How to Grow French lavender For Late Spring & Early Summer Colour

Written by Hannah Miller. Reviewed and Fact Checked by Elizabeth Smith. Published to Spring Plants. Updated: 20th February 2023.

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I’ve been growing French lavender for over 8 years, and I’ve fallen in love with the unique bracts that sit atop the single stems.

This is my guide to growing this popular lavender, based on my experience here in my Surrey garden.

Key points:

  1. Lavenders dislike nutrient-rich soil, I’ve had great results in sandy, gravelly ground conditions.
  2. They are drought tolerant, and during the hottest day on record in the UK, I was on holiday and didn’t water them – they thrived.
  3. They perform best in full sun.
  4. I’ve never fertilised them.
  5. They are one of the easiest plants to maintain in my garden.
  6. I’ve grown them in borders as well as in pots and containers of various sizes.
  7. I’ve used the stems and bracts as a fragrance in my home.

Size

Height: Up to 60cm (24″)

Spread: Up to 50cm (20″)

Type

Type

An evergreen dwarf shrub often grown as a tender perennial in the UK

Growth icon

Growth

Moderate growth and reaches full size within a few years

Difficulty

Very easy to grow but may live around 5 years or so in the UK climate (possibly longer)

Native

Southern Europe

Location

A free-draining spot in full sun, preferably with poor soil, (avoid rich soil) in either a sheltered or exposed location

Sunlight

Full sun

Hardiness

US zone 7-9. In some parts of the UK, it may struggle after prolonged, wet or particularly cold winters. Can be grown as a short-lived perennial (~5 yrs) but may surprise and live for many years

Water & Feed

Water after planting and then leave alone, lavenders are drought tolerant

Companions

Place near plants that don’t require too much water to fertiliser

Planting

Dig in grit to improve drainage if required. Don’t add fertiliser or organic matter as lavenders prefer poor soil. Plant from spring to autumn

Flowering

Usually in late spring and then in flushes through to autumn

Closeup of lavender bract

A closeup of a lavender bract in my garden

French lavender growing in a border

French lavender growing in my border

Questions Answered

Here I answer questions about lavenders, the answers I provide are based on my knowledge and 8 years experience of growing French lavenders in my garden:

How and When are French Lavenders Sold?

French lavender is sold as seeds or as potted plants.

Sow seeds in a propagator from February to July, where germination may take up to 3 weeks. Pot on and grow in cooler conditions until established and then move to the garden during warm weather.

I purchased all of my lavenders as potted plants from my local garden centre, you’ll probably see rows of them in spring as they’re a popular plant.

Where is the best location to plant French lavenders?

As lavenders are native to the Mediterranean, it should be no surprise that they prefer a sunny spot in free-draining soil.

Lavenders dislike boggy, nutrient-rich soil, so I located mine as far away from my thirsty, hungry plants as possible.

I’ve had great results in sandy, chalky and gravelly soil, and I’ve previously grown them in containers where they performed well.

Based on my experience, I suggest growing them:

  • in poor soil.
  • in a warm, sunny spot
  • in pots in sunlight
  • away from plants that require lots of water or fertiliser

How should the ground be prepared?

The soil here in my Surrey garden is nutrient-rich so added lots of gravel and some horticultural sand to loosen it up.

In my pots, I added gravel and sand as well.

How much water or fertiliser does French lavender require?

I’ve never fertilised my lavenders as this can cause them to grow very leggy and woody, rather than compact and neat.

I only watered them after I planted them, after which I left them alone.

Even during the 2022 UK heatwave, I didn’t water them, and they thrived.

How tall and wide will French lavenders grow?

French lavender can grow to just over 60cm (24″) high and up to 50cm (20″) wide after several years, however I’ve kept mine more compact by pruning them yearly down to a neat mound, as you can see in the bottom-left of my photo here:

Daniel Woodley pruning French lavender

Are there any benefits to pruning and deadheading French lavenders?

Unlike other lavenders, the French type has the potential to rebloom later in the summer, and I’ve seen secondary bracts appear as early autumn.

While English lavender can be pruned down into the woody section, French lavender is more sensitive and should be pruned lightly, I’ve found that just above the woody stems is best.

I usually prune after the bracts have faded and the bees stop showing interest.

If you don’t prune lavenders, they become woody and leggy with a sparse crown. I always prune each year and suggest you do as well.

Are there any pests or diseases of concern?

My French lavenders haven’t experienced any bug problems or diseases in 8 years.

From my experience, issues are more likely to affect them if they are grown in boggy soil, as lavenders hate wet feet.

I spoke to a few friends who grow French lavender, and I was told that Rosemary beetle is the most common pest, and there are several control methods gardeners can try.

When do French lavenders flower and how long for?

This shrub will flower for up to 4 weeks in late spring and into early summer.

I usually deadhead promptly, as this appears to encourage new bracts to form, as you can see in my photo below:

Deadheaded French lavender

Can lavenders be propagated to create more plants?

I’ve tried lifting and dividing French lavender but my success rate has been low – this shrub struggles when it’s lifted from the ground.

I have propagated several lavenders from stem cuttings but the success rate was also low – around 10%.

Are French lavenders toxic or harmful to humans and pets?

