It’s the time of year when we all start thinking of our gardens and yards: what we’re going to plant, what we want to change, and what we need to fix. At the farm, that includes making plans for clearing out any dead plants and preparing the space for new plants, if we need to. It also includes trimming out the deadwood to allow space for new growth to form. So – how can you tell if your lavender plant survived?

The plant will begin showing signs of green in the spring, but the exact time will depend upon your hardiness zone. By mid-april in Zone 8 most of our plants are sporting a solid green hue as the new stems emerge from the woody plant base.

Testing for life

  • Step 1 (visual) If the plant still looks brown (no green) in the spring when your other plants are showing signs of life, there’s a chance it didn’t survive. However, be sure to check carefully, not just at the tips of the visible stalks, but down towards the base as well. It will also depend on if you pruned your lavender in the fall. If you didn’t, last year’s stems could be obscuring the new growth (and delaying budding). Prune it now! Read our blog about spring pruning for tips.
  • Step 2 (cut) If you pruned in the fall and/or don’t see any green on the plant, even near the base, it’s time to go to step two. Test it by cutting a small stalk close to the base. If it snaps easily, that stalk is dead. Test several more stalks around the base of the plant before giving up hope – sometimes a plant can die out in one section, but still have life left in others.
  • Step 3 (snap) If the stalk has any give or softness to it when you cut, that portion of the plant is alive. Stop cutting in that area! However, you still need to check and make sure there isn’t deadwood in other parts of the plant (without damaging it further). At this point, I put down the shears and use my fingers to gently bend stalks in other parts of the plant, making only very occasional cuts if I can’t tell. If the stems snap easily, they are dead. Test the entire plant to get a sense of what sections are dead, and which still have life. From Farmer Rick: “Remember to look at the inside of the wood you cut – if you see any green, there is life, and hope for the plant.”


As you’ve now discovered, sometimes plants have one section that dies (deadwood) while the rest is green. This is common in all perennial plants. Remember, sometimes a section simply needs a little more time to bud. If section looks dead but still has give and green inside the stems, wait a few weeks to see if any green buds begin to form. If they don’t, go back to step two and repeat.

Once you’ve determined that a section of the plant is dead, it’s best to remove it. Simply cut the deadwood out with clean shears, doing your best to avoid cutting or damaging the live portions of the plant (lavender is hardy so don’t be fearful – just mindful.)

It is not uncommon for sections of a plant to look grey/dead when the rest is green, then suddenly come to life a few weeks later. This is especially true for angustifolia varieties.

This is true for the plant at all stages of its life cycle, but especially for younger plants. If you remove the dead section when the plant is young, there’s a good chance it will form new growth in that area that you can later round back out into a proper shape. With older plants, the missing section may never grow woody structure to replace it, but the open area will allow sunlight and air down into the interior, and you’ll be rewarded with stems and buds to fill in the hole. So while the plant may look less than perfect in the dead of winter, once it begins to bloom, it’ll fill out nicely.

If the plant didn’t survive

If the plant is entirely dead, pull it out and begin the grieving process. It’s okay to sing a sad anthem or play taps if this brings you peace. Bury the lavender plant in your compost, where it can become the fertilizer for next year’s garden – trust me, it’s what your plant would’ve wanted.

Before heading to the nursery to get a replacement plant, this is a good time to try and determine the cause of the plant’s demise (see our blog about how to pick a good spot for lavender), so you can make adjustments and be more successful with your next plant!

Planting Tips

Remember these key tips before planting out your new lavender:

  • New plants need time to establish before scorching heat or hard freezes
  • Make sure the location gets plenty of sunshine
  • If your soil is not well drained, you will need to amend it.
  • Make sure your plants have plenty of air circulation.

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21 Replies to “Lavender Care: How to tell if your lavender survived the winter”

  1. Ravae Wade

    Hello, I bought my potted lavender plant about five weeks ago.
    I made a few mistakes: overwatering and not fertilizing until about 4 weeks after I got it.
    The plants are drying/dried up.
    Is there any way I can save them?

    1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

      Hello! It’s really difficult for me to tell without looking at the plants. It depends a lot on how big they were when you bought them: were they small 4″ starts that were intended to be planted in the ground (and you put them in pots), or were they larger plants that had already been potted up in bigger pots? If they were small plant starts and they are already dried out after a few weeks, chances are you won’t be able to save them. If they were larger, then their root system is more established; I’d cut back the parts you can tell are obviously dead and see if any new green growth pops up before losing hope.

