What To Do With Woody Lavender: Tips On Pruning Woody Lavender Plants

By: Teo Spengler

Lavender shrubs bear bright, fragrant blossoms and can live for 20 years or more. However, after six or eight years, they can begin to look woody, filled with dead wood and bearing fewer of their sweet-smelling flowers. Don’t give up on these plants. If you want to know what to do with woody lavender, understand that pruning woody lavender plants can often restore them to their former glory. Read on to learn how to trim a lavender with woody stems.

Preventing Woody Lavender

Prevention is always easier than cure. If you have young, healthy lavender plants, you can work at preventing woody lavender with appropriate planting and cultural care. The keys to lavender care are good drainage and minimal fertilizer.

Plant your lavender in well-drained, rocky soil, on a slope (if possible) to ensure drainage. Fertilize them lightly the very first year after planting. After that, do not fertilize regularly. Prune lavender lightly to maintain the rounded shape.

What to Do with Woody Lavender

When you notice that your lavender is woody, it’s time to take action to help it recover. Here’s what to do with woody lavender plants: prune them. Pruning woody lavender plants is the key to rejuvenating them.

For restorative pruning, be sure to sterilize the pruners by soaking them in a solution of water and denatured alcohol to prevent disease spread. It’s also important that the tool blades are sharp.

Prune these lavender in spring when all frost is finished for the season. A frost can kill off new plant growth.

How to Trim a Lavender with Woody Stems

It isn’t hard to learn how to trim a lavender with woody stems. The basic rule of pruning lavender is not to trim into brown, dead wood. You’ll usually find brown branches at the base of the plant. Remove them only when they are truly dead. Never cut them back, hoping to stimulate new growth. The plant cannot produce new growth from the woody parts.

When you’re pruning woody lavender plants, it’s also a good idea not to prune all of the plant at the same time. Instead, work slowly, trimming back each branch, but never cutting into the brown wood. You can trim branches back by one-third or one-half. Always be sure that there are green leaves still on the plant when you are done pruning.

The entire restoration may take several years to accomplish, as you never want to do too much pruning at one time. Prune again in autumn just to shape the plant, then weed all around it and offer a handful of slow-release granular fertilizer to help get your lavender growing well before the winter cold snap.

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How to Prune Lavender Plants

The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

A hardy plant for dry spots and one of the longest-blooming semi-shrubs around, lavender (Lavandula) would earn a place in most sunny gardens even if it didn’t have such a heavenly scent. There’s more good news: Lavender is easy to prune, and when you do it you’ll be covered for the rest of the day in those aromatic oils. When it's time to prune your lavender, tailor the process to the age and variety of the plant.

Watch Now: How to Prune Lavender Plants

How to Harvest

Many gardeners prune and harvest their lavender at the same time. Removing the flowering stems from the bush promotes new growth in the plant's roots, keeps the plant looking tidy, and gives you bunches of fragrant, fresh lavender flowers. To enjoy dried stem bunches or dried buds for cooking, you want to cut the lavender when just a few of the buds on the stem have bloomed. This will allow you to enjoy a more vibrant color in the dried stems and the buds do not fall off as easy once dried. Harvesting in the spring or early summer gives the plant enough time to possibly produce more flowers for a second cutting. The best time of day to harvest lavender is in the morning, after the dew has dried but before the heat of the sun draws out too much of the fragrant essential oils.

The best tool for harvesting lavender is a small, scythe-like instrument called a harvesting knife, but a sharp hand pruner will work fine. Using your thumb and middle finger, encircle a bunch of stems above the leaves and make a clean cut, being careful not to crush any flowers. A first-year lavender bush will typically produce enough flowers to form just one or two bunches, while a fully mature plant may produce 8 to 10 bunches of lavender.

WATCH: 11 Pretty Purple Flowers to Plant in Your Garden

Pruning Lavender Plants

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Know When to Prune Lavender

The very best time to prune lavender is after the plants flower.

Photo by: freya photographer / Shutterstock.com

freya photographer / Shutterstock.com

The very best time to prune lavender is after the plants flower.

Discover what you need to know for pruning lavender successfully. While lavender is tough-as-nails in the right growing conditions, it does need special attention when it comes to pruning. As a matter of fact, pruning lavender plants correctly can help yield more flowers and a healthier, longer-lived plant.

