You can grow lavender from seeds, seedlings, cuttings, or layering. Which course you choose depends on your level of patience. Overall, it’s much easier to grow your lavender if someone else has already gone to the trouble to get the seedlings started for you. But if you enjoy the process of growing from seed, it’s certainly an option.
Seed Planting Process
Lavender seeds take a week or two to germinate, so plan ahead. If you live in a cooler area, you’ll want to get started early. Lavender seeds tend to have a low germination rate. Plan to plant your seeds eight to 10 weeks before your last frost. To encourage the seeds to germinate, it’s best to give them about four weeks of cold stratification. You can do that in one of two ways:
- Spread seeds out on a folded damp paper towel. Put the paper towel into a zippered plastic bag and put them in the back of your fridge for about four weeks. After that point, some of the seeds should germinate and you can transfer the seedlings to flats as described in No. 2.
- Plant seeds in a seed flat in a seed starter mix or a mix of compost and vermiculite. Cover the flat with plastic wrap and in a cool, dark spot for four weeks; this is a good use for a cold frame if you have one. Otherwise, a cool garage or other cool, dark space will do.
Once seeds have germinated, they need light. Put them in a bright indoor space—by a sunny window or under grow lights. Do not overwater them. Use a mister to be sure you don’t overdo it. When the seedlings are about 3 inches high, you can transplant them to larger containers. If you plan on keeping them in containers, put them in a container that’s at least 3 gallons; otherwise, you can stage them to slightly bigger quarters before planting them outside.
Once your seedlings begin to grow, you’ll want to harden them off before you transplant them to your garden. So, about five to six weeks after you plant the seeds, give your new seedlings a little sheltered outside time, starting with an hour or two a day in indirect sunlight, progressing to a full day outside. Bring your seedlings in for the night after each outdoor foray. This process helps strengthen the plant’s cells, giving them a better chance of thriving when you transplant them.
Your garden soil temperature should be at least 40 degrees F before you set your seedlings out. When your seedlings are ready for the outdoor garden, have planting holes ready for them. Pop the seedlings out of their little containers and put them right into their outdoor home. Don’t disturb the soil or root ball; the less you fuss with them, the better.
Cover the roots and attached soil with fresh garden soil and give them a good drink of water. If you’re concerned about pests moving in on your young plants, put a row cover over them.
Note: French lavender (Lavandula x intermedia) cannot be grown from seed. It must be propagated by cuttings or layering.
Want to save yourself the time, space, and potential disappointment of starting lavender from seed? Get seedlings from your local nursery or order plants from a reputable source. Be sure to check that the plants have not been treated with pesticide if you plan on using them in a culinary capacity.
The benefit of this approach is that you won’t have to wait as long to have a productive plant. Some of the growers you may turn to online will have been nurturing those plants for as long as a year to get them well established. You’re more likely to find younger seedlings at a local nursery or farm stand; plants that young tend not to ship well.
If you already have lavender plants and you’d like to have more of the same, you can take cuttings from your own healthy lavender plants, or ask a gardener friend for a cutting from one of their plants. You might even offer to do a swap! The easiest time to do this is in mid to late spring. If you have a cold frame and are willing to make the extra effort to shelter your cuttings from frost in a cold frame over the winter, you can take your cuttings in the fall.
The term “cutting” is a bit misleading. You don’t actually want to cut a branch off the plant. Instead, you want to find a branch that’s about 6 inches or so long and pull it down gently until it breaks off from the plant. What you want to make sure is that you get a piece of the heel—the union from the base of the plant and the bottom of the branch.
Strips off the leaves from the lower half of the cutting, leaving the top leaves. Put the cutting in water, then dip the bottom in some rooting powder. If you don’t have any rooting powder, don’t panic. A lot of gardeners just take their cuttings and put them into a pot, and they do just fine.
When your cutting is ready (rooting powder or not), use a dowel or a stick to make a hole and put the cutting in it, leaving only about an inch of the cutting above ground. Keep the cuttings watered and well drained while they establish new roots. If you took your cuttings in the spring, they should be pretty well established by the end of the summer.
Another way to propagate a lavender plant is by a method called layering. It’s a little more complicated than taking a cutting, but it keeps the whole plant in the garden.
In the spring, pick an outside branch that’s pliable and gently bend it toward the ground at a point about 8 to 12 inches from the tip, and mark that spot on the ground. Strip off the leaves and any side branches from the branch you’ve picked, leaving about 6 inches of leaves at the tip.
Use a trowel to dig a trench about 4 inches deep alongside the branch. Bury that part of the branch, using a wire pin to hold it down, and bend the remaining part of the branch up so it’s vertical. This will likely cause a wound in the stem. Dust that wound with rooting powder and put a wooden toothpick in that break to keep the wound open.
Stake the branch upright and keep the new branch watered and weeded, remembering not to overwater. In the fall, give it a gentle tug to check to see if it’s started developing roots. If you feel resistance, you can cut the branch from the mother plant, and leave the new plant to grow in place until the next spring. Then you can dig it up and transplant. If it hasn’t rooted, don’t separate it from the mother plant. Leave it as it is until the next spring, and check again.
Have you tried growing lavender from seeds, seedlings, cuttings, or layering? Which method do you prefer—and why? Please share your experiences with us.