French lavender isn’t toxic to humans and is often used as a fragrance in oils, soaps and other beauty and household products.

I always use the cut stems and bracts as a fragrance in my home, where they last for weeks.

While mildly toxic to cats, dogs and horses, it’s unlikely to be of concern unless consumed in large quantities.

Source 1.

Source 2.

Source 3.

Are lavenders beneficial to wildlife?

All lavenders are beneficial to pollinators, including bees which are attracted to the strong fragrance. My garden is quite literally buzzing with bees and they seem to like the lavenders more than anything else I grow.

Can French lavenders be grown in pots?

Yes, and I’ve had great results growing French lavender in pots. I suggest you keep them in a sunny spot and make sure drainage is good.

Buy French Lavender Online

Mr Fothergill's 23939 Flower Seeds, Lavender French
French Lavender Plants, Ready for The Garden. 'Papillon'. Dwarf Lavender Ideal for beds and Borders. Perennial. 9cm Plant x 2. Available from Bedwen Plants
Mr Fothergill's 23939 Flower Seeds, Lavender French
French Lavender Plants, Ready for The Garden. 'Papillon'. Dwarf Lavender Ideal for beds and Borders. Perennial. 9cm Plant x 2. Available from Bedwen Plants
Mr Fothergill's 23939 Flower Seeds, Lavender French
Mr Fothergill's 23939 Flower Seeds, Lavender French
French Lavender Plants, Ready for The Garden. 'Papillon'. Dwarf Lavender Ideal for beds and Borders. Perennial. 9cm Plant x 2. Available from Bedwen Plants
French Lavender Plants, Ready for The Garden. 'Papillon'. Dwarf Lavender Ideal for beds and Borders. Perennial. 9cm Plant x 2. Available from Bedwen Plants

Growing French Lavender: At a Glance

If you’re in a hurry, here are ten key points:

  1. I’ve noticed that French lavender isn’t as hardy as the English variety and, if grown in cooler parts of the UK, should be considered a short-lived perennial with a life expectancy of around 5 years.
  2. It’s one the tallest varieties of lavender, occasionally reaching 0.8m in height, but I always prune mine to a mound.
  3. French lavender blooms for up to 4 weeks in late spring and early summer, and I’ve successfully encouraged a secondary bloom by prompt deadheading.
  4. Water until established and then ease off completely as lavender is drought tolerant.
  5. There is no need to fertilise lavender, and I’ve found that the best soil is slightly sandy and gritty without too much organic matter.
  6. Full sun is best, but in my garden, French lavender copes slightly better with light shade than the English variety I also grow.
  7. Grow near plants that aren’t too thirsty or hungry.
  8. Prune to shape in autumn or spring to just above the woody stems (Read my guide: How to prune lavender like a pro)
  9. Propagate by softwood cuttings or take a chance and divide existing stock.
  10. The bracts on French lavender are genuinely unique, and I’ve found that the aroma is nearly as strong as English lavender, which is used in soaps and beauty products.

I grow the classic French lavender in my garden, but recently I have seen some interesting alternatives that have white stripes or white flarings:

1) “Snowman”

A compact variety growing up to 40cm and producing white flaring petals on the top and white spikes around the bract. “Snowman” is quite rare and definitely one for the adventurous gardener to try.

2) “Twin Summer”

An exciting cultivar that’s predominantly purple but with splashes of white, grows to 60cm.

3) “Ballerina”

This lavender is bi-colour with white flaring flowers at the top and purple spikes around a green bract – winner of the RHS’s Award of Garden Merit.

Companion Plants

I grow my French lavenders in pots on my patio, and near my door in very poor soil and also in my border next to plants that don’t need much water or feed.

Consider these:

French lavender can also be grown with its cousin and more popular English variety too. I’ve been trying this, and it’s interesting to watch them grow side-by-side, I must say, I prefer the French variant.

Elizabeth’s Expert Advice

Here is a quote from Elizabeth Smith, a qualified horticulturist:

If you live in a cooler part of the UK, consider English lavender instead as it’s more winter hardy and will likely survive for many years. French lavender usually lives for 5 years or so but longer in warmer areas.

If you buy your lavenders late in the year, snip off any blooms so the plant sends energy to root development, you’ll be rewarded with more bracts and a healthier shrub the following year.

Elizabeth Smith

More Photos

Deadheaded French lavender

Prompt deadheading can encourage a second and even third flush of blooms

Purple allium bloom against a green hedge background

I took this photo of a bee on one the bracts

French lavender bracts

French lavender bracts are surrounded by small spiky blooms and topped with flaring flowers

French lavender in border

A cluster of French lavender bracts in my garden

Our Expertise: Backed by a Qualified Horticulturist

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This guide was reviewed and fact-checked by qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith.

Explore: Elizabeth's profile and qualifications.

Meet The Author: Hannah Miller

Hannah is a keen gardener who grows organic fruit and vegetables in her Surrey garden and is moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. 

She is also the proud grower of a dahlia and herb garden.

Hannah worked for the NHS for 12 years but also has a level 3 qualification in horticulture and is currently studying for her level 4.

More About Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller

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This lavender growing guide was published by DIY Gardening

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