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.

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.

12 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.

      Tips:

      • 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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