Honeybees are drawn to lavender

Few plants can match the all-around versatility of lavender.  Full in flower, beautiful in form, fragrant, long-lasting, bee-friendly, deer resistant and drought tolerant, it is high on my list of desirable landscape plants. Yet in many part of the United State lavender is hard to obtain. You can order it mail order or you can grow it yourself. Growing it from seed is notoriously difficult – if you can find the seeds. The variety I prize most highly, Lavender intermedia, also known as “Provence” is not available by seed. If you want to grow it you need to learn how to propagate it by taking cuttings. That’s what we’re going to examine in this blog.

Timing is Important

In Northern California lavender grows actively during the six warmest months of the year, April through September. It is green (blue-grey, actually) year ‘round, but this is deceptive because during the coldest months of the year with the shortest daylight hours, lavender is essentially dormant. Cutting season is right now, during the period of active growth because this is when it forms roots most readily and growing conditions are best. You might be able to take cuttings as early as April, but this would deprive you of the flowers which bloom in late spring and early summer. We wait until now, mid-summer, when the blooms have past their prime, to take our cuttings. Note that it’s best not to wait too long after the flowers begin to decline, because it can take 6-8 weeks for lavender to root well enough to transplant, and by then the days are growing shorter and cooler.

Where to Cut

A full tray of cuttings

Remove the flower spikes to get to the leaf clusters, as pieces of the leaf clusters are your cutting material. Depending on how many lavender plants you have, and therefore how much cutting material you have available, you may take longer or shorter sections of the leaf clusters. The bare minimum is two nodes, one node to root in your medium and one to remain above. This meager amount doesn’t always generate the best results, as the resulting rooted cuttings have very little foliage and take considerable time to develop. Better, if you have enough material to take four nodes total, two for rooting and two for foliage growth above the growing medium.

In the image to the right, a bunch of cuttings with stalks still attached.

A nice cutting

When choosing your cutting material, choose the soft, new growth, not the hard growth from previous years. After taking your cutting, cleanly remove the leaves to where they join the stem using sharp scissors. Scissors with a needle tip are great for this task. You want the node exposed to your growing medium and moisture to encourage root growth.

In the image to the right, a fresh cutting, flower stalk removed. Note the bottom set of leaves has also been removed to aid rooting.

Healing the Cut

You need to expose the lower nodes.

At this stage of the process your lavender cuttings are vulnerable to drying out and dying: they have a lot of leaf area and no roots whatsoever, just an open wound where you exposed the nodes. To prevent loss of your fresh cuttings you need to plunge them immediately into a moist medium where the lower nodes stay wet at all times. We carry a tray at our side filled with damp vermiculite about 2” deep (note: the tray drains at the bottom to prevent too much saturation of the cuttings which would cause them to suffocate and rot from lack of oxygen). After filling our tray with cuttings we move it to a bench with a wire surface beneath shade clothe where it receives regular overhead watering throughout the day.  

1/1/2015 3:03:44 PM

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds (2015 catalog) has Lavender x intermedia seeds. My lavender plants have self seeded in the gravel pathway edges of my garden, but not in the richer, moister soil of the garden beds. They seem to love to come up right next to the sun-warmed stones that edge the beds. This spring, I'm going to try seeding more of the gravel edges where I want more lavender.

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