Stages of Lavender Growth

Lavender is one of the plant world’s most distinct scents. It’s often considered to be one of the most profitable commercial crops and has shaped entire regions with its agricultural and cultural impacts (most notably, Provence, France).

Countless perfumes and candles are infused with the scent of lavender. But you don’t need to buy any of these products to enjoy the wonderful fragrance in your own home and garden. Despite its great qualities, lavender is surprisingly easy to grow if you provide the right environment.

In this article, I’ll guide you through the key stages of lavender growth and provide tips and tricks for success in growing this herb yourself.

Conditions for Growing Lavender

Lavender is a shrubby Mediterranean plant. It likes loose, well-draining soil with a high sand content. According to the University of Illinois Chicago, alkaline soil not only improves lavender’s health and longevity but may also improve its trademark fragrance.

Most species (of which there are several) are hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9. Lavender naturally goes dormant in the wintertime but — unless it gets too cold — shouldn’t experience significant die back.

This plant loves sunlight, and you should try to place it somewhere that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of direct light per day. Lavender grown under insufficient light tends to be scraggly and produce fewer flower buds.

Moisture is one of the biggest concerns when growing lavender in the garden. Lavender likes dry feet and won’t tolerate standing water. If your garden doesn’t meet these needs, consider planting lavender in a raised bed or other type of container to improve drainage.

Humidity is another issue that goes hand in hand with proper drainage. Many gardeners in humid climates struggle to grow lavender at all. At the very least, your lavender is more likely to experience health problems during the hottest, most humid months.

Lavender Growth Rate

I’ll be honest: gardeners looking for a fast-growing shrub should probably look elsewhere! Lavender is a slow- to moderate-growing plant that can take two to three years to reach maturity. In some cases, however, limited flowers will appear in the first couple of years of growth.

The actual growth rate can vary greatly depending on the type of lavender being grown and how it’s cared for. For example, English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) can grow up to 15 inches per year under ideal conditions. 

Note that winter die back may slow down the average growth rate of affected lavender plants. To prevent this, be sure to select varieties that are appropriate for your climate and take protective measures if necessary.

Growth Stages of Lavender

Lavender is an herbaceous perennial, so once it’s established, it will repeat the same growth cycle each year until it eventually dies. The key stages in this annual cycle happen from spring to fall and include:

  • Exiting winter dormancy
  • New vegetative growth
  • Flower bud formation
  • Flowering and pollination
  • Seed formation
  • Re-entering dormancy

A lavender plant’s first year of growth also includes things like seed germination and the seedling stage. It usually takes at least one year for a lavender to flower for the first time and two to three years before the plant fully matures.

1. Seed Germination

Lavender is relatively easy to grow from seed. The seeds are tiny, black, and oblong. (Personally, I think they look a lot like dessert sprinkles.)

Many plant seeds have a protective dormancy that must be broken before germinating. Breaking this dormancy is called stratification. In the case of lavender, cold stratification works best.

Cold stratification naturally occurs in the ‘wild’ as the previous year’s seeds are exposed to winter temperatures. The seeds know it’s time to grow once it start to warm up in the spring! Home gardeners can easily mimic this process by placing store-bought or hand-collected lavender seeds in a refrigerator for about 30 days before planting. 

Lavender seeds germinate best when exposed to light and heat. Avoid covering the seeds with a thick layer of soil that will block any available sunlight (or the glow of a grow lamp). If starting lavender in an indoor seed tray, I also highly recommend investing in a heat source of some kind to speed along the germination process.

If all of these needs are met, lavender seeds can start germinating in as little as 14 days. Some varieties may not germinate until 30 days or later after planting.

2. Seedlings

When a lavender seed germinates, it creates a primary root, stems, and two embryonic leaves called cotyledons. Within a couple of days, the cotyledons emerge from the soil and pronounce the start of the seedling stage.

Don’t be shocked if your seedlings at first look nothing like lavender plants! The cotyledons are simple, rounded leaves with a much different appearance than the ‘true’ leaves. All foliage produced after the cotyledons will have the needle-like shape you expect from lavender.

Seedlings

Lavender seedlings, like their mature counterparts, are slow-growing. It can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days for the seedlings to be big enough for transplanting.

3. Vegetative Growth

Lavender grows up to 2 feet tall and wide on average, though you probably won’t see all of this growth occur in the first year. A new lavender plant may only grow to be about a foot tall the first season but will catch up in later years.

During the vegetative growth stage, your lavender will focus on putting out new leaves and stems. As lavender matures, the base of the plant will turn woody. Young lavender will be soft and tender throughout.

4. Flowering

Of course, this is why we all grow lavender in the first place. The flowers aren’t just beautiful and are responsible for much of the plant’s wonderful scent. 

It’s not uncommon for lavender plants to only flower in their second or third years of growth. There are a few varieties that can flower in their first year — or you might just get lucky — but these displays usually fall short of what a lavender plant can produce when it’s 100% established.

Flowering

You’ll know your lavender is about to flower when you spot tall, thin stems topped with tight buds. After a few days, the stems will elongate, and the buds will start to open and reveal some color. The flowers at the top of the branch will open first, followed by the rest of the buds down the length of the stem.

5. Pollination

Any flowers left to bloom on the lavender plant will quickly attract a crowd of different pollinators. Lavender is a highly bee-friendly plant, with species of bumblebees being the most prevalent. According to Oregon State University, it’s the long tongues of bumblebees that let them efficiently harvest nectar from the flowers!

Lavender generally doesn’t self-pollinate — pollen will not naturally transfer without the help of insects or a human hand. However, pollen from one lavender flower can efficiently pollinate a flower on the same plant.

From a gardener’s perspective, pollination is only a requirement if you want to collect and save lavender seeds from your garden. Either way, the local bees will surely appreciate its presence in your garden.

6. Seed Development

Lavender seeds start developing after the flowers are successfully pollinated. The amount of time it takes for the seeds to form entirely varies — this is largely determined by when your variety of lavender finishes flowering in the growing season.

Flower spikes harvested while in bloom won’t produce seeds. If you want to collect and save seeds from your garden, you must leave some flowers on the plant until they completely dry out.

When to Harvest Lavender

Lavender can be harvested from late spring through the end of summer and even into fall. You can continue harvesting as long as the plant is putting out new flower spikes. Routine harvesting can even encourage new buds to form. 

Harvesting lavender blossoms is generally best when the buds are only partially opened. The flowers contain more essential oils at this stage, producing a more potent fragrance after harvest. Another popular rule of thumb is to harvest lavender early in the morning. This is supposedly when the essential oils are most concentrated in the flowers.

When to Harvest Lavender

Some gardeners also like to harvest the lavender leaves. This is best done in the fall, just before your area’s first expected frost.

I recommend following a simple one-third rule during the harvest season to prevent stressing your lavender plants. All this means is that you shouldn’t remove over one-third of the entire plant. Remember: your lavender still needs plenty of vegetative growth to continue photosynthesizing and growing!

For more insight into growing this fragrant perennial, here’s a link to Lavender companion plants.

FAQ Stages of Lavender Growth

How long does lavender live?

Most lavender plants can live 10 to 15 years with proper care and a bit of good luck. Tender varieties may be expected to live only five years, though they also tend to have slightly faster growth rates.

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.