A Shopper’s Guide to Lavender

A Shopper’s Guide to Lavender

We help you pick the best types of lavender for your yard, deck, patio, or balcony, and share tips on how to grow it perfectly. By Justin Hancock
By Justin Hancock

You want
to grow fragrant, beautiful lavender in your yard, right? (I hope so and that’s why you’re reading this!) Good news: Lavender is easy to grow in your garden, or on your deck, patio, or balcony. Just choose the right kind, give it the right conditions, and watch it thrive. If you’re not sure which lavender is best or what conditions it needs to do well in your space, read on! I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to enjoy beautiful lavender with this guide. 

English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)English Lavender
English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and varieties of it are native to the Mediterranean. As such, they are great choices if you have a warm, sunny spot with good soil drainage and you live in a cool-winter climate. English lavender doesn’t like a spot that stays wet all the time (good news for those of us who don’t like to water our gardens a lot). Because it comes from hot, dry areas, English lavender can be a bit temperamental if you live in an area with high humidity levels over the summer. It typically grows and blooms best in Zones 5-8. I’ve found English lavender grows as an evergreen in Zones 9-11, but doesn’t bloom in these areas. It needs more winter cold to flower.

Most English lavender varieties bloom in late spring or early summer and continue on and off through midsummer, especially if you take the time to remove faded flowers. You typically see the blooms appear in a violet-purple color, but white- and pink-flowering types are available, too. 

English Lavender Varieties
Some popular varieties of English lavender include:
  > Blue Scent: An award winner, Blue Scent English lavender features deep blue-purple flowers and is quite tidy. It grows only 12 inches tall and wide.
  > Ellangance Pink: Ellagance Pink English lavender shows off light pink flowers and has an extended flowering time. It bears good disease resistance in wet and humid areas and grows 16 inches tall and wide.
  > Hidcote: Hidcote English Lavender is a classic variety that features deep purple-blue flowers and silvery-gray foliage. It grows about 18 inches tall and wide.
  > Lavance Deep Purple: Showing off deep purple flowers, it grows only 12 inches tall and wide. The flowers are some of the darkest around on an English lavender.
  > Munstead: Munstead English lavender is an heirloom variety that’s still popular today because of its profusion of lavender-blue flowers. It grows 18 inches tall and wide.
  > Platinum Blonde: This stunner shows off gray-green leaves edged in golden yellow when they first emerge. As the leaves mature, they fade to an even gray-green color. It shows off violet-blue flowers. It’s been a top performer in our Trial Gardens. It grows about 2 feet tall and wide.
  > SuperBlue: A patented variety, SuperBlue English lavender offers excellent heat, humidity, and cold tolerance. It shows off deep violet-blue flowers and green foliage. It grows 12 inches tall and side. 

Spanish Lavender
Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas)Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) and its varieties are less hardy than their English cousins. They are usually grown as annuals in the North and perennials in warmer-winter areas. (They are hardy in Zones 7-9.) Spanish lavender prefers a hot, dry spot in full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun a day). It’s a favorite plant for low-water landscapes because of its drought tolerance. Like many other types of lavender, it struggles in wet soil. It’s a good choice if you live in the Deep South.

Spanish lavender has a distinct look. Its bloom clusters are topped by attractive, colorful bracts -- giving them a similar look to the leaves on top of a pineapple. Spanish lavender varieties typically appear in shades of purple, lavender, pink, and white. Most varieties begin to bloom in late spring and continue through the summer. They produce more flowers if you remove old blooms as they fade. 

