‘Most important rule’ for pruning lavender to avoid ‘severe damage’

Gardening tips: Expert on how to grow lavender at home

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With its intoxicating fragrance and bee-alluring blooms, lavender is a joy to have in the garden. This perennial herb is remarkably hardy and easy to care for once it gets established. Lavender plants require very little water, no fertiliser and can live for five to 10 years or more. The only maintenance this delightful herb requires is regular pruning – but when and how? 

Pruning can be an intimidating process when gardeners don’t know when or how to do it. Gardeners don’t want to cut back the plant too hard and hurt it, but un-pruned lavender can get pretty out of hand.

According to Logan Hailey, gardening expert and former organic lavender farmer at All About Gardening, lavender should get pruned twice per year, in the late spring and in autumn after it’s done blooming.

She said: “Fading flowers are the easiest reminder that it’s time to prune your lavender. In fact, you can use your harvest days as a quick excuse to prune back the floral stems. 

“The spring pruning encourages more summer blooms, while the autumn pruning helps prepare your plant for winter and a vigorous season of growth next year.

“The timing of these prunings perfectly correlates with the end of each flush of flowers. This is the perfect opportunity to grab your pruners and stimulate fresh, new growth. 

“While it may seem like you’re cutting away the lavender’s flower stems, pruning twice per year actually promotes more flowering, healthier foliage, and a more aesthetic plant growth habit.”

However, gardeners can fall victim to a few common pruning mistakes then it comes to cutting back lavender, according to the gardening pro.

Mistake 1: Cutting into the wood

Logan warned: “The most important rule for pruning lavender is to avoid cutting into the woody portion of the plant. If you cut off too much of the woody base, it can severely damage or even kill the plant.

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“However, you can make small exceptions for specific branches or sections that overgrew the rest. Think of this crown as the trunk of a tree: cutting off a few larger branches won’t hurt it, but chomping across the centre can kill the tree.”

Lavender plants are semi-woody perennials that straddle the line between a woody tree and an herbaceous shrub. This means that gardeners should stick to mostly pruning the herby, green, soft growth. 

But don’t be afraid to cut back small woody branches that may pose a risk to the plant (in high winds or snowpack, for example).

Mistake 2: Not pruning enough

In general, gardeners tend to prune their plants too lightly out of fear of hurting them. 

The expert cautioned: “This actually allows the plants to grow too much each season, creating an unruly shape and fewer flowers. We should think of pruning as a pleasant haircut, not a pant punishment.”

Many experts recommend pruning harder than gardeners think they need to. In fact, they sometimes break the “never cut woody parts” rule if certain branches have gotten out of hand – as long as gardeners don’t cut back huge portions of the lavender’s wood, it should be just fine.

Logan added: “A great rule of thumb is if you can’t easily prune the stem with hand pruners or scissors, it’s probably too woody and should be left alone.”

Mistake 3: Pruning too late

For gardeners who forget to prune in early autumn, it’s often best to wait until the next spring to return to the routine.

Remember that pruning encourages tender new growth. If gardeners prune in late autumn just before the frosts begin, that new growth “will be killed by the winter cold” and “weaken the plant”, says the expert.

Mistake 4: Not pruning young plants

Many beginner lavender growers think that they should let their plants get established before they start pruning. 

However, Logan argued: “In actuality, the first three years of a lavender’s lifecycle is the most important time to prune.

“Heavily pruning during the establishment phase ensures that it can grow in a compact, shaped base that will help the plant stay healthy into its maturity.”

Early autumn pruning is the most important for young plants because it reminds them not to put too much energy into showy new flowers when they should be building up a solid foundation in their root zone.

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