Sequim is the Lavender Capital of North America because of its ideal lavender climate, so we don’t often have to deal with harsh growing conditions of any kind. However, due to the polar vortex turning the Midwest into a popsicle right now, we thought it would be a great time to do a quick blog with tips for growing lavender in extremely cold climates.
First off, if you are wondering “Can I grow lavender in my garden even though our temperature often gets below zero during the winter?” the answer is “Yes!”—although it will require a little extra attention and care on your part. Lavender originated in the Mediterranean climate, so most varieties will thrive in warm, dry, temperate weather (hardiness zones 7-9). However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t coax them into loving your Minnesota garden as much as you do.
Basic Growing Tips
Here are some basic lavender tips to keep in mind for lavender, regardless of what zone you’re in:
- Lavender loves light – place it in an area where it will get a minimum of 6 hours of full sunlight a day.
- Lavender dislikes water – root rot is one of the most common killers of lavender in home gardens, so be sure it has plenty of drainage.
- Lavender loves space – make plenty of space for air to circulate and keep the plants dry, especially in more humid climates.
Cold Hardy Varieties
“Munstead”, “Hidcote Blue”, and “Phenomenal” are all known for being cold hardy varieties (as low as hardiness zone 4). Before buying plants, your best bet is to google lavender plants hardy to your zone, speak to a local master gardener, or peruse local gardening blogs and articles, and make a list of which varieties will work for your specific area and microclimate. Don’t trust that the local big box store is going to sell you a lavender variety that is great for your specific hardiness zone. Instead, go to a local small nursery with the varieties you’ve researched, and you’re likely to find one or two in stock (or they’ll be able to get them for you).
Planting Lavender in Cold Climates
Tips for planting lavender outside in colder zones (hardiness zones 4-6):
- Do not plant the lavender outside until all danger of frost has passed for your area.
- Young lavender plants need more frequent watering than established plants (the plants have a shorter window of time between “don’t water” and “I’m dying of thirst”), but still do not overwater – always make sure the soil is dry before watering again.
- In the fall, always prune the plants back (see our tips on pruning) – good pruning will establish a good root ball and help develop a strong woody base for the plant. Strong roots will help the plant to survive harsh conditions.
- If you don’t get a good reliable snow cover, cover your plant bases with a well draining mulch, such as pea gravel, and/or cover the plant itself with a breathable fabric cover (like burlap or gardening blanket fabric), to protect from wind and freezing temperatures. Remove the covering in the spring when the temperatures warm up.
- Another option is to dress your lavender in knitted sweater cozies, ideally with lavender themes on the front. This has the added benefit of being completely adorable, and an excellent conversation starter with your neighbors.*
Planting Lavender in Containers
If you’ve had bad luck in the past and don’t want to risk the trauma of losing your lavender again, or if you live in hardiness zone 3 or below (bless your frozen heart), or you can’t be bothered to knit your lavender little sweaters each winter to keep them warm, you can always plant your lavender in containers and move the plants into a greenhouse or your home for the winter.
- Choose a variety that is smaller and good for containers, such as “Thumbelina”.
- Make sure you have a mixture of 25-50% sand in your soil, but do not add a layer of gravel or rocks at the bottom (which is a gardening myth, and can actually lead to more root rot).*
- You do not need a pot much larger than the plant’s root ball – you do not want the roots sitting in moist soil. The pot should be as big, but not much bigger, than the plant foliage (not including stems).
- Do not water until the soil is dry at least 1 inch below the surface.
- Container plants will still need some light, so ideally place them next to a window if you don’t have a greenhouse. If you only have a garage, cellar, or shed with no light, consider a grow light timed for winter’s natural light (here is a great article with tips for that).
- A cool (rather than warm) room is best for the winter, to keep the plant hardened for when you place it back outside. Again, if you don’t have a greenhouse, perhaps a little used guest room or office (where you don’t turn on the heat), a mud room, or garage with a window are great options.
Planting Lavender as an Annual
You can always treat lavender as an annual, rather than a perennial, and let it die each winter. However, the plants will not grow very large or produce many flowers until they are 2-3 years old, so this method will either leave you with noticeably small/new plants each year, or you’d need to purchase large, expensive plants every year to replace them. If you do not get good snow cover and don’t have the patience to worry about covering the plants, I recommend planting in containers instead of the ground.
Obviously there are many nuances, and it may take a couple of tries to find the right combination of tricks to keep your lavender healthy in frigid winters. As always, let us know if you have any questions—and definitely comment below if there are any tips we missed that you’ve used to successfully overwinter lavender. Stay warm out there!
*I’m kidding – I don’t really think you should knit sweaters for your individual plants.
**If you knit sweaters to dress up your individual lavender plants, please take pictures of your be-sweatered lavender and send them to us immediately.
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