‘Golden rule’ for pruning lavender before winter – what to ‘never’ do

Gardeners' World: Monty Don advises on pruning lavender

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Lavender is a Mediterranean evergreen shrub, grown for its fragrant leaves and bee-friendly flowers. There are hardy, half-hardy and tender species of lavender to choose from. Lavenders work in a variety of situations, from wildlife gardens to cottage gardens and even formal gardens, such as planted beneath shrub roses or used as a low-growing lavender hedge. Many lavenders thrive in pots. But how can gardeners for the harsh UK winter conditions?

Mark Bennett, a professional gardener with over 10 years of experience, has shared how gardeners can implement certain steps to ensure that their lavender is cared for over winter so that it can provide a beautiful bloom with strong aromas in the following growing season.

He said: “To prepare your lavenders for winter the two most important things you can do are tidy away fallen leaves that have accumulated around the lavender and prune the lavender into a dense, robust mound shape as this will more effectively resist the effects of winter weather.”

Tidying away fallen leaves

Fallen leaves can act as a useful mulch for some plants but lavenders prefer soil that drains well and does not hold onto excess moisture, according to Mark. 

He explained: “This is because lavenders are native to the Mediterranean region of Europe where they thrive in sandy soils that are relatively low in fertility.”

Leaves have an exceptional capacity to hold onto water, which will create unfavourable conditions that could lead to the fungal disease root rot, which commonly occurs in damp soils.

So in autumn, the expert advised: “Make sure that you rake (or use a leaf blower) out and clear all decaying organic matter from around your lavender and place it on your compost heap.

“At this time of year you can lay some sand or gravel down to act as a mulch to suppress weeds. The sand in particular will wash into the soil over time and improve the soil drainage by creating a more porous structure.”

Pruning lavender before winter

Mark said: “Lavenders should be pruned every year as this will slow down the formation of woody growth, increase the longevity, maintain an attractive shape and stimulate greater flower production.”

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The main pruning should be done at the start of spring to really dictate the lavender’s shape and appearance. 

However, the expert noted that gardeners should also perform a light pruning of their lavender plants in the late summer/early autumn to prepare it for the coming winter.

Mark said: “The goal with lavender pruning should always be to form a nice, dense mound-shaped shrub as this is considered most attractive and it will prevent winter damage.

“To prune your lavender for winter you should cut spent flower stems back and tidy up the appearance, round off the lavender nicely.

“The golden rule of lavender pruning is to never cut back to the woody material as the wood does not rejuvenate and the wood is the weakest least resilient part of the plant.”

At this time of year, gardeners should not be taking much foliage off the lavender. The professional gardener explained: “The most you should cut back is a third of the green growth, the most important factor is to shape the lavender into a mound so it is more robust.

“A mound shape will prevent and deflect snow, ice or excess water from getting inside the lavender and harming the more vulnerable woody base of the lavender plant.”

Watering lavender over winter

Lavenders enter a state of winter dormancy and do not require much water at all over winter. Lavenders are also a drought-tolerant shrub so watering over winter is very low maintenance.

According to Mark, established lavenders will not need any additional water over winter. He said: “The problem with lavenders is usually with too much water over winter thanks to the higher winter rainfall in most climates.”

Lavenders in their first year of growth may benefit from water once every four to six weeks in winter if there has been no significant rainfall, but they will more than likely receive sufficient water over winter without watering thanks to a lower evaporation rate in cold weather.

It may be necessary to bring potted, non-English lavenders indoors over winter to protect them from frosts. In these circumstances, the lavender will require a moderate amount of water over winter to stop it from drying out completely.

This should be done once every four to six weeks too, however, if the soil feels remotely damp to the touch (when tested to finger’s depth) then you should forgo watering for now.

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