Lavender Care: How to Grow Lavender in Pots and Containers


How to grow and care for lavender in pots

Lavenders are my personal favorite plant, and my favorite way to grow them is in pots. I have grown and propagated lavender for decades and have even been fortunate enough to go to lavender farms in the Mediterranean region of Europe, where I spoke directly with commercial growers.

In this article, I share with you my own knowledge and the best tips and tricks I have learned from specialist lavender growers to ensure your potted lavender thrives…

Plant lavender in pots with a well-draining, gritty potting mix of 70% compost and 30% horticultural sand or grit. Grow lavender in a pot 12 inches across in full sun, and water thoroughly every 14 days so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot.

For those of you who want the 2 minute low down of lavender care I have summarized the main points in the following table:

How to Care for Lavender in Pots and Containers: Requirements:
Best lavenders for pots:Lavender ‘Hidcote‘ and ‘Munstead‘ grow well in pots in all climates and stay a compact size proportional to the pot.
Pot size:Choose a pot at least 12 inches across.
Pot Material:Ceramic, clay, and terracotta pots work best due to their porous structure.
How often to water lavender in pots:Water once every 2 weeks in Spring and Summer if there has been no rainfall and refrain from watering outdoor potted lavenders during Fall and Winter.
Potting soil for lavenders:70% compost and 30% horticultural sand or grit provides the optimal soil structure and drainage conditions for lavender.
Sunlight:Locate potted lavender in full sun (at least 6 hours) for more flowers and stronger fragrance.
Fertilizer:Lavender flowers best in low fertility soils. Do not add fertilizer.
When to Prune Lavender:Prune in either early Spring or in the Fall after flowering.
How to Prune lavenders:Cut back the top third of growth with pruners aiming for a compact, rounded shape.
Flowering:English lavender flowers in June/July for one month. French and Spanish lavender flowers in May and can flower for 3 months or so in optimal conditions.
Fragrance: English lavenders ‘Hidcote‘ and ‘Munstead‘ have the finest and most highly regarded fragrances of all lavender varieties.
Cold Hardy:Only English lavenders are cold-hardy (USDA zone 5) and tolerate freezing temperatures. French and Spanish lavenders can die in frost and should be brought indoors during Winter.

Please keep reading for how to grow lavenders in pots and containers to produce the strongest fragrance and the most flowers and learn my best practices of care to ensure your lavender survives Winter…

Choosing a Lavender for Pots and Containers

All lavender plants grow well in pots and containers due to the favorable drainage conditions. However, from experience, some lavender cultivars are more suited to growing in pots than others.

My personal favorite lavender that I recommend for growing in pots is the English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia):

  • ‘Hidcote’
  • ‘Munstead’
English lavender 'Hidcote' with its distinctive flowers and fine fragrance.
This is a photo of my favorite lavender. English lavender ‘Hidcote’. I love its distinctive flowers and fine fragrance. This is the flower I savor most in Summer.

Both of these lavenders are English lavenders which means they can tolerate colder weather (cold hardy to USDA zone 5) and therefore the pot can be left outdoors all year.

Hidcote and Munstead lavender also have the finest fragrance of all the lavenders and display beautiful flowers in the middle of Summer (mine usually appear in June and July).

My Munstead lavender also stays relatively compact at around 12 inches (with annual pruning) and, therefore, grows to a size that works great in pots without having to re-pot them too often, as can happen with the larger varieties of lavender (such as ‘Vera’), which can grow 3 feet across and is, therefore, more suited to growing in garden borders.

Other great choices for pots are most varieties of French and Spanish lavenders with popular varieties such as:

  • Bandera pink
  • ‘Anouk’
Lavender Stoechas ' Anouk' on the left and 'Bandera Pink' on the right.
This is my Lavender Stoechas ‘ Anouk’ on the left and ‘Bandera Pink’ on the right. I chose these varieties because they also smell great and I love the look of the flowers…don’t you?

These lavenders stay a good size that does not overwhelm a pot and produce flowers for up to 3 months in the right conditions. The fragrance, however, in my experience, is less pronounced than the English lavender varieties. But while it is more subtle, I still think it smells lovely!

It should be noted that they are not as cold and hardy as English lavenders, and the pots should be taken indoors for winter protection as they can die in a heavy frost.

I have done some experiments to see how long each lavender lasts (as lavenders are not the longest lived plants). My English lavender typically live for up to 15 years or more with good care, whereas my French lavender often dies after 5 years, even with optimal conditions.

