Fall is in the air, and for lavender farmers, that means one thing: time to prune! You may be asking yourself, “Do I need to prune my lavender?” The answer is, unequivocally, yes. Read on for tips and tricks of the trade!

Why should I prune my lavender?

Lavender needs to be pruned back every year to keep the plant base compact and healthy, and give you the chance to shape it to a nice mound. If you don’t prune the lavender, it will grow misshapen, “leggy”, and split at the base as the branches get longer and heavier. Once this happens, it’s almost impossible to save the plant. The only way to keep this from happening is annual pruning.

When should I prune my lavender?

The best time to prune your lavender is in the fall, at least 6 weeks before your first frost date. In our part of the country, that means we start pruning the fields as soon as we’re done with the essential oil distillation at the end of September, with the aim of finishing by mid-October.

If you stumbled on this blog after the window for fall pruning has passed, don’t despair – you can still prune lavender in the spring! Check out our blog Lavender Care: Spring Pruning  – (the basic principles are the same.)

Okay, I'm in! How should I prune my lavender?

Do not be afraid to prune! Like most plants, pruning is necessary for the health of your plant. Think of it like a lavender haircut (rather than a punishment) and don’t be timid. The only tools you need are disinfected scissors or sharp knife, and garden gloves to protect yourself from the splinters and sharp wood at the base.

Most garden blogs/advice say to leave an inch or so of green on the plant and never cut into the wood. This is good general advice, but sometimes it’s necessary to cut back a little more harshly in order to shape a plant that grew heavily on one side (usually facing the sun), or perhaps one branch that had Olympic Dreams and excelled past all the others and is reaching for gold outside your preferred perimeter. Don’t be afraid to cut the occasional section or branch back into the wood if you need to shape it. I promise you won’t kill the plant as long as you’re not lopping all of the branches off at the base.

Step 1 (prepare): To begin, cut back any old stems that you haven’t harvested (a few inches above the wood). This isn’t really pruning yet, but it’ll give you a better sense of the shape of the plant.

Step 2 (find center): Step back and above, and determine the center of the plant (it may not be where you thought.) Draw a large imaginary circle around the center of the plant. The perimeter of the circle is where you’ll prune – so leave 1-3” of stems, depending on how you need to shape it to keep it centered.

Step 3 (prune sides): Prune back/shape the plant so that the branches are evenly extended from the actual base/center.

Step 4 (prune top): Take an eye level view (on your knees), and prune the top, about 1-2” above the wood.

Step 5 (prune top edge): Finally, cut at a diagonal (ish) angle along the top edges to round the plant.

Step 6 (last looks): Step back one last time and prune any final bits and bobs to shape the plant. We recommend aiming for a gumdrop shape.

Lavender Pruning Pro Tips

Here are some tips to keep in mind while pruning.

  • Stop and step back frequently as you prune, to make sure you’re still on track and shaping around the actual center of the plant.
  • As a general rule we find that most home gardeners tend to prune their lavender too lightly, allowing the plants to grow too much each season. Do not be afraid to prune heavily if necessary to control the size and shape.
  • Try to avoid cutting the wood itself, but again, do not be afraid if you have to cut back a section or branch in order to reshape the plant.

I just planted a tiny start this spring/summer – do I still need to prune it?

Yes! In fact, the first 3 years of life are the most important time to prune your lavender. You want to heavily prune and shape young lavender plants for two reasons: 1) It helps develop a tight, compact, shaped base that will keep the plant healthy for years to come, and 2) Pruning in the fall drives energy away from the plant surface and down into the roots, which is what you want for the winter. Young plants especially benefit from being reminded “don’t put out new flowers, now it’s time to grow your foundation.” By pruning, you are helping them grow strong and survive their first few winters until they are established.

In the picture above, compare the pruned plant in the foreground to the un-pruned plant behind it. As you can see, we give even our baby youngsters an autumnal buzz cut. As long as you aren’t cutting into the woody part of the plant (too much), you won’t hurt the plant. We promise. Now get your scissors and get out there! Your lavender will thank you.

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For the Love of Lavender offers advice for beginners to enthusiasts – from planting, growing, harvesting, and pruning, to uses, products, and lavender recipes – as well as a fun, unique look into the the world of a lavender farming family.

14 Replies to “Lavender Care: Fall Pruning”

  1. Bridget Frascella

    I have just begun to grow lavender this year 10 plants with dreams to have a field full but I am sadly down to 9 and fearful that it will soon be 8 because one has died. The branches began to brown at the base and the green leaves did not continue to grow. I have another one doing the same but still has green ends at the top. I thought it was water logged but when I dug it out the roots were dry and short. Any suggestions on how to save the others ?

    1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

      Bridget – I’m so sorry to hear that! I’m afraid that I’m not sure what the issue could be. If the other 8 plants near them are thriving, then chances are your watering and soil drainage are correct. It sounds like the roots didn’t develop, but without being there and seeing the plant, it would be very difficult to know why. I’m definitely not a master gardener or soil expert. There are a few (very rare) fungus that kill lavender, and a common soil pathogen phytophthora which kills a lot of lavender (but that presents as root rot and/or crown rot, which doesn’t sound like what you have.) It is possible you just got two plants that weren’t healthy even though they appeared to be when you bought them. I would contact the nursery where you got them, and ask for their advice/opinion on what to do. Hopefully they will offer replacement plants for you. Best of luck!

  2. Isabel

    Hello Rebecca, I just bought a potted fully blooming Spanish Lavender plant in mid February Arizona. I’m confused about when to first trim it. Shall I wait until after AZ summer or trim now and cut off all the blooms?

