Whether you want to grow and use your own herbs, or if you simply desire an attractive plant for the landscape, you can’t beat lavender. Cultivated for centuries, this charming perennial sub-shrub has wonderfully fragrant flowers and leaves.
The name of the plant is derived from the Latin “lavare,” meaning to wash. Leaves and flowers have been used for several millennia to do just that – wash. Fragrant baths, hair rinses, to cleanse and treat skin ailments, and, in the past, to help eliminate lice and bedbugs from the household. Lavender essential oil is popular in aromatherapy. Tea made from leaves and flowers has been used to treat sleeplessness, restlessness, headache, flatulence, and nervous stomach. At this time, Commission E, a German-based group which scientifically studied herbal medicines, recommends using lavender for insomnia and circulatory and gastrointestinal disorders.
Lavender is easy to grow in our area. There are four to choose from (plus a number of cultivars).
* English lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) tend to be stressed by our summers, and needs ample water – but well-drained soils. It will do best in a garden that gets only morning sun in USDA Zones 10-8.
* Spanish lavender (Lavendula stoechas) tends to be better adaptable to our summers than the English, but needs afternoon shade to survive in USDA Zones 10-8.
* French or toothed lavender (Lavendula dentata) does best with some noon-time shade in summer. Perhaps the fuzziness of the leaves helps them reflect sunlight and reduce water loss better than their two cousins.
* Sonoran native desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi), a shrub often found growing along area washes. Desert lavender reaches 4 to 6 feet high and is covered with fragrant gray green leaves. Summer brings spikes of fragrant purple flowers that butterflies adore.
Soil. Like most herbs, lavenders do best in well-drained soil. Add ample sand and compost to help ameliorate clay soils.
Water. They will need irrigation on a regular basis. While the native desert lavender is winter dormant, the European species will need water year round.
Fertilize. Use half strength fertilizer once a month in any month that doesn’t freeze.
Care. Harvest and prune often. Like most herbs, lavender should be trimmed two to three times per year to control rampant growth and keep the plant producing quality blooms.
Harvest. Harvest stalks of lavender blooms just as the lower-most flowers open. This gives you buds with optimum fragrance. Dry these, like all herbs, out of direct sunlight.
No matter what species of lavender you plant, native lavender or European species, lavender adds refreshing fragrance to your living spaces, both indoors and out.
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).
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