Plant Profile: Lavender

hidcote lavender and yarrow

Hidcote lavender is a good variety for northern gardeners. Photo courtesy of Walters Gardens Inc.

If you've ever seen photos of lavender fields in Oregon or other much more temperate climates that ours, you know how delightful this perennial herb can look. With its deep purple flowers and scented foliage, lavender is a dream plant for many northern gardeners.

Now, that's not to say, it cannot be grown in the North. The keys are to pick the right varieties, site them carefully and nurture them during the months after they are planted.

Pick the Right Varieties

The best lavender varieties for the north are all cultivars of Lavendula augustifolia, the so-called common or English lavender. (For French lavender, you need to visit France or Oregon.) 'Munstead' and 'Hidcote' are the two hardiest cultivars and are the ones you are most likely to see in northern gardens. Both are usually rated as USDA Zone 5 hardy, which means they will need a protected spot in most zone 4 (that's St. Cloud southward in Minnesota) gardens. Hidcote grows a bit taller (18 inches, more or less) than Munstead and it has a grayish-green foliage and deep purple flowers. Munstead is shorter (12-15 inches). Both plants are highly aromatic and just walking by them you will catch the delightful scent of lavender. Phenomenal™ lavender is a new variety that some growers rate as hardy to USDA Zone 4. It also deals well with hot, humid summers, unlike other lavenders. I have not grown this variety, but may be worth a try.

row of phenomenal lavender

Phenomenal lavender is a new variety that handles humidity well and is USDA Zone 4 hardy. Photo courtesy of Cultivaris

Site Them Carefully

Lavender is native to Mediterranean climates, which means it likes plenty of sun and really good drainage. Site your lavender in a somewhat sandy or gravely spot that gets full sun—6 hours a day, preferably more. In our climate, a protected micro-climate might be the best spot for lavender -- some place with a bit of protection from winds. They don't like to be crowded together too much—humidity and a lack of air circulation are enemies of lavender. You can grow lavender in containers as well as in rock gardens, borders or cutting gardens.

Care of Lavender

The best time to plant lavender is early in the season, which will give your plants plenty of time to get acclimated and send down roots. Water them regularly the first year. After they are established, they will need less water to grow well. Lavender are slow growers, so it will take three years for the plants to get to their full, mature size.

Do you grow lavender in your garden? Have you had good luck with it?

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  1. Joey Neslon on June 7, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    I can’t get it through the winter. I’ve tried covering it and mulching it but no luck. Lovely during the summer. I’ve seen pictures of fields in Door Co, WI though.

  2. Kathy on June 8, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    I’ve had good luck with Munstead in South Minneapolis. I have very sandy soil and it’s in a protected spot, but it probably doesn’t get a full 6 hours of sun. I started with one plant and now have a little hedge.

  3. Mary Wareham on June 10, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    I grew it as a little hedge right next to our driveway for years. Don’t know the variety. It was very hot and dry there and in some gravel; the snow from driveway plowing covered it well there during the winter. Yes, hot, dry conditions favor it.

  4. Henry Fieldseth on June 11, 2018 at 3:39 am

    Betty Ann Addison from Gardens of Rice Creek in Blaine has selected a variety of English lavender that is hardy here. She named it ‘Cynthia Johnson’.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on June 11, 2018 at 2:20 pm

      Thanks, Henry — Will have to try that one!

    • Charity Fretty on July 7, 2018 at 5:23 pm

      I have two Cynthia Johnson lavenders that have done well, even in my clay soil. I recommend them.

  5. Cass Dalglish on October 8, 2018 at 8:31 pm

    Should I cover my lavender for the winter in Minneapolis? Will those upside down baskets work or do I need
    a burlap wrap?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on October 11, 2018 at 8:00 pm

      Cass — It depends on the type of lavender. I grew ‘Munstead’ and just put some leaves around the base of the plants in fall and they got through the winter. I’m not sure what type of baskets you are thinking of — rose cones (syrofoam) sometimes cause trouble, but if the basket breathed that might be fine. Good luck!

      • Julie Be on May 30, 2021 at 5:02 am

        We bought 20 “Munstead” established lavender plants fall of 2020, and the woman selling them from her home said to put sand around the stems and put milk jugs over them over the winter which will allow some snow to get inside to keep them moist. They did make it through our generally mild winter of 2020 (St. Paul area). So far this spring, they have been slow growing, but there is some new growth, so I’m hopeful that they will grow into a little patch in a few years.

        • Karin Ihnen on September 22, 2021 at 2:09 pm

          Julie, could you share where you got the plants or would you be willing to sell some of yours.thank you.

  6. Julie B on October 26, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    I grew several different types of lavender this year. If I bring these I how should I treat them?
    I was thinking of cutting them back and keeping them in a cool space. Would a well pit that is dark all the time be ok?

  7. Karen on May 15, 2021 at 6:35 pm

    My sister gave me lavender pimavera. She said it is a perennial. After reading I dont think in 3b to 4a zone. Just planted. Anyone else know of this lavender?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on May 17, 2021 at 7:54 pm

      Primavera lavender is listed as hardy to USDA Zone 7. I grew it as a trial plant in 2020 and it was great in a pot. Maybe you could try to over winter it indoors?

  8. S D on May 16, 2022 at 10:01 am

    I planted 10 or so phenomenal lavenders a couple years ago. I covered them with burlap, single layer, the first year and they came back beautifully the next. I did the same thing this past winter and lost all but 2. I’m in NE Minneapolis. It’s unfortunate as it was beautiful, the yard smelled just lovely, and the number of pollinators on these plants was incredible. But I won’t get it again. Too fragile.

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