How to prune lavender – and when to cut it back for the best results
Find out how to prune lavender to keep it shapely and compact and to prevent it from becoming woody, to maximize flowering year after year
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Knowing how to prune lavender will keep these gloriously scented plants in good condition for years to come, and ensure their structure remains neat and dense, too.
Learning how to grow lavender from cuttings and seed is not difficult. However, if not properly pruned, the plants will become woody and unattractive after a couple of years, requiring replacement.
‘Annual pruning will improve flowering and prevent lavender becoming woody,' says plant expert Sarah Raven (opens in new tab), who suggests pruning lavender immediately after flowering has finished. 'Remove shoots to within one inch (2cm) of previous year’s growth,’ she says.
As well as being an essential plant for adding fragrance to the garden, lavender has long been prized for its therapeutic and culinary properties. It’s also one of the best plants for pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, and is one of the best fly repellent plants, too.
Bear in mind that there is more than one kind of this aromatic herb to enjoy in your garden. English lavenders, such as Hidcote and Munstead, are the most popular, and the hardiest.
Other European varieties – namely French and Spanish lavender – are less hardy, and so you will need to take extra care when pruning. However, if you stick to a few golden rules, you can apply them to all of your lavender plants.
How to prune lavender – an expert guide
Many gardeners are overly cautious when pruning lavender, as they worry about cutting too far into the stems, which can harm the plant. However, knowing how to prune lavender the right way will prevent this from happening.
‘Don’t be afraid to prune lavender – the plants can become leggy and woody very quickly, and effective pruning will prolong their lives,’ says gardening expert Leigh Clapp.
Follow our simple step-by-step guide, and your plants will flourish for years to come.
What time of year should you prune lavender?
There are two times of year that you should prune lavender: in fall after flowering and in spring. And though you may have heard different opinions about when to prune lavender, and how often to do it, it is best to tackle the plants in two stages: ‘Trim after flowering in fall, then prune in the spring,’ says Clapp.
Don’t prune lavender too hard after summer ends, or the plant may struggle to survive the onset of colder weather. Instead, think of fall pruning as a way to harvest lavender for drying and scenting your home. Knowing when to harvest lavender really does depend on what you are planning to do with it; some uses require lavender to be cut as the blooms open, others as they begin to fade.
If you forget to prune your lavender during the summer, then it’s best wait until the following spring, especially for less hardy French, Spanish and Italian lavenders.
And when you do prune lavender in spring, only do so after you see new growth begin to appear.
Where do you cut lavender?
When pruning lavender, it's important to cut it in the right place to ensure future healthy growth, and this is a smidge above side branches or leaf nodes. This part of the plant tends to be green. Go any lower and you'll be cutting at the woody part of the plant, which isn't always advised, though some garden experts say you can do this – more on that below.
'Sometimes you may want to cut into the woody growth simply to tidy up the structure of an older lavender plant,' says Homes & Gardens' Gardens Editor Rachel Crow.
How to prune lavender in its first year
Lavender only requires a light trim in its first year, but to avoid the plants from becoming leggy in future, it’s important to get them off to a good start. Make sure you know when to plant lavender for plant health, too.
Tackle pruning new lavender during the summer, after the plant has flowered.
At this early stage, pruning is about encouraging new growth, and developing a nice mounded shape. If you have grown the lavender from seed or cuttings, then it is beneficial to pinch out new growth tips to help the plant become bushy.
There is no need to follow up with a spring prune when lavender is only in its first year.
- Using a clean, sharp pair of secateurs cut each stem back by up to a third, to remove the flowers and some of the green stem growth.
- Do not cut the plant back ‘hard’ by going near the woody base of the stem – it is essential to leave plenty of green on the stems when the plants are young.
- Try to make an even dome shape by leaving the stems longer in the middle, and gradually going shorter as you move to the outer edges of the plant.
- After trimming your lavender, you may get a second flush of flowers. Prune these the same way once finished – but do it well before the cold fall weather sets in.
How to prune mature lavender plants
Lavender plants will establish quickly, so from their second year you will need to follow a simple – but thorough – pruning regime to keep them in shape.
Start by giving your lavender plant a good trim in the summer. Prune plants by about a third into the foliage to maintain their attractive domed habit when in flower. To do this, grab handfuls of the stems and, using clean, sharp secateurs, snip them off.
‘Stems at this level are about drinking straw thickness and regenerate well if there are plenty of small nodules or shoots below the cut,' says master grower Simon Charlesworth, of Downderry Lavender (opens in new tab).
