Motto for the lavender
grower:
Be Patient!

Our first lavender plants went into the ground in 1999. I
tested 100 plants of over a dozen varieties, including
lavandins and they all did well. Combining book research,
farm consultations and experience, I was sure that growing
lavender in mid-Michigan would prove to be hard work, with
a most rewarding harvest. The first three seasons went fairly
well, although I discovered micro-climates that were either
more or less conducive to certain varieties. I moved plants
around and true to the "books" they would start to bloom as
promised. The angustifolias always bloomed first, starting in
mid-May and staggering by variety. The lavandins would
start to bloom in July and some continued to throw out
stems, with others having a rebloom in the fall.

Spring of 2002. We had sustained cold and wet weather. The
angustifolias didn't bloom on schedule. But the plants were all
healthy and green. We had a heat wave in June and by the
first week in July, every plant on the farm decided to bloom
at once! I spent a frantic week or so cutting stems for six
hours a day to get the harvest in. It was our best harvest,
with our oldest plants having reached full maturity finally at
three years. I harvested over 700 bundles of lavender, with
the bulk of them being Grosso.

Then came winter of 2002/2003. We had no snow cover here
that winter and then in mid-March it hit minus 16 degrees one
night. I remember feeling sickened over this as I looked out
over the lavender - this would be the real test of hardiness, I
knew. I was most worried about the lavandins, as they are
not as hardy as the angustifolias, and without any protection,
I wouldn't know for many months whether or not they would
survive this weather. (Note that in seasons past, I had
actually been out pruning lavender in March). Because the
temperatures were fluctuating all spring and going as low as
minus 10 at night even in April, I did not do the normal
spring pruning. It can damage the plant to prune it if the
temperatures go below freezing immediately afterwards. We
continued to have sustained cool and wet weather. The
lavender was weeks and weeks behind, barely coming out of
dormancy. BE PATIENT I kept telling myself and others.
When people would call to report their lavender was dead, I
explained that we had not had enough warm weather or sun
yet.The Folgate, as well as all of the rest of the 1500 plants
here on our farm, were still completely grey up until the 3rd
week in May (in nicer springs I have harvested the Folgate by
mid-May!) With a couple of days of sunshine in late May, I
was able to finally see some little bits of green emerging from
the bottom of
some of the angustifolias. Whereas many
people had impatiently thrown out those dead looking plants,
I knew from experience to let them alone. I had one season
where I had pruned the Fred Boutins and we got a hard frost
that night. It shocked the plants and they looked dead. I was
too impatient and dug out many of them, saving only three or
four of the largest plants. Those that I left alone did not get
green until August of that summer. The next year they were
beautiful. So I learned a lesson in patience. Give your
lavender plants time when the weather is not conducive to
lavender's needs..

By mid-July (2003),  I had harvested only 22 bundles of
lavender and those were Folgate. I was still seeing green
emerging and had vowed to leave the rest alone and prune as
they greened up, and harvest what I could. This was the year
that I found out which lavenders are the hardiest.

By fall of 2003 I realized that the winter of 2002 with its
unusual weather pattern had devestated most of my
lavandins. I was heartsick to admit defeat and had to pull out
over 800 mature Grosso, White Spike, Fred Boutin, Old
English and other lavandins. These plants were at their height
of production size-wise, some over 48" across in width and
48" high. We could go another 10 years growing lavandins
without a problem, but then, should we realize another winter
like that one, we would risk losing the plants again. At this
point, I've decided to concentrate primarily on the hardy
angustifolias for our display gardens, knowing I can't fight
Mother Nature.
Is this plant dead?
This is what lavender looks like at the end of winter,
beginning of spring. The Grosso lavender above looks
dead, but if you look closely at the bottom of the plants,
you will see how they green up gradually from the
bottom. Remember that lavender is a semi-shrub, and if
you treat it more like a shrub, than your standard
perennial flowers, you will have better success growing
lavender.
The Hardiest Angustifolias -
One of the things gained from disaster is usually
knowledge. The winter of 2002 taught me which of the
plants are the very hardiest, and they are not the ones
spoken of in the literature. Traditionally Wyckoff has
purported to be the hardiest, good to minus 25 degrees
and Hidcote and Munstead are touted as also hardy
lavenders. Well, in my weather weary garden, the
following proved to be the best lavenders for cold
climates:
Folgate
Ashdown Forest
Betty's Blue
Nana Alba
Martha Roderick
Melissa
Royal Velvet
Royal Purple
Jean Davis
Hidcote Pink
Grey Lady
Croxton's Wild
Graves