Lavender is a popular garden plant. Fragrant, colorful and easy to care for, these attractive specimens are more than just an ornamental flower. If you harvest lavender you can use the dried buds to soothe the skin, ease the mind, bring fragrance to your home or flavor to your cooking. But when is the best time to harvest lavender?
If you are unsure, our When to Harvest Lavender guide is designed to take you through the entire process. The tips outlined below can be applied to any type of Lavandula plant. Additionally, if done correctly, the more you harvest the plant, the more flowers it produces. As well as explaining how to harvest lavender we will outline the best time to get your pruning scissors out and how to correctly dry and store your harvest.
An incredibly versatile plant that is popular with pollinators, gardeners and herbalists alike, our When to Harvest Lavender guide contains everything that you need to know.
Knowing when to harvest lavender is an important part of the cultivation process.
Different Types of Lavandula
There are numerous varieties of lavandula plant. To make identification and cultivation a little easier they are typically grouped into one of three classes:
There are also hybrid cultivars.
All the different types of lavandula are both fragrant and visually attractive. When choosing your Lavandula plants try to select types that are suitable to your climate. As well as making your job easier, this helps to maximize plant productivity and harvest yield.
Different types are better suited to certain climates.
Growers in temperate zones can grow a wide range of Lavandula plants. French and Spanish types of lavender are best planted in warm climates. When planted in a cooler climate these delicate cultivars struggle.
English and Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia) cultivars are more resilient. Some English types such as Munstead and Hidcote are hardy down to USDA Zone 5. Phenomenal is another true English variety that handles the heat and humidity of the southeast well. Additionally, Lavandula Stoechas and Lavandula Dentata are both varieties that are tolerant of humidity.
When growing the plants for culinary purposes, select either English or Lavandin (Lavandin x intermedia) cultivars. These tend to be sweeter than other varieties.
If you are not sure which type of lavender plant is best for you, ask in your local garden store or plant nursery. Local plant stores tend to sell varieties that are suited to their local growing conditions.
Lavandula Plant Growing Tips
Lavender or Lavandula is a pleasingly easy plant to cultivate. As long as it is planted in a favorable climate it happily tolerates poor soil conditions. With the right care these are also pleasingly fast growing plants.
Lavandula plants grow best if you are able to replicate their native, Mediterranean growing conditions. This means that they thrive in warm, sunny, almost arid conditions.
Most cultivars struggle in high humidity or wet soil. If you are growing in a damp climate try planting your lavender specimens in a pot filled with a well draining potting soil that has been mixed with sand or a cactus potting mix to further enhance its drainage capabilities. Do not overwater your plants.
Overwatering Lavandula specimens is the most common cause of failure. Allowing the plants to sit in wet soil can cause the roots to become soggy and encourage fungal disease.
If you are planting your lavender plants in the ground plant in a sunny spot in well draining, sandy soil.
The plants are best placed in a light, sunny position.
As long as they are growing in a favorable position these are low maintenance plants that do not need lots of compost, rich soil or fertilizer to grow. In fact they often do better in poor, rocky soils. This makes the plants an ideal inclusion in a rock garden.
Regularly pruning and harvesting your plants helps to promote lots of healthy growth and flowering.
Most cultivars are classified as perennial in USDA Zones 5 to 10. Certain types, in particular hybrids, may also tolerate conditions outside this range.
Lavanula plants can be slow to start from seed. Instead you may find it quicker to purchase young plants from a nursery. These are usually around 2 years old and, once established, display a vigorous growth habit.
Learning how and when to harvest lavender is both an easy and rewarding process. As well as supplying your own needs, pruning also benefits the plants. The more you prune, the more flowers emerge. Regularly harvesting and pruning your plants encourages them to become bushier and more productive.
For more information on growing Lavandula, consult our in depth growing guide.
Now that you know which type of lavender is best for your climate and how to care for the plants, it is time to discuss when to harvest lavender.
When to Harvest Lavender
When it comes to deciding when to harvest lavender, remember that early is best.
Knowing when to harvest lavender in early spring is beneficial to both you and the plants. Harvesting early in the season gives the plants plenty of time to produce another flush of flowers for a late summer and fall display. This is particularly beneficial in areas that have short summer growing seasons.
In frost free climates where the plants may bloom throughout the year, deciding when to harvest lavender is less important. As long as the plants are properly cared for you can harvest small bunches over and over again throughout the year.
When to harvest lavender for fragrance and essential oils is best done early in the flower cycle. At this point, the young, tender buds should still be tight and only just starting to fully flower. In this condition they are rich in both fragrance and beneficial oils.
