French lavender: all about cultivation, care & overwintering

David
David
David
David

Ich habe einen Master-Abschluss in Gartenbauwissenschaften und bin zudem gelernter Zierpflanzengärtner. Das Thema Anbau lässt mich seit meiner Kindheit einfach nicht los: Egal, ob auf der kleinen Stadtfensterbank oder im großzügigen Garten - Gärtnern muss ich auch in meiner Freizeit immer und überall.

Lieblingsobst: Himbeeren
Lieblingsgemüse: Brokkoli

Not all lavender is the same. We take a closer look at the species of French lavender and compare it with true lavender.

Pink French lavender flowers
French lavender grows beautiful showy flowers [Photo: JONG 16899/ Shutterstock.com]

The lavender genus (Lavandula) includes around 30 different species, all of which belong to the Labiatae family (Lamiaceae). The most common and popular species is true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). However, there are other species that compete with this famous type of lavender, especially in flower colour and shape, for a legitimate claim to a place in the garden and not just thanks to their appearance. This includes the French lavender (Lavandula stoechas) also called Welsh or Arabian lavender. It is most notable for its distinctive, large bracts at the top of the inflorescences. Just like the flowers themselves, they can shine in brilliant white, classic purple tones of varying luminosity or vibrant purple colours. This can create an interesting play of colour between the flower colouration and the colour of the bracts, adding life and variety to any garden. We take a closer look at the diverse French lavender for you and cover its cultivation preferences.

French lavender varieties: purple, white and pink

French lavender is captivating thanks to its showy, large and usually brightly coloured bracts at the top of the spike-shaped inflorescence. This makes it stand out impressively from the other famous species, such as true lavender or spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia) within the Lavandula genus. At the same time, different varieties of French lavender cover a spectrum of flower colours, from pure white and purple to deep violet. Even the bracts and the actual petals may differ in colour. We present some varieties along with their characteristics.

Purple French lavender flowers
Depending on the variety, the colour of French lavender flowers can vary [Photo: Kym McLeod/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Alba: pure white bracts and petals; very limited frost tolerance.
  • Ballerina: purple flowers; initially white bracts turn from pink to purple over time.
  • Kew Red: the red flower heads appearing from July to September are adorned by light pink bracts.
  • Papillion: classic purple flowers; this variety is noteworthy for its pronounced winter hardiness.

An overview of known lavender species and varieties can be found here. In addition, if you are particularly interested in white lavender you can read all about it in our special article.

Planting French lavender: location and propagation

Although planting French lavender is not much different from other lavender species, there are some differences in terms of location. The plant also has a few peculiarities in terms of its propagation and care.

Location and growing conditions

French lavender prefers a rather sandy soil. Herein lies the first difference from classic lavender, since the latter thrives best in calcareous soils. Similarly, crested lavender is more common in nature in coastal regions, while true lavender thrives in mountainous regions up to 1600 metres. The soil should be as permeable as possible and avoid waterlogging. Of course, if a substrate with such properties is available, it can be grown in a pot. A 1:4 mixture of sand and commercial potting soil from a specialist store is optimal for pot culture. Like most Mediterranean plants, French lavender prefers a full sun location.

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Looking for some Mediterranean flair in your garden? Find out in our special article how to grow French lavender yourself.

French lavender flowers in the sun
The ideal location for the plants is in full sun [Photo: patjo/ Shutterstock.com]

Propagating French lavender

French lavender can be easily propagated by sowing. If left to flower freely, small seedlings will even appear all by themselves the following spring. The optimal time for sowing outdoors is from June. The seeds need heat for good germination. Of course, sowing can be done in the early spring inside a warm home. In no case, however, should the seed be covered with substrate because French lavender is a light germinator. If the seeds are kept evenly and well moist during germination, it will take three to four weeks for the first seedlings to sprout.

Like most herbs, lavender can be propagated via cuttings. To do this, in late spring or early summer cut off young, non-woody shoots without flowers or flower buds. These are rooted at high humidity in a propagator for windowsills in normal propagation substrate. Just like sowing, it takes about three to four weeks for the first roots to form.

Care: pruning, overwintering and more

The Mediterranean lavender has very low requirements both in terms of water supply and fertilisation. In a herb bed, it is quite sufficient to water only during prolonged dry spells. Fertilise once in spring using a fertiliser with a long-term effect, such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food, or by working compost and manure into the soil.

French lavender flowers
French lavender only produces magnificent flowers with proper fertilisation and regular pruning [Photo: aniana/ Shutterstock.com]

When growing in pots, more regular watering is required. Take care not to overdo it here though – the substrate just needs to be kept moist. A liquid fertiliser such as our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food can be given every four to six weeks with watering to provide nutrients.
If the abundant blooming from June to September that is common for French lavender fails to appear or is very sparse, it may be due to insufficient nutrients. In this case, even for plants grown in the bed, you can try to kick-start flowering with a little extra fertiliser.

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Regular pruning is recommended so that the French lavender does not become too woody and bare. If mere topiary is to be done, it is best done in early spring when the shrub shoots. Just as with true lavender, one-third to two-thirds is then cut back with sharp hedge clippers. It is also recommended to pinch out the faded inflorescences or carry out a summer pruning if the flowering is sparse or even completely absent. In fact, both of these care measures promote flower formation.

Lavandula stoechas plant
French lavender is primarily grown for its essential oils and antispasmodic properties [Photo: aniana/ Shutterstock.com]

For more detailed instructions on pruning other care measures for French lavender, see our special article.

Harvest, store and use

Like true lavender, French lavender is also popular for its essential oils. These aromas are even a little more intense in French lavender. The flowers can therefore be used to prepare tea, which has an antispasmodic and relaxing effect. To do this, the inflorescences are best harvested when about half of the small flowers are open. The flowers are also predestined for fragrant sachets. Through steam distillation, the oil of crested lavender can be extracted from the flowers in its pure form and is thus often used in body and massage oils. The tips of French lavender leaves can also be used. They are good for enhancing fish and meat dishes and can be easily harvested from the plant at any time as needed.

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Of course, lavender can also be stored. The fresh flowers are either preserved in oil, thus extracting the oils from them, or the plant parts are preserved by drying. However, air drying in particular causes some of the aromatic essential oils to evaporate.

Find out in our special article how best to dry lavender.

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