how to choose lavenderhow to choose lavender

How To Choose The Best Lavender

Charming lavender plants, with their aromatherapeutic fragrance and delicate, swaying blooms, have captured the attention of gardeners across the globe. Thanks to good plant breeding and some well-organized advice, most of us can now grow beautiful lavender plants in the USA. We'll help you choose lavender plants for all of your gardening, crafting, and culinary hobbies.

Which Is The Best Lavender For You?

When considering which type of lavender is right for your garden, you’ll first need to pay close attention to your own climate. Next, you’ll check in with the four main types, to determine which will give you the outcome that matters most to you.

Lavenders are divided into four main groups:

English Lavender (Zones 5 – 8): (Lavandula angustifolia) small, tight flower clusters, that bloom in the early part of the season, set against blue-green leaves. These hardy lavenders perform well for northern gardeners, overwintering to zone 5. Those gardening in colder zones will need to rely on a warmer microclimate within their garden beds to ensure the plants’ survival.

These lavenders are typically fragrant and are the first choice for culinary gardeners.

Lavandin Hybrids (Zones 5-10): “Lavandins” are English Lavender Hybrids (Lavandula x intermedia) that bloom later than species lavenders and have a higher essential oil content. They have large, gray-green leaves and are known for their speedy growth and strong fragrance.

This group features some of our most popular lavender cultivars, including ‘Provence,’ the famous perfume lavender, 'Phenomenal,' and 'Grosso'.

French Lavender (Zones 5 – 10): (Lavandula dentata) well-suited to milder climates without the scare of harsh winters, French lavenders are ornamental plants known for their needle-like, toothed leaves (hence their Latin name – dentata). Their fragrance is lighter than the perfumy English varieties. These plants work well in fast-draining containers and rock gardens, and add a good dose of beauty when lining walkway and entry paths. They prefer full sun and gritty soil.

Spanish Lavender (Zones 7 – 10): (Lavandula stoechas), have silvery leaves and larger flowers with bigger, pine-cone-shaped petals at the top. The flowers alone are quite eye-catching. Carrying a eucalyptus fragrance, Spanish lavenders can tolerate a bit more humidity than most of their relatives. Popular as focal points in courtyard and small-space gardens, Spanish lavenders take well to containers and stylized pruning.

French LavenderFrench Lavender
French Lavender
Spanish LavenderSpanish Lavender
Spanish Lavender
English LavenderEnglish Lavender
English Lavender

What Can Lavender Do For You?

Now that you’re more familiar with which types of lavenders can be grown in your gardening zone, let’s check in with how you’d like your lavender to perform. While this may be a strictly ornamental undertaking, different lavenders have different ‘specialties’ that are worth considering before you settle on any single variety.

No matter what, there’s surely a lavender that’s right for you!

Best Lavender for the Perennial Garden

You can tuck any type of lavender into the full sun perennial garden, as long as the soil is fast to drain, and surrounding plants have similar low water requirements. Shorter varieties are great in the bed's front border, or when planted along paths and walkways.

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Best Lavender for Hot & Humid Climates

Lavender plants are not known for their love of hot and humid weather. In fact, southern gardeners have mostly struggled to grow lavender, save for those lucky enough to have cool microclimates within their gardens. However, a breakthrough English lavender plant that does grow well during southern summers has emerged.

'Phenomenal®' is a true English lavender that has been tested from Texas to Georgia, and even grows in Florida. Spanish lavenders are also more tolerant of heat and humidity, so if that’s the look you’re going for, plant 'Anouk' or 'Silver Anouk'. Just make sure to choose a well-draining location, or to let soil dry out between waterings, especially when planting in containers.

Best Cold-Hardy Lavender

Lavender plants are semi-woody perennials. In warmer areas they’re evergreen (or evergray). In colder locations most plants will experience some dieback, meaning that their green growth will disappear completely in the winter months and may or may not return. 'Hidcote' and 'Munstead' are the most cold-hardy and least likely to be killed back to the ground in zone 5. 'Phenomenal®'has proven that in addition to tolerating humidity, it suffers very little die back in colder zones. Always wait until lavender plants begin to leaf out in the spring to assess winter damage and prune back.