      I do want to address the reason they are drying: lavender needs to be watered regularly at a young age. It just needs well draining soil (whether in pots or in the ground). I like to say “lavender likes a shower, not a bath.” So if the soil it’s sitting in is too heavy and doesn’t have good drainage, then that could be the issue. If you planted them in regular potting soil without amending it, try gently lifting the plant out and replanting it in a new soil mix of 2 parts potting soil to 1 part perlite. If you did amend the soil, then where do you have them? Are they in full sun and getting dry, or are they partially shaded and cool? If full sun, perhaps you weren’t watering them enough – again, while lavender doesn’t need a lot of water once established in the ground, it isn’t a succulent. It does need regular watering as a young potted plant – especially if you’ve got it in direct sun. If the plants are in shade and staying cool/moist, then move them to somewhere where they’re going to get at very minimum 8 hours of direct sunlight a day (but more is better). Then, go ahead and water every 2-3 days, or as soon as the soil is dry. In the summer as the greenhouse heats up and things dry out faster, I water my 4″ starts every other day and the larger 6-8″ pots no more than twice a week. The established lavender in large 5 gallon pots get watered once a week (or less). It will all depend on your climate, how hot you are, etc.

      Additionally, I don’t recommend you fertilize lavender, except potentially adding some Vitamin B or a Hydrogen Peroxide mixture to help facilitate root growth. Lavender actually prefers nutrient poor soil. We do not fertilize our plants (including our plants in pots) and they are healthy and thriving. So it’s also possible that whatever fertilizer you used harmed the young plants. If you think there’s a chance they are still alive, again, I’d gently remove them from the pot, toss out the fertilized soil, and re-pot in the soil mix I mentioned above.

      Finally, if the plants died and you want to start over, note that some lavender varieties do better than others in pots. So if your intention is to keep the plant in a pot, I’d recommend choosing a lavandula angustifolia or lavandula stoechas variety. If possible, consider a variety specifically intended for containers like “Thumbelina” or “Lavenite Petite”. Definitely avoid lavandula x. intermedia varieties, because they are larger and will not do well in captivity. Check out Lavender Care: Growing Lavender in Cold Climates – there’s a section of that blog that specifically addresses container gardening for lavender.

      Good luck, and keep me posted!

  2. Sonia McGrath

    I was overseas when I should have trimmed my butterfly lavender bushes….. Now with the icy winter we ae having they look totally grey and dead. Can I possibly cut them down to a few inches….. or do I pull them ?? Replant new ones in the spring?

    1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

      Sonia – I wouldn’t prune them now that the weather is icy. I suggest you wait until spring and see if any new growth appears – they may surprise you! By “butterfly” lavender I presume you mean lavandula stoechas (or “Spanish” lavender) which unfortunately is a hot weather species and is not as cold hardy as angustifolia – we have also had difficulty keeping stoechas alive when it’s planted outside (we’re on the cusp of zone 7/8). But if your plants are established (it sounds like they may be, and typically you prune them back in the fall) then their roots may be strong enough and deep enough to survive the icy weather. Again, I encourage you to hold off and wait until spring when your other herbs start showing signs of life. If everything else is green and your lavender stays brown (and you follow the steps in the blog to test and see if it’s truly dead), then you’ll need to pull it up and start over. If the news is good and your stoechas starts to come back to life, you could do a light prune of the dead stalks from last year (careful not to cut into the new green growth), and give it a better prune this fall. Good luck!

  3. Paula

    Hi! I live in California and there has been multiple heat waves. I had one potted plant baby that didn’t survive after I went on vacation for a week. I was told that I only needed to water my plant 1x/week but as I see above that is not necessarily true.

    I saw above you recommended either lavandula angustifolia or lavandula stoechas for potted plants. Is there such a thing as too hot of climate for these plants as long as they are watered?

    1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

      Hello! The good news is that the hot conditions of Southern California are actually great for lavender. If you are in extremely high heat and frequently get long stretches more than 120 F, then you’d probably need to water more frequently during the heat waves, and/or buy a species that really loves heat (eg. lavandula dentata). But for general California weather, you should be fine! Consider a stoechas variety – they are more heat loving than angustifolia, and are great for pots.


