Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Love Affair with Lavender –Part 2

The many shades of heaven
One of the most frequent questions I am asked is how best to prune lavender. While pruning is necessary to extend the life of the shrub, done incorrectly it is certain death!


First it is important to recognize the difference between old and new wood or growth.
Old wood - stems from previous years which have become brittle and woody like a twig.
New wood - the current season’s growth is softer and flexible

The degree to which the shrubs are cut back depends upon where you live. However, regardless of climate pruning needs to be done immediately after flowering.

Here in the Seattle area our winters aren’t usually too bad so in late August I shear off the remaining flower stalks and approximately one third to one half of the new growth to create a nice tidy hummock. A pair of basic garden shears makes quick work of this. Since I am pruning in late summer the lavender has time for the flush of new growth stimulated by the trimming to toughen up a bit before the cold weather hits.  
Sometimes you just can't get enough
Those who live in areas with very harsh and/or early winters would be better just to do a light tidy-up trim at this time, removing no more than a quarter of the new wood. This acts as an insurance policy; if the winter kills some of the top growth you will still have plenty of healthy shoots beneath. Then in spring (March or April, again depending upon your weather) cold-climate gardeners are able to do the ‘final’ pruning and re-shaping by cutting further into the newer growth.

Old lavender bushes can sometimes be renovated by making deeper cuts but my experience has been NEVER to prune into the ‘old wood’. Sometimes latent buds in the old wood will grow but not always so I don’t risk it.
Photo courtesy of Purple Haze Lavender Farm, Sequim WA


Once the color is bright and vivid it is time to start cutting. Cut the flower stems during the cool of the morning after the dew has dried. In humid areas, try to cut on dry days.

If the lavender wands are placed in just an inch of water they will often dry in the vase. However, if you are cutting larger quantities of lavender for drying tie bunches of stems together with string and hang upside down in a cool, airy place – under shady eaves works well. Once dry the buds can be stripped off the stems and used in pot pourri, sachets or cooking.

Oils are distilled to use
in many products.
Photo courtesy of Purple
Haze Lavender Farm, WA


Many varieties of this herb lend themselves to cooking and have a 
wonderful light summery taste as well as a pleasing aroma. English lavender (L. angustifolia) has the sweetest fragrance and is the most commonly used. The favorite variety of English lavender used at the Purple Haze Lavender Farm in Sequim, WA is 'Melissa'. The lavandins (L x intermedia) have a bolder flavor and of these 'Provence' is suitable for cooking.

The adventurous chef will find many ways to experiment including using lavender syrups or lavender creams with berries, blackcurrants, cherries, figs, ginger, lemon, orange, plum and vanilla.
My favorite recipe has to be Lavender Ice Cream which I first tried on a hot summers day, sitting amidst an endless rolling sea of fragrant purple mounds listening to the bees getting drunk on the summer bounty. Heaven. That recipe is reproduced below. For more ideas enjoy this link from the Purple Haze Lavender Farm.

Lavender Ice Cream

3/4 cup honey
1 tsp dried lavender in a tea ball or gauze
1 cup half and half (pouring cream cream)
2 cups heavy cream (double cream)
7 egg yolks

  • Pour the half and half and cream into a heavy saucepan and add lavender. Warm for 5 mins then remove lavender. 
  • Whisk egg yolks until frothy
  • Slowly pour half the cream mixture into the eggs while whisking continuously
  • Add this back to the pan and heat on low, stirring constantly for 5 mins
  • Strain mixture into a bowl and add honey
  • Chill and then freeze according to ice cream maker manufacturer's instructions


  1. Thanks for such a detailed post!! I was looking for creative ways to use my lavender.

  2. What varieties are you growing and how have you decided to use them? I'm always looking for an excuse to buy more!


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