Designing Beautiful Borders

"Why does my Lavender look awful?"


This week I have had two conversations about failed lavender. Add this to the rising number of lavender bushes I have condemned to the green bin, I felt it was time to dedicate a post just for this one question "Why does my Lavender look awful?"

Things to know about Lavender.

Firstly, there are two types of Lavender sold in garden centres; English Lavender (L. angustifolia) and French Lavender (L. pedunculata).

French lavender (image below) is not reliably hardy. This means that it is unlikely to make it through an Englsih winter in the sort of condition that you would be happy with. The advice therefore for French lavender is:

  • Keep it in a pot.
  • Enjoy it for the summer.
  • If you have a greenhouse, then use it to over winter your lavender (hence, keep it in a pot).  In spring, follow the same pruning regime as for English lavender (described later).
  • Without a greenhouse, consider yourself lucky if your plants survives. If it does survive, it may look pretty ropey! 
French lavender  (fat buds)                                                                  English lavender (thin, spiky buds)


English lavender is actually not really English at all, just better able to handle our climate. If you are looking to plant a lavender hedge, this is the plant to opt for. To make a success of English lavender, there are three things you must get right:

  1. Aspect: Lavender is a Mediterranean plant and thus requires full sun.
  2. Drainage: Lavender likes very good drainage and does not like sitting in pools of damp, cold, clay soil.
  3. Pruning: Lavender is a short lived shrub by nature, so the correct pruning regime needs to be adhered to from the off. This stops it become straggly and unsightly.

Lavender fails in Lindfield because, either;

  • It’s the wrong type of lavender - I blame the garden centres for that one!
  • Lavender is planted straight into our sticky, wet clay soil causing the roots to rot over winter time
  • Failure to prune or prune correctly
  • It's just got old - you should expect about 7 years from a lavender bush

To succeed with lavender in Lindfield, the following steps need to be followed

Alter the soil conditions

Add loads of horticultural grit to the planting hole. This will increase the drainage and prevent the roots sitting in cold claggy clay over winter time. Even better, mix in some horticultural sand as you return the soil around the plant

Prune correctly.

Pruning can be done in early autumn or spring. If you leave the pruning until spring, then simply remove the spent flowers in autumn. For the main prune  (either spring or early autumn), clip over the plant, removing most of the growth of the previous season. Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT cut back into old wood. Lavender does not readily regenerate from old wood. Which brings me to my last point...

Can my straggly looking lavender be rejuvenated?

Sorry, but no... Green bin!

Lavender pruned to a nice, neat compact shape, without cutting back into older wood.