If you are deciding when to harvest lavender for floral displays, allow the flowers to almost fully open before harvesting. Fully open flowers typically have the most color and are highly attractive. This makes them more desirable for inclusion in floral bouquets.
As the flowers age the aroma and therapeutic oil content decreases. Mature or browning flower buds crumble and fall from stem more easily. These are not ideal for flower displays and can make drying messy. If you don’t mind the mess, you can also harvest older flowers.
If you are aiming to harvest lavender for medicinal or herbal purposes, the best time to harvest is early in the morning, once the dew has dried and the plants are still perky from the cool night air. As the day goes on the essential oils and terpenes start to dissipate in the hot sun. Harvesting early in the morning enables you to select flowers that are rich in essential oils.
Cutting the stems early in the day ensures a colorful, essential oil rich plant.
How and When to Harvest Lavender
Now that you know when to harvest lavender, it is time to learn how.
To cut individual flowers, identify the bloom that you want to harvest. Follow the stem down from the bud to the junction where 2 side leaves, new buds or branches have started to form. Use small pruning scissors to cut the stem at this point, just above the junctions. Your scissors should be clean and sharp.
Once the center stem and flower has been removed the plant redirects its energy into the side shoots. This causes them to rapidly grow and flower.
If you want to harvest longer stems, particularly for use in a floral bouquet with some green foliage follow the stem a little further down the plant. Again cut just above a junction but this time deeper into the plant. You may also need to harvest deeper into the plant if your specimen is a small, compact plant which has less space between the bud and leaf nodes.
After harvesting you should have a bunch of stems and flowers ready to either use in a fresh display or dry.
To enjoy your cuttings in a cut flower display simply place them in a vase of fresh water. To prolong their lifespan, change the water on a regular basis.
Do not get the stems wet if you want to dry the buds. If you are harvesting for medicinal or edible purposes try to dry or use them as soon after harvest as possible. The flavor and fragrance of the buds are best when fresh.
When to Prune the Plants
Pruning Lavandula plants is similar to harvesting but more vigorous.
To keep your plants healthy and productive, plan to prune once or twice a year. Always prune your plants after flowering has finished. Pruning before the plants have set flower deters flowering.
If you know when to harvest lavender in the spring, the first, less crucial pruning session can be incorporated into this. At this stage, pruning is simply harvesting a good amount of blooms in the spring. This should be done even if you aren’t harvesting to keep the flowers or dry them.
The act of deadheading spent or fading flowers is great for plant health because it promotes new growth. This can be done continuously throughout the growing season. In spring, as the flowers fade, prune about a quarter to a third of the plant away.
In the fall, your plants require a slightly harder prune. This should be done after the last flowers of the year fade. Hardy English types that naturally die back in winter respond better to hard pruning than non-english types.
Pruning English Cultivars
You can prune back the new growth of hardy English Lavandula plants by half to two-thirds each fall. Like harvesting, aim to trim the plants just above a leaf node or side branch. Avoid cutting into the lowest sections of the growth where bare woody growth is present.
Before pruning, inspect the base of the plant. You will see tough, woody growth near the ground with no sprouts or leaf nodes. Above this, more tender growth that is typically green or light brown in color forms. Trim a few inches above the woody part of the plant, leaving a couple of leaf nodes on each branch.
Pruning Spanish and French Cultivars
These are more delicate plants than English cultivars. Consequently they require a more gentle pruning. Do not cut back too much growth. This can damage and stress the plant.
Instead prune lightly, harvesting buds and deadheading spent blooms throughout the growing season. Towards the end of summer, prune the plants lightly, shaping the foliage into a pleasing, rounded mound. Try not to remove more than one-third of the plant as you prune.
Regular pruning encourages a productive, healthy plant.
While it can seem daunting, don’t be too nervous about pruning your plants. Just after pruning plants can look rough around edges but they soon bounce back and fill in. More established plants tend to be more resilient than younger specimens.
Remember a routine pruning helps to prolong the lifespan of your plants.
If you want to learn more about pruning Lavandula, consult our in depth guide. Now that you know how and when to harvest lavender, it is time to learn what to do with your cuttings.
How to Dry Your Harvest
After learning how and when to harvest lavender, the next step is learning how to dry the cut stems and flowers. There are 3 reliable methods. While each works, some are quicker than others.
1 Hanging the Stems
The easiest way to dry Lavandula stems and flowers after harvest, hanging is also quite time consuming.
To hang dry, collect a handful sized bouquet of freshly cut stems. Secure them together with some Jute Twine or a rubber band. Once secure hang the bunches upside down in a warm, dry location that has good air circulation. Hanging near a running fan or an open window helps to speed up the drying process.
If you have a large harvest, dry your cuttings in a number of small bunches rather than one large bunch. Large bunches dry more slowly and may develop mold.
