Lavender is an amazing plant — semi-shrub, specifically. Growing lavender plants in your garden can be immensely rewarding: gorgeous flowers in spring, with that heavenly scent filling the air. Working on the plant leaves the smell lingering on your skin. The blossoms are also excellent for attracting bees to your garden!
But lavender, like all garden plants, needs regular trimming to keep it healthy. Fortunately, pruning lavenders is simple and straightforward work. Here’s a quick guide on pruning lavender plants, so that you have beautiful purple blossoms year after year.
Tips for growing lavender
Lavender shrubs are hardy plants, thriving in hot and dry summers and cool winters. They have many uses, including:
- Flower arrangements or wreaths
- Odour control
- Homemade bath accessories (like salt scrubs or bath bombs)
- DIY lavender oil
- Lavender butter (yes, really!)
- Cocktail accents, and more!
In terms of growing lavender, depending on the species, it can tolerate some humidity and frost. Temperate climates are best for this plant, but with a little effort, it can grow almost anywhere.
In a garden, grow a lavender plant somewhere with full sun but shaded from the wind. If there’s somewhere they can bask in the Australian afternoon sun, that’s perfect!
Make sure the soil drains well, and layer with organic matter (like mulch or compost) before planting. Water regularly while your lavender plants are still establishing themselves, but afterwards, they’re very drought-tolerant. Soak the soil through when it’s dry, especially in summer, but don’t overwater — you could kill the roots!
If you don’t have the space, or you just want to grow lavender indoors, it’ll still do well in a pot! Make sure to buy a fairly large one with drainage holes, and use potting mix that drains well. Place the potted lavenders where they’ll get the most sun. Water about once a week — or whenever you feel the soil dry out. And of course, remember to prune them!
Why prune lavender?
Pruning lavender has several benefits for the plant, such as:
- Withstanding elements and external stressors
- Keeping it looking healthy
- Allowing and controlling new growth
- Encouraging flowering
- Preventing scraggly or woody growths
- Preventing your plant from trapping water in summer or winter
It’s important not to over-prune your lavender, though, since this can do more harm and even kill the plant. A little goes a long way!
When to prune lavender
A lavender plant needs pruning at least twice a year, to help maintain the plant’s health and encourage its sprouting. Regular pruning also gives it time to regenerate.
1. Spring Pruning
Prune lavender in the spring to trim off any dead leaves and branches from the winter, and stimulate fresh growth. Do this early in the season so the plant has time to recover before the summer lavender blooms. This requires more precision so you don’t cut too much and hamper its flowering.
2. Autumn Pruning
It’s best to prune lavender plants again after their summer flowering, to trim off any wilting flowers and scraggly twigs. This will also help prevent frost damage, and breakage from snow (if you live in an area that gets snow!). Late summer to autumn pruning focuses more on shaping the plant and prepping it for winter.
1. Young Plants
Don’t prune your lavender plant right away — let it establish roots first, then cut back new growth around a year in to increase volume. You can pinch off the tips to encourage more dense branches. Don’t let it grow too much wood, since this will make it harder to control.
2. Established Plants
These require heavier pruning to stimulate further growth. Stems should be cut back by one third volume after it’s done flowering. Summer pruning in particular should be for reshaping, using hand pruners or shears. Note that shears are less accurate, but time-saving if maintaining hedges.
3. Mature Plants
Don’t be afraid of continuing to heavily prune mature lavender — just don’t cut into leafless old wood. They won’t rejuvenate, but you can still encourage new growth by trimming down to just above the woody part. The one third rule still holds well for more mature lavender. Work in early spring to boost its flowering potential.
1. English Lavender
This is the most versatile type (lavandula angustifolia), and the most long-lived — keeping up to 25 years with care. Their compact flower spikes appear in late spring through early summer. Prune English lavender once and lightly after the first flowering to encourage a second blooming. Then prune more fully in early autumn to prepare for winter.
2. Hybrid Lavender
Hybrid lavenders (lavandin x intermedia), like the Grosso and Provence varieties, have longer and more slender flowers, and long stems that branch out from the centre. These bloom in mid to late summer, so are best pruned in early to mid-autumn to prepare for winter. Because they have long branches, they may need trimming up to half their volume.
3. Spanish Lavender
Also called French lavender (lavandula stoechas), this type of lavender plant is more short-lived, with a lifespan of 3–5 years. These are much more delicate, with small and full flower spikes emerging in early spring. They prune and regrow faster than other varieties, so will need to be pruned lightly but often. Trim just after its lavender flowers wilt for the season, then follow later with some deadheading. You can prune a little heavier in autumn to boost its growth.
How to prune lavender
To prune lavender plants, you’ll need the following tools:
- Gardening gloves
- Pruning shears
- Hand pruners (optional, for precision)
- Check how much new growth is present. If there are few fresh stems, wait a little longer. Otherwise, it’s safe to start pruning.
- Find the new leaves on the branches. They’ll usually be closer to the woody stems, so carefully move any deadwood or debris off. Look for the spot where the woody growth ends and the soft green stem begins.
- Prune the branch all the way back to just above the new growth — about 5-10cm. When in doubt, one third of the growth is a good estimate. Never cut back all the way to the new leaves — or don’t prune all the way to the woody base — since your plant will not grow and bloom from old wood.
- Pruning takes time, so be careful and thorough! Make sure you don’t detach any new leaves while you’re pruning, or you’ll hinder the growth of new blooms.
- Shape the plant in a mound or teardrop shape, with outer stems shorter and lower, to get that signature lavender bush shape.
- Wait to remove dead branches as they may still bloom throughout summer. If after your blooms wilt, the branches are still lifeless, it’s safe to cut them away to promote better air circulation within the plant.
- Do not prune lavender past mid-autumn, or you could end up with new growths that will break and die during winter, weakening your lavender plants.
Do this once in early spring, to clear away any debris from the winter and maintain your lavender for summer. Then repeat more thoroughly in autumn, or after the lavender plants are done flowering.
This is the term for removing wilted flowers from lavender plants. This helps clear up the shrub, and can encourage a second flush in reblooming varieties. To deadhead lavender, simply trim off any dead flower tops from any main branches. This is best done in summer, but you can deadhead your lavender plant as many times as needed throughout the year.
Always keep an eye on your lavender plants to make sure they’re growing healthily and well. You can check the new growth and inspect the woody base for any rot or dead branches.
Save some of your cuttings to plant new lavender! Propagating lavender is easy — just ensure you use branches that haven’t flowered yet, from a mature lavender plant. Trim the leaves off the bottom 3-5cm of each stem, then place in a pot of propagating mix to start.
If you’re nervous, you can consult a gardening professional about pruning lavender plants, especially for younger lavender. Otherwise, grab your pruning shears and get trimming so you can enjoy a full flush of lavender blooms when the season comes around!