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.
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?