Do not tie your bunches together too tightly. They should be just secure enough that they do not fall apart.
To improve color retention, dry your cuttings in a dark or shaded place away from direct sunlight.
While reliable, drying by hanging the stems is a slow process. Depending on the drying position and the size of the bunches it can take anything from a few weeks to over a month to fully dry by hanging.
If you want to test how dry the plants are, break a stem. A dry stem snaps crisply in half. If it is still wet it will bend.
You can also dry bunches upright in an empty vase. The vase should be tall enough to completely hold the stems. If the stems reach over the top of the vase the tops may bend over and not dry evenly.
When you harvest lavender in a warm or arid climate, drying by hanging is ideal. It is also suitable if you are drying the bunches indoors, in a room where you can control the ambient conditions.
Hanging bunches is an easy way to dry the plants.
2 Drying in a Food Dehydrator
This method of drying Lavandula cuttings is quicker than simply passively drying the bunches at room temperature. Using a food dehydrator is also a good option if you want to make a herbal oil infused oil or salve.
Speeding up the drying process, a food dehydrator ensures that your cut bunches are completely dry. This means that there is no leftover moisture present that can spoil or cause mold to form on your handmade medicinal and herbal oils.
To dry in a food dehydrated harvest lavender and trim away any excess stems. These can be placed on the compost pile. Lay the buds evenly over the trays in a single layer. If the buds are crumbly, or your trays have large openings, use dehydrator tray liners or line the trays with parchment paper. This prevents the drying buds from falling through the trays.
Set your food dehydrator on the lowest possible setting. It should be at no more than 100 to 150 ℉. Drying on a low setting preserves as much of the essential oils and therapeutic benefits as possible. Do not overheat the drying plants. This can cause them to lose their essential oils.
It can take between 24 and 48 hours to fully dry your harvest depending on the type and size of the buds and your dehydrator. To test if the buds are fully dry, break one apart. A dry bud feels dry and crumbles. The middle stem doesn’t bend.
Once dry, place the buds in an air-tight container to store until you are ready to use them.
Store dried buds in an air-tight container away from direct light.
3 Drying on Screens or in Baskets
Similar to the drying by hanging method, this form of slow drying your harvest is often favored by traditional herbalists. You can use this method to dry just the buds or full stems.
If you do not have a herb drying rack, a homemade drying rack can be constructed with shelves or flat framed screens. A useful investment, Herb Drying Rack can be used to dry a range of flowers, cannabis plants and many herbs.
To dry, spread the flowers out in a single layer. Try not to crowd the flowers or bunch them too closely together. Allowing good airflow between the harvested buds helps them to dry fully and evenly.
How to Store Your Dried Buds
When you have fully dried them, the buds can be left on the long stems to add interest to dried floral displays and arrangements.
Alternatively, you can cut and strip the buds from the stems and store them in an airtight glass container such as a Clip Top Kilner Jar. This helps the buds to stay fresh, retaining as much flavor and aroma as possible. Place the glass jar in a cool, dry, dark location.
Using Dried Lavender
Once you know when to harvest lavender and how to dry it you will find that the dried plants have a variety of uses.
As well as adding interest to floral bouquets, you can use the dried buds in aromatherapy oils and salves to reduce stress, anxiety, depression and ease insomnia. The aroma of the dried buds also repels pests.
Dried lavender is a natural anti-inflammatory, it also has antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal and pain relieving properties. It is considered safe to use in homemade medicines and body care products.
You can also place the dried buds in a small mesh bag or cheesecloth to create soothing potpourri sachets. These can be placed on bedside tables, in cars, drawers or bathrooms. Alternatively the buds infused into a room or linen spray. You can also infuse the buds to make an aromatic infused oil, salve, tincture, soap or body scrub.
A useful plant, learning how to grow and when to harvest lavender is easier than you may think.
Lavandula flowers are edible. Harvest English and hybrid types are best for culinary purposes. Spanish and French varieties have a higher camphor content which makes them less sweet and palatable.
You can use lavender for a variety of culinary purposes. The buds can be turned into a sugar or syrup to sweeten desserts, cakes, cocktails and cookies. You can also use the plants in both sweet and savory marinades as well as flavoring a range of dishes such as roast chicken and roast potatoes.
Old buds and stems that have been deadheaded, as well as those not suitable for drying, can be used as a top dressing in pot plants and window boxes. When used in this way the stems and flowers are an organic mulch that is pleasingly reliable in repelling pests.
Fragrant and attractive, lavandula plants are one of the most versatile specimens that you can cultivate. Suitable for a range of growing conditions, with the right care, knowing when to harvest lavender opens up a world of possibilities.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.