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Gardening Lavender

    Gardening Lavender is gaining more and more popularity as people discover the joys of growing these wonderful plants. Most varieties are hardy and easy to grow, adding color and that special sweet aroma to your landscape or garden. With a little care, lavender plants will last 10 or more years.   Climate - Lavender can be grown in a wide variety of climates. In the United States, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes a map of plant hardiness zones that can be used for determining if it is appropriate to try to grow plants in a given area. Lavender can be grown successfully in USDA Zones 5-11, depending on the species. French and Spanish Lavenders are a little more sensitive and may not survive in the colder zones 5 and 6. Even the hardier English Lavenders and hybrid Lavidins may experience some winter kill in these areas, but from personal experience I can tell you that plants that appear totally dead can come back healthy in the spring.

Lavender is well suited to the Mediterranean and grows wild in several of those countries, but gardening lavender is enjoyed in many parts of the world. Australia, New Zealand, England, Japan and North America all have thriving lavender farms and gardens. Lavender does well in sunny dry areas, but can also be successfully cultivated hot or cool areas that are humid and get significant amounts of rain, given the right soil conditions.

Seasons - If you are considering gardening lavender, what can you expect of your plants during the four seasons of the year (assuming your area has 4 seasons)?

• Spring - As the weather begins to warm and the days begin to grow longer, the long dormant plants will come to life. New growth will come from the base of the plant and will come amazingly quickly. If any of last year's foilage survived the winter, it will quickly be swallowed up by the new branches. Long stalks, or peduncles will shoot up from the bushy part of the plant. These stalks will be topped by a spike that will hold the sweet smelling blooms.

• Summer - This is prime time for gardening lavender. The bush's growth continues and the spikes begin to present their special offering of fragrant flowers. Exactly when the plant blooms is dependent on the species. Harvesting time will depend on the intended use of the flowers. Even if you choose not to harvest the blooms, they will be attractive even after they wither, though the aroma will fade.

• Autumn - The days get shorter and the nights cooler. This is the signal for the lavender plant to go dormant. Growth slows, and eventually stops. This is the best time for pruning your plant to prepare it best for winter.

• Winter - The snow and cold can kill some or all of the foilage above ground. But don't be dismayed, if the plant was healthy going into this season, it will likely survive and and start the cycle again in the spring. With younger, smaller plants mulching may help protect them from the severe weather.

Lavender Varieties - One of the first choices you'll need to make when gardening lavender, is what variety will you want? What kinds are readily available? What types will do well in your climate? What color do you want? Are you interested in harvesting the flowers as dried lavender for crafts or arrangements? A little research will be worth the effort.

Location - As with anything else, a little planning when you are gardening lavender will go a long way. Where will you plant your lavender? While this is largely personal preference, here are some things to consider:

• Choose a sunny location. Lavender is a sun loving plant but will tolerate some shade.

• Leave plenty of room. Know how big your variety will get. Some are smaller and some bigger, but a good rule of thumb is to place the plants at least 24 inches (61 cm) apart.

• Decide on companion plants. What colors and textures of flowers and plants will go well alongside your lavender plant? Lavender and Sage? How about Lavender and Roses? The broad spectrum of colors and sizes will provide you with many options when you are gardening lavender.

Landscaping - Lavender is very versatile and will fit into many different landscape designs. Since it is so drought tolerant, it is a perfect choice for conserving water. Lavender is becoming very popular as part of the xeriscape plans of the desert southwestern U.S. With proper drainage it will also thrive in a natural landscape that might be found in rain drenched parts of the world. Have you ever thought of planting a lavender hedge? Choose a large variety, plant close together and you can have an aromatic, beautiful barrier.

Soil - Probably the most important thing about successfully gardening lavender is proper soil drainage. The plants are susceptible to root rot, so any soil that retains too much water for too long will not be good. The ideal soil is a sandy loam, and it doesn't need to be a rich soil. It will be best if the soil is neutral to slightly alkaline (pH 6.5-7.5). If you are unsure, have some of it tested. Adding a little lime to your planting mixture should do the trick if your soil tends to be acidic.

Watering - Lavender doesn't require much water, but long dry periods will stress the plant and have a negative impact on flower and oil production. Mature plants will endure longer dry periods than young plants. Water when the ground is dry, but before the plants have visible signs of stress. When planning your irrigation, avoid sprinklers, as this can promote bacterial and fungal diseases. Gardening lavender is a great opportunity for utilizing a drip irrigation system. This will conserve water along with promoting healthy plants.

Fertilization - Lavender tends to do well even in poor soil, but fertilizing will still give the plants a boost, generating more flowers. Do not use strong manure such as chicken or horse for fertilizer, as these can "burn" the plant. Bone meal or fish emulsion work well, and should be applied immediately before watering. Fertilize in the spring before flowering begins, and again after the flowers have been harvested.

Flowers - When can you expect to see the lavender blooms? The answer to this question depends very much on what variety of lavender you have planted and the climate where you have planted it. Actually, if you plan right you can plant several types of lavender and have lavender blooming at its peak all summer.

Pruning - A very important part of lavender plant care is pruning. It is best to prune the plants in early to mid-autumn as growth is slowing. Some recommend pruning in the spring, but this will prevent the initial flower growth and will still need to be done again. Prune one third to one half of the plant, shapingit into a compact ball. While this sounds drastic, it is important to keep a healthy plant. If your lavender is a hedge, you may want to prune in the spring and autumn both to establish the desired shape. One option is to prune only the sides in the spring to allow flower growth on top, then prune the entire plant in the autumn.

There you have it. All you need now is to decide what type you want to plant and you have enough information for gardening lavender. It is one of the easier garden plants to maintain and will provide many years of aromatic rewards.

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