(Read my article, when and how long does lavender bloom?)

Best Pots and Containers for Growing Lavender

I have tested all sorts of pots for growing lavender over the years and I have concluded that the best pots for growing lavender are ceramic, clay, or terracotta pots as they do not conduct as much heat as plastic and metal pots and tend to be a bit thicker which helps to resist frost damage in Winter.

Ceramic, clay, and terracotta are also porous which dries the soil evenly to avoid root rot.

As we discussed, lavenders are Mediterranean herbs that grow in gritty, well-draining soils and require the soil to dry out between bouts of watering.

The clay, ceramic and terracotta pots are able to dry the soil more evenly thanks to their more porous stricture yet also do not heat up as quickly in full sun.

For those of you in cold climates I also discovered that they can also protect the lavender’s cold sensitive roots more in colder weather which is important as many lavender varieties do not tolerate freezing temperatures. My lavender in cermic pots cope much better then plastic pots during Winter!

I recommend choosing a pot or container for your lavender that is around 12 inches across with the same proportional depth.

lavender in pot
Lavender in a ceramic pot.

A pot this size has the capacity for enough soil, which acts as insulation from frost for the cold-sensitive roots and also allows the roots enough room to develop properly to access nutrients and moisture.

As soon as I switched up to using larger pots, the lavender’s survival rate increased significantly.

Always ensure the pot or container has drainage holes in the base to allow excess water to escape after watering to prevent root rot.

If your potted lavender is on a patio, then I recommend placing the pot on ‘feet’ (stone or bricks) to elevate an inch or so off the ground, which ensures water can escape freely from the bottom of the pot without pooling underneath.

I do this because once my lavender pot sat directly on a paving slab, and water did not escape people from the bottom of the pot, which caused root rot.

Note lavender should be grown in full sun, and if the pot is significantly smaller than 12 inches across, then a smaller pot with less soil is going to heat up and dry out too quickly for even the drought-tolerant lavender’s roots to draw up any moisture.

(Read my article, choosing the best pot for lavender, for examples).

How To Water Lavender in Pots

I advise you to water your lavender with a really generous soak so that excess water trickles from the drainage holes and out the pot’s base. This encourages the roots to grow deeper into the soil to access the moisture which increases the lavender’s resistance to drought.

Please do not water lavender too lightly (I see many beginner gardeners make this mistake). If you water lavender too lightly, only the top inch or so of the potting soil becomes moist, which causes the roots to grow near the surface and can increase lavender’s vulnerability to drought stress.

Water with a good soak so that water emerges from the holes in the pot’s base ensures the soil is evenly moist so that the roots can access the moisture they require.

Pro tip: Always water the at the soil level rather than overhead watering. If you water overhead this can create a humid micro-climate around the foliage which increases the risk of fungal disease which turns the foliage gray.

How Often to Water Lavender in Pots

How often should you water your lavender?

I water established lavenders in pots and containers every 2 weeks in the Spring and Summer with a thorough watering. My established potted lavender does not need any additional watering in Fall and Winter. Water newly planted potted lavenders every week for the first year after planting.

Lavender in Pots and Containers:How Often to Water Potted Lavender:
Newly Planted Lavenders:Water once per week during Spring and Summer. Do not water in Fall or Winter.
Established Lavenders:Once every 2 weeks in Spring and Summer if there has been no significant rainfall.
Potted Lavender in Fall and Winter:Lavender rarely requires watering in Winter as root rot is more of a risk. Lavender typically attains all the moisture it requires from the environment in Fall and Winter.

Lavenders are drought-resistant herbs that have adapted to Europe’s hot and dry Mediterranean region. Therefore, they do not require watering as often as most potted plants, and they actually thrive in the hottest, driest months of the year.

Pro tip: Watering with a really good soak and then allowing the soil to dry out over 2 weeks replicates the typical cycle of rainfall followed by a period of drought that lavenders typically experience in their native environment.

If there has been significant rainfall or many overcast days, then I just recommend that you delayed until the soil has dried.

Lavenders (as with all Mediterranean herbs) are very sensitive to overwatering, so If you water potted lavender too frequently then this promotes the conditions for root rot which turns the lavender brown, causing it to wilt and die back.

Therefore if in doubt about whether to water your potted lavender, delay watering for a few days until you are sure the soil has had a chance to dry out.

Pro tip: In my experience, if you plant lavender in terracotta or clay pots and amend the soil with grit, then you do not have to worry as much about overwatering!