      • Make sure your soil has well drained soil (not just potting soil) and holes at the bottom.
      • It’s best to water thoroughly, less frequently (once every two weeks for established plants). This helps the roots reach down rather than sitting at the surface. Roots that go deep make the plant more resilient. Water until you see the water run out the bottom of the pot.
      • You need to make sure the pot is big enough for the roots to spread. Otherwise, in high temps the pot will heat up and if the plant is root bound and roots are running along the sides, they could crisp up and die.
      • Metal and plastic pots heat up quickly, so stick with terra cotta or clay in high heat areas. Even if your pot is the right size and roots have a buffer, the soil will also heat up – so you want the pot to be a less “conductive” material to keep the roots from getting too hot.

      Established lavender in a pot should only need one long drink every two weeks during the summer – you shouldn’t need to water at all in the fall/winter/spring, so long as you get some rain once every few weeks. Once a week for a brand new plant is fine, so long as the water is well draining – do this for the first few weeks, while the plant roots get used to their new home (especially if you plant it out when the temps are already high). And don’t feel bad: I lost about 50 young lavender starts last summer when we had an unexpected heat wave here in Sequim, and I watered after just few days. I don’t know if it was the lack of water or if their roots burned, but even the experts are foiled by nature every once in a while. Good luck!

  4. Melissa Storms

    I am in zone 5a and have lavender that has come back for 3 years. I am a little worried that it is dead but have hope now. I am going to try these steps tomorrow. There are 4 separate plants, I would think they wouldn’t all die at once. Our weather has been crazy though, 16 inches of snow last Tuesday, 76 today and back down to 27 degrees tomorrow night. Thank you for the informative post!

    1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

      Wow, that does sound like crazy weather! I’m glad I provided you with some hope. 🙂 Fingers crossed!

  5. Carrie Elmer

    I also hve 4 lavender plants and live in zone 4-5. They came back two years in a row but this year they appear to have all died. I admit they have grown large and may not have good air flow. The tips listed give me hope but if they are dead I’ll only be replacing two to ensure they have plenty of space.

    1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

      I’m so sorry to hear about your plants! I agree that perhaps spacing them further apart will help. We typically do 3′ apart (on center) for angustifolia varieties, and 4′ apart on center for intermedia. Another thing to double check when you replant is whether or not the soil has good drainage. Often when we see plants thrive the first 1-2 years then die in year 3, it’s because that’s when the mature roots have developed and reached down to soil that is poorly drained. If the roots sit in water, the plant will develop root rot and die. So double check that wherever you plant, you’ve got a minimum of 24″ of sandy/well draining soil (and that your water table isn’t reaching up above that during the winter.) If your soil needs to be amended, dig down 24″ and at least 24″ wide, and mix in approx 50% sand. If you’re at the bottom of a hill, down in a valley, etc. and it’s possible the groundwater level is reaching the roots, then mound the plants up. Just keep their little lavender toes out of standing water. Good luck!

    2. Bernadette Bess

      I am in Michigan and I’ve had lavender plants for years and a lot of them did not come back this year end it wasn’t that harsh of a winter. I can’t figure it out

      1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

        Bernadette – that is so frustrating! Even though the winter was cold and harsh, if it was nearly as wet as it was out here in the northwest it’s very possible that they just got too wet. Moisture kills lavender much more often than cold. It’s also been a late spring, so perhaps they aren’t *completely* dead, and you’ll see some green soon. If you think there’s life in there, don’t give up – cut away the deadwood and see if you can coax some new growth from what’s left. Good luck!

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  7. Tom

    We live in Tennessee. We had a very severe freeze, down to zero. The four newer plants have not begun to show any green, the one older one is showing growth along its stems. I am not sure what varieties I have. The new plants seemed to bloom later last year which make me think that this might be true for its coming back as well. I have not cut any of the stems yet to check for green. It’s March now. Would it be appropriate to do this now?

    1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

      Hello! So first off, you can trim back the stems at any point; basically, the stems are the part of the plant that would be green when its in bloom. If you think that would help the plant get some more sunshine and air circulation to stimulate growth, go for it now! If they’re really small and the hardwood center of the plant is tiny this probably won’t make much of a difference, but it certainly won’t hurt. Regardless, I would hold off on cutting into the wood of the plants for another few weeks. This is because they’re young, and it’s still possible to experience a frost or cold snap in most US zones, which can stress young, newly pruned plants.