Best Compact Lavender Plants for Rock Gardens

Because lavender plants grow best in full sun in sharply draining soils that border on dry, they make great rock garden plants.  Plant lavender along with succulents and other small perennials for a bit of height and blowsy movement.

'Dilly Dilly' Lavender

'Blue River' Lavender

'Blue River' and 'Mini Blue' are two smaller varieties that are highly drought tolerant.'Dilly Dilly' has a completely different, more rounded growth habit for a completely different garden feel. It would be at home in more formal settings.

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Best Fragrant Lavender For Drying & Preserving

'Provence' is a lavandin, or hybrid lavender type, which are known for a high output of essential oils. It’s no surprise that 'Provence' is the lavender most frequently grown for use in scented products, including soaps, lotions, sachets, potpourri, and more. It blooms in mid to late summer. Harvest in the morning when the first flowers at the bottom of the flower head begin to open. Tie tightly in bundles and hang upside down in a cool, dry place.

Best Lavender For Container Gardens & Flower Pots

A chief concern when selecting container garden plants is ‘interest’— unusual leaf color, surprising fragrance, a “wow” pop of color, or big flowers. A close second is a well-behaved growth habit. 'Goodwin Creek Grey' French lavender plants tick several of these boxes.

'Goodwin Creek Grey' is both fragrant and compact, with silver leaves that contrast wonderfully with its deep purple blooms. It looks great by itself in a container, but you can also pair it with creeping thyme or other drought-tolerant herbs and annuals. 'Mini Blue' tops out at 10-12 inches and is an excellent container variety with big blue flower clusters. 'Silver Anouk' is a Spanish Lavender with fragrant lilac flowers and silver leaves that’s a striking addition to container garden groupings.

honey bee landing on lavenderhoney bee landing on lavender

Pollinator Gardening With Lavender

This is a bonus category, because pollinators flock to lavender—especially the bees. When you have a chance, try Lavender honey. It’s delicious with just a hint of floral fragrance. To try luring some bees and butterflies to your garden, plant it alongside a mix of native pollinator-attracting flowers, like Echinacea, and Aster.

Best Lavender For Topiaries

It takes patience to train your own topiary, but nothing looks so quintessentially ‘French Country’ than a kitchen with a few herb topiaries. 'Anouk' is a Spanish lavender with big flowers and lilac butterfly-like petals. It is equally at home in the garden as it is being clipped into a topiary. 'Anouk' lavender blooms on and off all summer long.


The Best Lavender for Knot Gardens & Hedges

Contrasting foliage makes knot gardens more interesting, particularly during the winter when the interior of the garden might not be planted with annual flowers. To keep a knot garden tidy, you need plants that tolerate shearing (shaping a plant by trimming its leaves).

'Goodwin Creek Grey' is a French lavender (Lavandula ginginsii) with silver foliage. It flowers throughout the summer, though the flowers aren’t going to be your chief concern if you want to keep a tight hedge. You could always let it bloom and then give it a trim. 'Pastor's Pride', 'Vera' , and 'Royal Velvet' are all known to re-bloom when trimmed in mid-summer, which makes any one a fine choice for a knot garden.

'Goodwin Creek Grey' French Lavender

'Pastor's Pride' English Lavender

'Royal Velvet' English Lavender

'Vera' English Lavender

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Best Culinary Lavender

Any of the English lavenders are great for cooking. Lavender is one of a handful of herbs in the spice blend, “Herbes de Provence,” along with marjoram, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and savory.

Yes, English lavender in a French herb blend. International relations at their best. Use Herbes de Provence to spice up meats while grilling and with potatoes and other roasted vegetables. A little bit goes a long way.

Always remember to refrain from spraying pesticides near edible plants!

'Jean Davis' is the most popular culinary lavender variety. Unlike most English lavender varieties, this plant has soft pink flowers, so it will stand out in the herb garden. It has a somewhat compact habit compared to other varieties (12” tall and 18” wide), so is also a good choice for small-space gardens.

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