(Read my article, how often to water lavender for the complete guide).

Watering Newly Planted Lavenders

The only time your lavender is vulnerable to drought is when it is newly planted, as the roots need some time to establish and uptake moisture more effectively.

Therefore, I always recommend planting lavenders in pots in the Spring as the lavender has some time for their roots to establish before the more intense Summer sun and heat; however, they can be successfully planted at any time during the Spring and Summer.

Water newly planted lavenders with a really good soak once per week throughout Spring and Summer up and into Fall. Watering newly planted lavenders with a good soak once per week promotes the development of the lavender roots so they can become more resistant to drought as they mature.

It is worth emphasizing the importance of planting lavender in pots that measure 12 inches across and preferably a clay, ceramic, or terracotta pot as smaller pots can dry out too quickly for a newly planted lavender, and the clay, ceramic, or terracotta materials dry out evenly due to their porous structure which helps to achieve the optimal balance of moisture for potted lavenders to thrive.

Do not fear if you have to pot up your lavender in spring, Summer, or early Fall, as I have successfully potted up at different times of the year. But if you are planting lavender in pots in Summer water more frequently in intense sunlight and high temperatures.

Potting Soil for Lavenders in Pots and Containers

I have experimented and tested through trial and error and I can tell you with certainty that the best potting soil for lavenders is a mix of 70% compost and 30% horticultural sand or grit.

This balance of compost and sand replicates the gritty soil conditions of the lavender’s native environment and porous, light, aerated soil structure that allows for good drainage and efficient root respiration.

Lavenders are native to countries such as Spain, France, and Italy where they grow in soils with a high inorganic content with a lot of grit and organic matter.

The most important characteristic of lavender potting soil is to allow for good drainage around the lavender roots as damp soil promotes the conditions for fungal disease pathogens such as root rot which is the most common reason for lavender dying.

Pots naturally have more favorable drainage conditions than the soil in garden borders, so they are a great way to grow lavenders. However, in climates of higher rainfall or higher humidity the faster the drainage the better.

I know lavender grows in the Pacific NorthWest of the US (where it is very rainy!) that use as much as 50% compost and 50% horticultural sand to counteract the affects of more rainfall which can cause the soil to be too damp for lavender to tolerate. Simply mix the compost and the sand in the pot together until it is evenly distributed.

Watch the video I created, which shows how to create the perfect potting mix for lavenders:

Too much grit is always better than not enough, so I’m always generous when creating my lavender potting soil mix.

Lavenders also require medium to low fertility soil as nutrient-dense soils cause lavenders to grow lots of foliage without any flowers.

Too many nutrients (particularly nitrogen) also decrease the concentration of essential oils in the leaves, which reduces the strength of the lavender’s distinctive aroma, which is not what we want!

I know it may seem strange but, lavender has specifically adapted to grow in poor soils and actually thrive in these conditions.

The sand or horticultural grit in the potting mix does not contribute much nutrients to the soil, which balances out the compost to recreate the lower fertility soil conditions of the lavender’s native environment where they thrive.

(Read my article on how to revive a dying lavender plant).

Locate Potted Lavender in 6 hours of Sun

Position your potted lavender in an area with full sun. We need to remember that our lavenders have specifically adapted to growing in 6 hours or more of intense sun in the Mediterranean. The more sun a lavender receives, the stronger the aroma from the leaves. Lavenders do not grow well in the shade.

Lavender grows in open areas and tolerates blazing sunshine in the South of France which is where most commercial lavender is grown.

Commercial lavender growers tell me that lavender smells the strongest and flowers the most in sunny conditions, with the hottest and driest years yielding the highest concentration of essential oils for the commercial lavender industry. (I went to the South of France in mid-summer, and the smell of lavender was completely overwhelming!)

If the lavender is in too much shade, then it tends to grow leggy with fewer flowers and less fragrance. Find the sunniest area of your garden or patio to locate your potted lavender.

(Read my article, why lavender isn’t flowering?)

Does Potted Lavender Require Fertilizer?

No lavender does not need any fertilizer. Lavenders have adapted to growing in soils with a high sand or grit content that is relatively low in fertility, and they thrive in these conditions.

Additional fertilizer is contrary to the preferred conditions to which the lavender has adapted and is likely to harm your lavender.

If you add fertilizer to your lavenders, the lavender displays fewer flowers, and the concentration of essential oils in the leaves (which is responsible for the aroma) is much lower.

