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Growing Lavender in Containers

By Patti O'Neal, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver

Growing lavender in containers can be done, but in our climate it can be a little tricky.  It does make for a beautiful and satisfying sensory treat if you follow a few simple guidelines.  The main things to consider are size of container, adequate light, drainage, water, pruning and feeding.  

First of all, your container must be adequate in size.  As lavender is a Mediterranean herb, it deals well with tight root spaces in well drained soil. Though the root ball is usually much larger than the plant itself and you must allow for this in a container, lavender’s roots do prefer to be fairly crowded.  Therefore, the container should be proportional to the size of the rootball, i.e., not more than an inch or two larger than the rootball.  Too much soil and few roots can cause excessive wetness to linger in the soil, which is death to lavender.   

Locate your lavender containers in a very sunny location.  Your lavender containers need as much sun as is recommended for lavender planted in the garden, about 8 hours a day. 

It likes it hot and dry. 

 Make sure there are adequate drainage holes in the container you select. If not, make them by drilling additional holes.   It might be advisable to add an inch or two of gravel to the bottom of the container, to insure adequate draining of water and drying of the soil between waterings. Some people prefer a lighter weight filler material, especially if the container is to be moved around throughout the season. Soil should be a light and “fluffy” mixture, well aerated, not heavy to allow for good drainage. Some gardeners tell me they add a tablespoon of lime to bring the alkalinity to the level most appreciated by lavender.

 Lavenders are fairly drought tolerant plants, but like any plant in a container, the smaller the soil mass, the more quickly the container dries out and the more attention to watering is required.  This does not mean daily watering, but watering when the soil is dry.  Lavender does not like to be dehydrated and much like rosemary, it is very nearly impossible to bring it back to its former glory once dried.  So, not too wet, but not dried out either. Keep winter watering to a minimum and avoid overwatering at any time.

 Like all container plants, lavender will deplete the nutrition from the soil more quickly than plants planted out in the garden.  Lavender likes to be repotted yearly, and this is a good time to mix a time-release fertilizer such as Osmocote into the potting mix. This is an excellent way to provide nutrients, slowly and on a regular basis.  There is some school of thought that the Spanish lavender (L. stoechas or L. dentata) needs an additional monthly boost.

 Container grown lavender will benefit from a light pruning in the spring, before budding and a light clean up again in the summer.  This keeps the lavender from becoming scraggly and leggy.  It also keeps air circulating well.

 Start your container gardens with plants, not seeds, as most cultivars do not come true from seed.  In addition, the seeds need scarification, chilling and they take nearly a month to germinate.  Most garden centers carry a fairly good selection of lavenders, with many well suited to container culture.  

 Some of the smaller growing varieties such as L. angustifolia ‘Nana Alba,’ and L. angustifolia ‘Irene Doyle' are naturally small forming and adapt very well to container culture.  Other L. angustifolia cultivars such as ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’, are slightly larger plants and will do well for a couple of years, but then should be either moved to a larger container or planted out in the garden.

 L. intermedia cultivars such as ‘Grosso’ and ‘Hidcote Giant’ can be grown in very large containers for the first two years, but eventually need to be given adequate space for root development and will do best if then transplanted to the garden. Care should be given to provide adequate spacing for these two on the patio as they have widely spreading spikes.  

 Spanish lavenders, L.stoechas and L. dentate, make excellent choices for container gardens here, as they are not hardy enough to be perennial in our Colorado climate. Often this is the species choice for topiary gardeners, but extra care should be given to adequate fertilizing, as they tend to be heavy feeders.                                                                                  

Photo: Carl Wilson

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010