    1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

      Hello! Spanish lavender (lavandula stoechas) is slightly different than the more hardy angustifolia and intermedia species. For stoechas, I recommend you wait until the end of the bloom cycle, then deadhead (rather than doing a hard prune). Since it’s already blooming, you’ll likely get a second summer bloom. You can snip into the green of the plant, but I wouldn’t cut too far down so you don’t cut into new/second growth. If you want to prune and reshape this fall, you still don’t want to cut down as much as you would for the species I talk about in the blog. Stay in the green of the plant making sure to leave a few inches above the wood, and just reshape. Good luck!

  3. Jane Devane


    I have seen a few videos showing young lavender plants (no wood at the base yet) being trimmed to approximately 1 to 2 inches above the ground. Evidently this significant cut back will keep the plant from developing woody stems. Is this true?

    1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

      Jane – great question! We always advise that the best time to give lavender a hard prune is when they’re young. This not only tells the plant “stop with the flowers, focus on your roots!” (which is why it’s best to do in the fall), but also encourages the plant base to stay compact. As it grows and the woody center starts to develop (usually in the first year after planting), continue to prune and shape annually in the fall. If you are deliberate and focused the first few years you’ve got the lavender, you’ll avoid issues with the plant getting leggy and/or splitting when it’s older.

      As for exactly how far to prune back, use your judgement. If the plants have already been in the ground for a year and are healthy, go ahead and do a hard prune. If they’re teeny/tiny (only 2-3 inches tall) and newly planted, cutting back to 1″ could put the plant into shock. Generally speaking, you don’t want to be removing more than 1/3 of healthy material from any plant. For true babies, let them establish in the ground for 6-8 weeks before pruning. If you’ve just planted and that means you won’t be able to prune them this fall (because that would put the pruning after frost) give them a very light trim now to shape them for the winter, and then do your harder prune in early spring, after the last frost but before buds begin to form (usually late March.) If you planted them this summer and you think they’re established (just small) use your judgement. I’d err on the side of caution and go with keeping 2″ until you become more confident and comfortable with your plants. Good luck!

  4. Diana

    I live in Chicago and today is the perfect day to prune. It’ll be the first time doing a fall prune. My French lavender has been in the ground for a year. The summer before it lived in a huge pot. Should I save the pruning? The stems and leaves smell terrific! I’m a fan of drying flowers and giving as gifts but I’m thinking the stems and leaves could go into a potpourri type bag for gifts as well.

    1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

      Diana – hello! Definitely go ahead and prune. As I mentioned in the blog, the best time to prune lavender is when it’s young. Fall is the best time of year, because it tells the plants “stop making flowers, focus on your roots!” which is what you want for the winter. You’re also less likely to accidentally cut off the fresh spring growth (and ruin your summer flowers.) Also, the younger the plant, the easier it is to shape it into a tight round mound.

      We’ve never tried using the stems/leaves for potpourri, but the buds would definitely work! In the future, note that if you want to dry lavender for its bud, the best time to do that is *before* it flowers (you want the bud plump and just about to burst with flower) – once it flowers, the petals and husk drop off, and you aren’t left with much. Since lavender doesn’t all bloom at the same time, we aim to harvest for bud when the plants 10%-20% loomed. Good luck!

  5. Larry Martin

    It is early October in Raleigh North Carolina and my lavender plant is nicely formed and appears healthy but has not flowered. Do I cut it back now or wait until Spring?

    1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

      Larry – great question! It depends on when you expect your first frost to be. If you’ve still got 6-8 weeks before frost, go ahead and prune it! You definitely don’t want it to flower now – you want the plant focusing on its roots, to keep it healthy through the winter. If you are too close to the frost date, wait until spring. You’ll need to prune it after your last frost, but not much later – you don’t want to be cutting into too much new growth. Good luck!

  6. Lavender Care: Spring Pruning - Lavender Connection

    […] springtime, and you just now realized that you forgot to prune your lavender back last fall. You may be wondering: Is it too late? The answer, you’ll be relieved to know, is no! Read on […]

  7. Lavender Care: Should I prune young lavender plants? - Lavender Connection

    […] lavender are the same as pruning mature lavender. I recommend you start by reading our blog with  tips on how to prune mature lavender. The primary difference is that young lavender is mostly green – it hasn’t established its […]

  8. Carol Richwine

    Such a wonderful site…thank you!

    Zone 6B and mid October which means our frost can be any day here in PA. My plugs were planted early march, and I’ve been able to get two fantastic bloom cuttings from them this year. I have about 30 plants in a raised bed, and am a little shy as I lost all of my Phenomenal last year…I think due to pruning them at the base last fall, just like my other perennials. It really is a different type of plant! So, the plants are currently 16″-20″ tall, with beautiful foliage. I’d love to cut them back to 6″ and use stems in my last monthly bouquets, but maybe I should wait. OR, can I harvest as long as I don’t cut back into the woody part of the stems?

    Deferring to you, and so thankful for that!

    1. Rebecca Olson[ Post Author ]

      Hello! I’m so glad you asked. You’re correct that it’s too late this fall in your zone to do a regular prune, especially considering how young the plants are. Wait until early spring (late March/early April) and follow the steps above for pruning. In the meantime, you do want to get those stems trimmed back before the winter. A heavy snowfall on tall stems could cause the plant to bend, snap, or break at the base (especially at this stage, because they’re so small). So cut the stems back like you would any time for harvest, completely avoiding the wood and leaving 1-2″ of stem poking out above the plant. If your plants look like little spiky balls when you’re finished, you did it correctly. Get out there today and make some bouquets!

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