Lavender also grows droopy and is much more vulnerable to pests and disease when there is excess nitrogen in the soil. (This could be due to high nitrogen soil conditions, so I’d avoid using a manure-based mulch).

To get the best out of your potted lavender, recreate the lower fertility conditions of its native Mediterranean range by using a potting mix that is at least 30% horticultural sand or grit to promote flowering, and avoid using any fertilizer as this can harm your lavender.

Pruning Lavender in Pots

Our lavenders of all varieties require annual pruning to increase longevity and prevent a leggy appearance. I always prune the top third of the lavender’s growth in early Spring or Fall. You need to aim for a rounded, compact shape to help resist weather better and ensure the lavender flowers are displayed evenly.

Lavender only displays flowers on new growth, which is why I personally recommend pruning your lavender in early Spring, usually in March or April.

Pruning in spring helps to stimulate lots of new growth, which can result in more flowers being displayed.

Pro tip: I have personally experimented with pruning in the Spring and Fall and I have universally seen more flowers on the lavender I prune in the Spring thanks to all the new growth as well as a stronger fragrance.

Prune the top third of the lavender growth every year to prevent the lavender from becoming leggy, as once it is leggy and out of control, it displays fewer flowers and does not live as long.

Avoid pruning into the older woody part of the lavender nearer the base, as this older wood does not grow back.

If you are unsure, I recommend that you watch this YouTube video for a visual guide on pruning potted lavenders:

If you do not prune lavenders annually, they grow leggy with fewer flowers and do not live as long.

If your lavender gets too leggy, then I recommend propagating it through cuttings. Propagation is an easy, free way of growing more lavender plants. Read my step-by-step article on how to propagate lavender from cuttings.

My Tips for How to Increase Lavender Flowers

To increase the number of lavender flowers, plant lavender in a low-fertility, well-draining, gritty potting mix and place it in an area with as much sun as possible. Lavender flowers on new growth, so prune lavender at the start of Spring to encourage new growth, which displays more flowers.

Every commercial grower I spoke to in the South of France told me that lavender flowers are the most fragrant and exude the strongest fragrance in the hottest, sunniest, and driest years in the native Mediterranean range.

Whilst you do not need a Mediterranean climate to grow lavenders that display lots of blooms we need to emulate their ideal conditions.

  • Place your potted lavender in the sunniest spot in your garden. Lavenders prefer at least 6 hours of sun or more for the best growth, fragrance, and flowers.
  • Plant lavenders in the recommended gritty potting mix (at least 30% sand or grit by volume). This balances the fertility of the compost to mimic the typical soil fertility of the lavender’s native range which promotes flowering. If the potting mix has been enriched with nutrients the lavender grows fewer flowers and the essential oils (which are responsible for the fragrance) are less concentrated so the lavender does not smell as strong.
  • Prune lavender in the Spring. Lavender blooms on new growth and pruning at the start of spring stimulates lots of new growth which increases flowering.

Lavender flowers grow more in years of higher temperatures and more sunlight, which I realize is beyond our control as gardeners!

However, a great tip that I picked up from commercial lavender growers is to use a white stone mulch around your lavender or place it in an area of your garden that reflects a lot of light (such as a patio with light-colored slabs).

This reflects more light onto your lavender, increasing the brightness and increasing flowering and aroma. More light and heat also help to increase evaporation from around the foliage which reduces the risk of fungal disease.

(For more tips on blooming, read my article, on how to increase lavender blooms).

When does Lavender Flower?

Lavender Species:When Does it Bloom?How Long Does it Flower For?Popular Varieties:
English Lavenders:Mid-June/July.Blooms for 4 weeks.Munstead‘ and ‘Hidcote
French Lavenders:As early as May until September.Blooms for up to 3 months in optimal climates.‘Regal Splendor’ ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Anouk’
Hybrid Lavenders:June/JulyBlooms for up to 2 months.‘Grosso’ and ‘Provence’

English lavender flowers in mid-June and with elegant blue flowers that last for about a month or so.

Whilst English Lavender does not bloom for as long as French lavenders, they are much more cold hardy, live for 15 years or more, have a finer fragrance, and popular varieties such as ‘Hidcote‘ and ‘Munstead‘ stay a more compact size making them ideal for pots and containers.

My French lavender flowers last much longer and can flower for 3 months in a Mediterranean climate, but the fragrance is less strong although I still think it smells very sweet.