Spanish Lavender Varieties
  > Anouk: An extra-hardy strain, Anouk Spanish lavender offers gray-green leaves and dark purple blooms topped by violet-purple bracts. It grows 18 inches tall and wide. Zones 6-9
  > Bandera Purple: We love Bandera Purple Spanish lavender because it’s adorable and easy to grow. It gets about 10 inches tall and wide. Bandera Purple features dark purple flowers topped by lavender-purple bracts. It’s hardy in Zones 7-10.
  > Javelin Forte Deep Rose: If you like big flowers, check out Javelin Forte Deep Rose Spanish lavender. It offers extra-large rosy-pink bracts and deep pinkish-purple flowers. It grows 20 inches tall and wide. Zones 7-9
  > Silver Anouk: Bearing bright silvery-gray foliage, Silver Anouk Spanish lavender is delightful even when it’s not in bloom. Those light leaves contrast beautifully with the purple blooms and rich purple bracts. It grows 24 inches tall and wide. Zones 6-9

Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia)Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia) is a series of hybrids that look similar to English lavender, but are typically a little larger, a little less hardy, and a bit better in hot climates. Many people find lavandins are more strongly fragrant than English and Spanish lavender varieties. Like most other types, they’re excellent choices for hot, dry sites and they tolerate drought quite well. Lavandins do well in sandy soil (especially during the winter). Most varieties do best in Zones 6-8. 

Lavandin Lavender Varieties
  > Grosso: This is one of the standard lavandin varieties. It brings especially fragrant lavender-purple flowers and silver-green foliage to garden beds, borders, and containers. It grows 30 inches tall and wide. Zones 5-8
  > Phenomenal: Phenomenal is a patented variety that offers improved hardiness and heat/humidity tolerance. It features lavender-purple blooms and silver foliage. It’s hardy in Zones 5-10. 
  > Provence: A big, bold variety, Provence lavandin can reach 36 inches (or more) tall or wide. It shows off strongly scented spikes of light purple flowers throughout the summer. It’s often used by growers in the perfume industry. Zones 6-8

Fernleaf Lavender
Fernleaf lavender (Lavandula multifida)Fernleaf lavender (Lavandula multifida) is one of the best choices for gardeners in Central and South Florida or other regions that rarely dip below freezing and host high humidity levels. If you don’t live in a frost-free region, don’t worry – you can still enjoy fernleaf lavender as a beautiful annual that flowers nonstop from spring to fall. While it’s delightfully drought tolerant, it also grows in average-moisture soils, too, where other lavender varieties may suffer disease or rot. It’s hardy in Zones 8-11. 

This plant gets its name because the gray-green leaves are finely divided and almost ferny in appearance. It’s topped almost all year long by spikes of lavender-purple flowers on tall, wiry spikes. It can reach 24 inches tall and wide or more when grown as a perennial. One other thing that sets fernleaf lavender apart is its fragrance; it smells more like pine or oregano than it does the traditional lavender fragrance.

Picking the Best Lavender
Once you’ve selected the best type and variety of lavender for your space, you’ll want to pick the best plants at your local garden center. Start off by looking for varieties that have lush foliage from the top of the plant to the bottom. Be wary of plants that have a lot of yellow leaves at the base of the plant; they may have been overwatered. Likewise, a lot of dry, crispy leaves throughout the plant means that it may have dried out too much.

You can also judge the health of a lavender plant by looking at the roots. Don’t be afraid to slip a lavender plant out of its pot. The roots should be firm and light in color. If they seem mushy and brown or yellowish, they may be starting to rot. 

Because lavenders are technically shrubs, rather than perennials, you’ll also want to look for plants that don’t have a lot of broken stems. If lavender is broken off or cut back too far down the plant, it can have a hard time pushing out new growth. 

I know that lavender plants in bloom are the most attractive. But, you’ll find your plants get established in your garden or containers more quickly if you buy them without flowers. (That’s because they can put their energy into settling into their new home, rather than splitting energy between pushing out blooms and adapting to being planted in a new environment.)
Get more shopping tips for perennials.

Keeping Lavender Healthy
A bright spot -- either potted or in the ground -- is key to growing lavender. Once established, most types need minimal watering, even during drought. But because they like to keep their feet dry, avoid growing lavender in areas where sprinklers frequently run. If you have clay soil, it’s especially helpful to grow lavender in container gardens or raised beds to help improve the soil drainage. 

While lavender is often sold as a perennial, it’s actually a small woody shrub. As such, you don’t want to prune it back too hard in early spring. In fact, only prune off any areas that don’t show new growth.