Should I prune my young lavender plant?
You’ve taken the plunge and purchased an adorable new lavender plant at your local nursery. You read (and followed) our tips for where and when to plant. Your little lavender buddy is now thriving after a warm summer with plenty of sunshine and well drained soil. You’ve heard that lavender needs to be pruned – but the plant is still so small. Is it really a good idea to prune lavender when it’s young? Yes! In fact, the first few years can mean the difference between a healthy plant that lasts (and looks great) for twenty years, or a spindly, leggy plant that breaks and splits. Read on for why and how to prune your young lavender plant!
Why do I need to prune my lavender?
We’re used to thinking of lavender as a flower, but lavender is a perennial, woody herb in the mint family. Like all perennial plants, pruning is essential to keep the plant healthy and maintain a good shape. Lavender in particular has a tendency to get leggy when not pruned. Not only does this not look as attractive, the more leggy the plant, eventually sections will start to split and break. This is especially true for lavender planted in zones that get heavy snowfall. The weight of the snow can break and split leggy branches, damaging lavender that doesn’t have a tight, compact base.
Pruning is important every year, but it’s especially important the first few years of your lavender’s life. Now is when your plant is establishing its woody base. If you don’t prune it back the first year or two, your plant will shoot branches up and out, and as they grow they’ll fall to the side. Instead of forming a tight, compact mound to support the weight of the stems and flowers, you’ll have a few long, woody branches growing haphazardly out from the center.
So prune your lavender when it’s young, and be diligent about doing it every year for the first few years. Once the lavender is 3-4 years old, the woody mound it has developed in the center should be compact, healthy, and ready to survive snowfall and spring growth.
When should I prune my young lavender?
It is commonly accepted that you can prune lavender either in the spring or the fall. For young plants especially, timing is more important.
It’s not a great idea to shock a plant with heavy pruning if you’ve just planted it. Make sure it’s had at least 6-8 weeks to establish in the ground before pruning. You don’t want to prune too early in the autumn (like the first week of September), and risk the plant pushing out second growth. You also don’t want to prune too close to the first frost date. So for plants purchased and planted from August on, it’s probably safest to wait until spring. Anything planted in the spring/early summer should be pruned in the fall – so long as you’re still more than 6 weeks out from your frost date.
As farmers, we always prune in the fall. So long as you wait until true Autumn (in our zone, we prune in October) there’s no risk of the plant pushing out new growth, and instead, pruning tells the plant “time to stop thinking about flowers and focus on my roots”. A healthy, energized root system will help your young plant survive the winter.
If you decide to wait until spring to prune, in the fall still go ahead and trim off any long stems that might cause the tender new branches to break during a snowfall. As soon as possible after your last frost date in the spring, prune your little lavender plant back. If you wait too long into the spring you’ll risk cutting back new growth and delaying flowers.
How do I prune young lavender?
The basic steps for pruning young 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 woody base yet (which is what you’re trying to help with). So rather than trying to find the woody center and keeping 1”- 2” of green above that, think more in terms of shaping the entirety of the young plant. Professionals always recommend you not prune more than 30% plant matter from a plant, though we sometimes do up to 50% if the young lavender has large sections bulging out.
Here are some tips to keep in mind.
- It’s easiest to prune young lavender with scissors, rather than a knife.
- Always sanitize your scissors before using, and in between plants (eg. spray with isopropyl alcohol and quickly wipe down)
- Get eye level with the plant. Get down on the ground, or bring the plant up to a work table.
- If there are any single branches/sections sticking way above the others, first cut that down to match the rest of the plant.
- Give the plant a flat top cut – approximately ⅓ off the top of the plant
- Shape the sides at a diagonal to “round” the shape
That’s it! Remember, trust your gut but don’t be too tentative. Lavender is a hardy plant, and it *wants* you to give it a nice haircut. You’ll both be happier in the long run!