Hybrid lavenders such as ‘Grosso‘ can flower for around 2 months starting in June or July and exude a strong fragrance although they tend to grow rather large so may need repotting more often.

When I visit lavender farms, Grosso is very commonly grown as it smells strong, but if I had to be honest, the fragrance of lavender grosso is fewer plants than, say, lavender instead. The reason the grow grosso commercially is because the yield of oil is much higher per plant, so they make more money.

Potted Lavender Care in Winter

How you care for your potted lavender in winter depends more on the specific species of lavender due to variability in their tolerance for cold conditions.

English lavenders can be left outdoors in Winter in a sunny location and can survive in freezing temperatures if they are in a well-draining potting mix. French lavenders do not tolerate frost and freezing temperatures, and the pot should be brought indoors before the first frost of Winter.

English lavenders and some hybrid lavenders, such as ‘Grosso,’ are the only lavender varieties that can really tolerate cold and snow as long as the soil is well-draining.

However, it is still important that you prune your potted lavenders annually as a leggy lavender has a greater tendency to break up or become damaged under the weight of snow whereas compact lavenders resist weather much better.

Do not water your lavender during Winter, as this is the time at which lavender is at the highest risk of root rot, which is prevalent in cold, damp soils.

This highlights the importance of good drainage with a good gritty potting mix to allow excess moisture to drain away from the roots efficiently.

If you are in a particularly cold climate, plant lavenders in larger pots or containers is often better as larger pots have a greater capacity for soil which acts as insulate for the cold sensitive roots in the Winter and increase the survival rate of lavenders.

In cold climates, bring your potted French lavenders indoors over Winter and place them in a sunny Window.

Ideally, they should be located in a heated greenhouse that maintains a temperature above freezing so that the lavender can benefit from as much light as possible.

Water indoor lavender once every 4-6 weeks with a thorough watering during Winter to sustain the lavender until Spring.

Personally, I recommend growing English lavenders in pots in cold climates as they are much easier to maintain, particularly if you do not have the space to bring pots indoors in Winter.

(For all the best practices, read my article on caring for lavender over Winter. I also have a specific article on caring for French lavenders, which require more care and attention over winter than other lavenders).

Key Takeaways:

  • Lavender ‘Hidcote‘ and ‘Munstead‘ are the best lavender varieties for growing in pots. They are cold, hardy, and can be left outdoors all Winter. They produce lots of fragrant flowers and stay a compact size proportional to the pot or containers.
  • Ceramic, clay, and terracotta pots are the best for lavenders as they are porous, letting the soil dry out evenly. Choose a pot that is at least 12 inches across to ensure the pot has the capacity for enough soil to insulate the lavender roots in Winter.
  • Lavender is a drought-resistant herb that should only be watered when the soil has dried out around the roots. Water lavender thoroughly so that excess water trickles from the pot’s base, then wait for the soil to dry before watering again.
  • Water newly planted lavender once a week for the first year to promote good root development, then once every two weeks after a year once it has established. Do not water outdoor potted lavender in the fall or winter as it attains all the moisture it requires from the environment.
  • Plant lavender in a potting mix of 70% compost and 30% horticultural grit or sand. The gritty potting mix ensures the soil has a porous, aerated structure that allows for good drainage and emulates the lower fertility soil conditions of the lavender native environment.
  • Place potted lavender in an area of full sun (at least 6 hours or more). The more sun your lavender receives, the more flowers it displays, and the stronger the fragrance from the foliage. Lavender do not grow well in the shade.
  • Potted lavender does not require any fertilizer. Lavenders are adapted to gritty, low-fertility soil in their native Mediterranean environment in which they thrive. Fertilizer causes lavender to display fewer flowers, decreases the fragrance, and grows droopy.
  • Prune lavender in either the early Spring or late Fall after flowering. Prune lavender annually to prevent a leggy appearance and to increase longevity. Prune back the top 1/3 of the lavender growth into a compact, rounded shape to promote flowering.
  • English lavender flowers in June/July, and the blooms last for around 1 month. French Lavenders bloom in May and can last around 3 months in optimal conditions. English lavenders have a more pronounced aroma than French Lavenders
  • English lavenders are cold-hardy and can be kept outdoors in pots all year, whereas French lavender is cold-sensitive and dies back due to frost and freezing temperatures. Bring French lavender indoors before Winter. Do not water outdoor lavenders in Winter, but water indoor lavenders once every 4-6 weeks.

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