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, 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.
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 at the end of summer or in the fall. Prune plants by about a third into the foliage to maintain their attractive domed habit. To do this, grab handfuls of the stems and, using clean, sharp secateurs, snip them off.
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.
‘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. ‘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, look up how to propagate lavender and take some semi-ripe cuttings, so if your plant dies, you can grow a new one.
Should lavender be deadheaded?
There is no definite need to deadhead lavender, but it is recommended. If you love a pristine border and want to encourage a few new flowerheads, deadheading won't hurt the plant. Many lavender varieties can be encouraged to put out a second flush of flowers after being deadheaded.
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 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.
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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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