to prune: Opinion is somewhat divided over what is the best time of year to prune French lavender. You can successfully prune French lavenders in the early Spring and in the Fall after flowering.

Prune back the green growth of the lavender with a pair of shears or pruners. A good rule of thumb is to prune the green growth back by a third into a neat and tidy mound shape.

Always avoid pruning back to the woody base as this part of the lavender does not regenerate well and you can end up killing the plant or severely limit the number of healthy stems and flowers that can grow.

You can prune French lavender in the Fall in a warm climate that has a mild winter (between USDA zones 7-11) as the lavender is less susceptible to damage from the cold in these climates. Wait till after the plant has flowered and round the plant as this will prevent it from becoming leggy or splitting at the vulnerable woody base.

Alternatively, you can prune it in the early Spring. This will stimulate the growth of new stems which can increase the potential for more flowers. The same rules of pruning apply whether you trim your lavender at the start or the end of the growing season.

For a good visual guide of what to do take a look at this YouTube video:

Guide to pruning lavender.

How Far Apart to Plant French Lavender

Commercial lavender growers will plant French lavenders 2-3 feet apart. 2-3 feet will give each plant the space it needs to grow and prevent lavender from casting shade on one another which will restrict flowering.

How far apart to plant lavender
Spacing lavender

Lavender benefits from being spaced out from each other because they appreciate airflow through the foliage. This helps to dry moisture that could cause problems and reduces the chance of fungal disease.

The roots also need space to grow and access water and nutrients without being overwhelmed by competition from the roots of other plants.

Note that it is 2-3 feet between the planting of each lavender rather than 2-3 feet from the outermost foliage of each plant. For more information, I have an article about how much space lavenders need to grow for the healthiest plants.

How Long Do They Live?

French lavenders are perennial plants that live for several years. The reason some people mistake French lavenders for annuals is that they grow them in a climate that is too cold for French lavender to survive winter and then have to replace the plant every year.

French lavenders are not as long-lived as English lavenders. If the growing conditions are ideal and the lavender is pruned every year, then French lavender can live for around 5 years.

This is significantly less time than English lavenders which can live up to 15 years with the right conditions.

The most cost-effective way to keep a supply of lavenders is to propagate them to produce your own, which is a very fulfilling garden project!

Propagating lavender from cuttings is relatively simple and much easier than trying to grow lavender from seeds, which requires a very specific sequence of changing conditions and has a lower success rate compared to propagating.

If you are interested take a look at this YouTube video which shows you just how achievable it is to produce new lavenders from cuttings.

Guide to propagating lavender.

What Size are French lavenders?

French lavenders can vary in size depending on the specific cultivar and whether the lavender has optimal care and conditions.

Sunlight, well-draining soil, infrequently watering and alkaline soils are all important, however, sunlight is usually the most important factor, with the more sun the better. Varieties that are popular and widely available from garden stores or online are:

  • Lavandula stoechas ‘Regal Splendour’ is the most recognizable variety that is valued for its sweet fragrance and long flowering season. It can grow 30 inches (76 cm) tall and 24 (60 cm) inches wide. This is the size at full maturity and it will only grow full size in optimal conditions (full sun, well-draining soil, etc.)
  • Lavandula stoechas ‘Ballerina’ is another very popular lavender that grows to a similar size as ‘Regal Splendour’ at 30 inches (76 cm) tall and 35 inches (89 cm) wide.
  • Lavandula stoechas ‘Anouk’ is a smaller variety that tends to have a mature size of 12 inches (30 cm) tall and 18 inches (45 cm) wide. This lavender is popular as small decorative hedges and can flower for many months in the growing season.

Does French Lavender Need Feeding?

Lavenders grow best in low to medium fertility soil similar to the sandy soils in their native range of Southern Europe. French lavenders do not need fertilizer or feeding. Nitrogen-based fertilizers will cause the plant to grow leggy with yellow foliage and produce fewer flowers.

French lavender thrives on harsh, neglectful treatment rather than the consistent care that some plants need.

If anything you may have to amend the soil to balance the nutrients with sand or gravel. For more information on this read my article on the optimal soil mix for lavenders.

Avoid using a mulch of organic materials (such as compost or manure) as this will add to the fertility of the soil and retain more water which will be to the detriment of the lavender.

Instead, some commercial growers use a mulch of white stone as this helps to reflect more sunlight onto the plant (the more sun the better) which reportedly increases blooms and production of oil.

Will French lavender Grow in pots?

French lavender varieties grow very well in pots (as all lavenders do) because the drainage conditions of pots are very favorable to lavender’s preference for dry soils.

The advantage of growing lavenders in pots is that you can move the plant indoors in cold weather as French lavender is not cold hardy. This way French lavenders can survive winter if you are in a cold climate.

Dwarf varieties of French lavender are also considered the most appropriate plants for indoor potted lavenders as they are a modest size and therefore can fit on a sunny window sill and they can live comfortably at room temperature.

Keep them out of the more humid rooms such as bathrooms and kitchens and they will bloom indoors and exude their distinctive fragrance.

To learn how to grow lavender indoors read my article for a full guide.

French Lavender Care in Winter

It is important to emphasize that French lavender is not cold hardy and will not survive outdoors in frost, snow, ice, and freezing temperatures (most varieties are hardy to USDA zones 7-11).

If your climate experiences mild winter like the one in the lavender home range of the Mediterranean in southern Europe then it will live outdoors without a problem, although there are a few good practices for caring for French lavenders over winter such as:

  • Planting the lavender in a well-draining soil mix which is composed of at least one-third sand or gravel. This allows water to drain quickly so the roots are in cold wet soil.
  • Do not water in the winter if kept outdoors as this will keep the soil moist and increase chances of fungal disease. The plant will attain enough water from the environment over winter with additional water.
  • Clear away leaves or other organic material from around the lavender that may hold moisture.
  • If you are planting in a pot make sure that the pot is at least 16 inches across as this will contain enough soil to help insulate the roots from the colder temperatures.

If you are in a climate that does experience cold winter then you can plant lavender in a pot and place it outdoors during the growing season and then bring it indoors before the first winter frost.

Always place indoor lavender by the sunniest window in the house as although lavender is dormant over winter it will still benefit from sunshine.

For more on how to care for potted lavender in winter read my article.

Key Takeaways:

  • French lavender grows best in full sun, with high temperatures, low rainfall, and infrequent watering, in well-draining sandy soils, low humidity, and low to medium fertility with a soil pH between 6.5-8.
  • The best time for planting is in the Spring and they flower from Spring through to the early Fall.
  • French lavender varieties grow to different sizes at maturity with the smaller ‘Anouk’ cultivar growing to only 12 inches tall and 18 inches wide whereas ‘Regal Splendour’ will grow up to 30 inches tall and 24 inches wide.
  • Established French lavender only needs watering once every two weeks if there is no rainfall and they do not need any fertilizer as this will cause leggy growth, with fewer flowers and turn the foliage yellow.
  • French lavender only lives for 4 or 5 years even with good care. Propagating lavender is easy which will save money when it’s time to replace the plant. Pruning will extend the life of the plant and encourage more flowers. Prune French lavenders once per year either in the early Spring or the Fall after the plant has flowered.
  • Plant each lavender 2-3 feet apart to allow for airflow and space to grow. French lavender grows very well in pots and containers.
  • Care for French lavender in winter by planting them in well-draining soil and do not water them if they are left outside as wet soils in winter will cause fungal disease. Remove leaves and organic material from around them that hold moisture. If you are in a cold climate, plant French lavender in pots and move it indoors before the first frost for Winter protection.

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