'By the time they go dormant in the fall the lavenders should have re-clothed themselves with fresh young shoots that will harden off before the vagaries of the winter weather.'
Try to maintain a good rounded shape to the plant, but do not cut too close to the woody base of the stems, or the plant might struggle to overwinter.
Follow up with a harder prune in the spring.
Pruning lavender in spring
Spring is the time for pruning your lavender harder to minimize the development of woody stems and encourage fresh new growth. You should do this early in the season, to give the plant plenty of time to reestablish itself.
However, it's vital that you do not cut the stems too far down into the old wood.
‘If you crop the entire plant back to old wood it can mean big trouble,’ says celebrity gardener Monty Don in his book The Complete Gardener (opens in new tab).
‘If you cut into the old wood, which does not have any leaves, and new leaves do not grow, then it will not survive.’
How much wood your lavender plant has depends on the plant’s age, and how well it has been pruned in the past.
- Take a stem and examine it – you’ll notice it has a woody base set below the leafy section.
- Using a clean, sharp pair of secateurs, cut the stem around 2-3 inches above the woody base, into the leafy section of the stem. Avoid cutting into wood below.
- You can prune handfuls of stems at a time, and for hedges you might find it easier to use shears.
- Try to create a nice rounded shape to your lavender plant by pruning the outer stems a little shorter than the inner stems.
- Where there are dead, frost-damaged or diseased branches, these should be completely removed.
How to prune lavender that is woody
When lavender is a few years old, it can develop long, ‘woody’ stems that look unsightly. However, if you know how to prune lavender like the experts, then you should be able to rejuvenate the plants.
‘‘The normal advice is to replace plants when they become leggy, usually after three to five years. But I avoid having to do this by cutting right back into the wood,’ says Judith Hann, author of Herbs (opens in new tab). ‘I have not lost a lavender plant yet in the 20 years they have been growing in my garden.’
Though usually avoided, cutting lavender into the old wood can be a good way to renovate them. The trick is to make sure you can still see some signs of life in the form of growth nodes below the cutting point. If you cut beyond this, the stems are unlikely to recover, so examine them closely.
Bear in mind you are taking a risk, so before you attempt to hard prune woody lavender, take some semi-ripe cuttings, so if your plant dies, you can grow a new one.
Should lavender be deadheaded?
There is no need to deadhead lavender; if you prune lavender properly in spring and fall, you shouldn't need to anyway. However if you love a pristine border and want to encourage a few new flowerheads, deadheading won't hurt the plant.
How to prune Spanish and French lavender
Spanish and French lavender are particularly attractive varieties, with distinctive 'butterfly' shaped upright flowers that may be purple, pink or even white.
The plants require full sun in order to thrive, and are not quite as hardy as English lavender. However, they are no more difficult to prune and maintain.
As when pruning other lavender varieties, simply trim around a third of the plant's growth after flowering in summer. However, do not cut the stems back too far, as this will expose them to too much frost over winter.
Follow up with a harder prune in early spring, taking care not to cut into the dead wood.
How do you cut back lavender for winter?
While you only need to prune lavender in the summer and spring, Monty Don suggests a third trim in the fall, to help it ‘hold a tight pebble shape’.
Cutting back lavender before winter will create a tidy mound that will give structure to the garden over the coldest months. Lavender is an evergreen shrub, so it retains foliage year round.
Leaving faded blooms on the plant can also provide food for seed-eating birds, so it’s not always necessary to remove the flowers straight after blooming.
It’s still best to do your first prune before the end of summer, but hardier varieties can respond well to a light fall pruning before the winter.
Make sure there is plenty of green left on the plant, to keep it looking good over the colder months.
How do you cut lavender so it grows back?
To cut lavender so it grows back, it's important to avoid cutting into the ‘dead’, woody growth. If you harvest lavender just as it is flowering, you might get a second flush of flowers.
What happens if you don't prune lavender?
If you don't prune lavender, the plant will quickly become leggy and woody, and won't be able to hold its own weight very well.
This means the stems will flop over when heavy with flowers, causing the plant to spread out and exposing more of the old wood in the plant.
As editor of Period Living, Britain's best-selling period homes magazine, Melanie loves the charm of older properties. I live in a rural village just outside the Cotswolds in England, so am lucky to be surrounded by beautiful homes and countryside, where I enjoy exploring. Having worked in the industry for almost two decades, Melanie is interested in all aspects of homes and gardens. Her previous roles include working on Real Homes and Homebuilding & Renovating, and she has also contributed to Gardening Etc. She has an English degree and has also studied interior design. Melanie frequently writes for Homes & Gardens about property restoration and gardening.
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