      It does seem like you may have one angustifolia (the older plant) and four intermedias (the newer plants) – angustifiolias bloom weeks earlier than intermedias (we have some angustifolia varieties that typically bloom in late June, with some intermedias that aren’t in full bloom until the end of July). So I recommend you carefully trim back the dead stems (not cutting into the wood) if you want, but then sit back and check again for signs of green in the beginning of April. You can plant lavender at any point of the year, so there’s no need to rush it. You could wait all the way until May to be sure, then pull them out and plant new ones if they still aren’t showing green and are in fact dead.

      If you do see some green at the beginning of April, great! You can do a light spring pruning at that point (here’s our blog with tips on Spring Pruning). Good luck!

  8. Anna

    I live in Long Island, NY. My two outdoor potted lavender plants have definitely survived the winter, the foliage is healthy and green. However, the blooms which were all purple are coming in purple and white and I don’t understand why. Our winter was not especially severe.

    1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

      Anna – that is very strange! Have the flowers actually bloomed, or are you just looking at the bud packs before they flower? Sometimes lavender can look white/grey before blooming when it is very young. If they’ve actually bloomed a different color, then that is extremely odd. As far as I know lavender does not change color (even with heat/cold damage), and it does not naturally ever have different color blooms on the same plant. We do have a few plants in our farm where other lavender self-seeded inside of the original plant growing up within it and then popping out the top with a different color. It looks like the same plant has a streak of white, for example, but its actually a different white plant co-existing within the purple one. Is it possible that happened with you? Do you or a neighbor have white or pink lavender that could have traveled over and seeded in your pot? Otherwise, I’m afraid I’m not sure what to tell you! If you’ve got a master gardener association or university extension in your area, you might be able to take the plants to them (since they’re potted) and see if they can figure it out. Keep me posted what you discover!

  9. Roaring

    I live in zone 10 and first planted lavender (french) 3 years ago. I love the idea that they may repel pesky pocket gophers. Well it worked! But then the rabbits came….they chewed everything down to the bark. Most root systems feel firm and in tact so I’m hoping by end of spring the stems and tips come back. Otherwise we replant and use peppermint and tea tree oil to repel the bunnies

    1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

      Those must’ve been some hungry rabbits! I’ve never heard of animals (other than goats) eating lavender – typically its a deterrent. Especially the lavandula intermedia (“French” lavender) because of its high camphor content. Regardless, if all they ate were the green parts (or what was green/purple in the summer, eg. stems, buds, etc.) you should be fine. They basically just pruned the plants for you! So as long as you can still see the woody structure of the plant and they didn’t munch all the bark off of the plant, or munch the wood down to the ground, then the plant will most likely be just fine. Since its basically like a hard prune, it might be a little later to show green this spring. I wouldn’t lose hope unless you get to the beginning of May and still don’t see green anywhere. Good luck!

  10. Diana

    I have about 140 plants in our first field that is 3 yrs old. We are in North West NH – zone 4b. I do frost blankets because we usually have very cold winters. This year has been wet and mild. I noticed that there were some lavender leafs coming out from under the blankets, when I uncovered one, I found the plants had been attacked by voles and mice. The mice trimmed off the leaves and were nesting in the plants, the voles got under the plants and chewed on roots. The problem I have now is a good majority of my plants have the centers dying out with new green growth around the edges. Most of those plants are 2 yrs old. I did trim out the dead stuff, hopping to open the plants up and get some sunshine to the base. This breaks my heart and not sure if this is going to be a big loss. Any suggestions? Do I wait or could these plants be done with?

    1. Rebecca Olson

      I think you should wait! The ones showing green are still alive and they are small enough that they should regrow in the center and eventually fill back out (assuming you can keep the voles/mice from doing it again.) Wait another 4-6 weeks before dead wooding to see what turns green, since you’re in a cold zone and the plants may also be in shock. Then go ahead and prune out the dead wood from all the plants. If you’re willing to cross your fingers and risk having to replace some next year, many of the plants might surprise you by the end of the summer. Good luck!

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