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Diggin' It

Lavender is a fragrant addition to summer gardens

Beloved for fragrance, lavender is a colorful charmer in summer gardens and containers

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French and Spanish varieties don’t mind the humidity, but may need to be treated as annuals north of Zone 9. Provence and Sweet are two varieties that have done consistently well in Southern gardens.

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No matter where you live, all lavenders require full sun, an airy location, and slightly alkaline soil. Superior drainage is a must; otherwise dreaded root rot may come to call. Adding rotted manure and small stones to both clay and sandy soils will help improve drainage problems.

 Lavenders may require a little extra water during their first season, but they don’t need fertilizer. Some experts also recommend sprinkling a bit of potash around the base of each bush in the spring to heighten flower quality and color.

Lavender care

Spring is also the time to carry out your pruning chores – cut back hard to about eight inches high. Otherwise your plants will get lanky and woody. Then tidy up unruly branches over the growing season. Be sure to stop pruning by the first of October to give plants a chance to harden off before winter.

Harvest flower stems just as they begin to open. Pick the dark-flowered lavenders when just one or two flowers are open. Choose a warm, dry day and prune late in the morning – damp flower stalks can encourage mold. Hang small bunches of cuttings tied with rubber bands upside down to dry in a well-ventilated room. Don’t allow sunlight to hit your bundles or flowers might fade.

Once the heads have dried, there are all sorts of ways to enjoy the harvest: Add a pinch of lavender flowers to freshly baked breads. Mix the flowers in potpourris or create your own unique sachets. Then breathe deeply and recapture some cherished summer memories.

PSSSST: Recently I wrote about trying to replace some of my favorite plants after moving. I’ve since discovered a wonderful small nursery that specializes in antique and old garden roses. If you are looking for something special or hard-to-find, check out Rose Petals Nursery.

Editor's Note: For more about cooking with lavender and growing Spanish lavender in Zone 8, see Growing and cooking with lavender and rice, a Diggin' It blog post from earlier this week..

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Lynn Hunt, the Rose Whisperer, is one of more than a dozen expert gardeners who blog regularly at Diggin' It. She's an accredited horticultural judge and a Consulting Rosarian Emeritus for the American Rose Society. She has won dozens of awards for her writing in newspapers, magazines, and television. After a recent move, she grows roses and other plants in her garden in the mountains of western North Carolina.. To read more by Lynn, click here.You can also follow her on Twitter and read her Dirt Diaries.

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