In botanical circles, lavender is known as a semi-shrub. Understanding this concept forms the foundation for proper lavender pruning. A semi-shrub is a plant that grows like a perennial, producing green growth each year. The older parts of stems on a semi-shrub start turning to wood after a few growing seasons. On any type of lavender, you’ll find that deep inside the pretty mound of grey-green leaves, stem bases are woody.

Those woody stems—in a lavender plant—are not good news. That wood is weak, not strong like a tree trunk, and when winter brings snow or ice, the woody stems are more likely to break. Lavender’s woody stems don’t produce new green growth, so as stem tissue shifts to wood, your plant is losing the ability to produce additional green shoots, which are the ones that flower. While pruning lavender, if you cut into woody stems, they won’t grow again, but simply die.

When you’re pruning lavender plants, you’re aiming to slow down the plant’s progress toward forming woody stems. In general, you need to plan on pruning lavender at planting time and every year right after it flowers. When planting lavender, prune plants lightly, removing all growing tips. This encourages the plant to branch. Use this same technique every year as new growth starts to appear.

Pruning lavender after flowering is ideal, but if you miss the window, don’t fret. You can slot your lavender pruning when it works for you, as long as you complete it by early spring. Lavender flowers on the new growth that appears each year, so if you prune before new growth really starts lengthening, you won’t interfere with blossom formation.

Pruning lavender in spring is also sometimes necessary in coldest regions to remove stems that suffer winter damage. Pruning lavender in late summer to fall helps open the plant’s interior to allow good air circulation and also removes some of the branches, which can ultimately help prevent winter damage. Ideally, pruning lavender in spring and fall is a great idea, if you can squeeze that into your garden chore schedule.

When you’re pruning lavender plants that are established, aim to remove at least one-third of all growth. With older plants, you can cut back to a point that’s three leaf pairs above the woody stem area. Don’t cut into the woody area, because the buds on those stems won’t sprout.

How to prune lavender like a pro

Lavender is a must-have plant in many Australian gardens - and for good reason. Not only does it look great when in flower, but lavender can fill the air with a wonderfully calming scent that carries in the breeze. Learning how to prune lavender correctly will keep its growth under control, and ensure that the plant stays healthy and productive for many years to come.

Cut lavender flowers can also be used for more than just fresh flower arrangements. When dried, for example, lavender can be used to make everything from fragrant wardrobe sachets to homemade bath bombs and can even added to a refreshing cocktail as a pretty finishing touch.

Why should you prune lavender?

We know lavender for its soothing scent, health benefits, and anti-inflammatory properties . Growing lavendar is relatively easy and maintenance is a breeze! As long as you keep up with chopping them twice a year, you’ll get long-lasting results with minimal effort.

Pruning trains your plant to withstand more stress and directs nutrients into growing new stems instead of repairing old ones. Not to mention, they keep your bushes looking neat and nicely shaped! But before you make the cut, it’s important to determine which type of lavender you’ll be working with.

Types of lavender

There are many species of lavender , but we’ll be covering two of the most popular varieties grown in Australia. While they may have different blooming times, the techniques for pruning them are the same.

How to prune English lavender

This ‘true lavender’ is the most versatile of them all, able to live for up to 25 years or more if maintained properly. They do very well outdoors and have long, slender blooms that occur late spring to early summer. Light pruning is best after the first harvest, followed by a heavier one during summer or fall.

They are more forgiving when you miss a pruning session and make for great hedges in the yard or garden. This variety is best for essential oils, tea, or potpourri.

How to prune French lavender

French or Spanish lavender blooms mid-spring with the lifespan of three to five years. They have shorter flowers with delicate petals that resemble butterflies. These bloom in summer or fall and regenerate faster than their English counterparts, which means you need to prune them lightly but more frequently.

Although they don’t do well in cold temperatures, they make for perfect decorative plants! You can move them indoors during winter so they don’t wither.

When is the best time to prune lavender?

For most lavender varieties, pruning is best done during spring, summer, or fall after harvest. It’s important to prune a few months before winter sets in to prevent frost and breakage from the snow. Regular pruning twice a year gives your plant time regenerate fresh flowers and stay in good shape for the next season.

  • For young plants, allow it to establish roots first, then prune away the new growth during its first year to increase its volume. We discourage young plants from blooming until they reach their second year, making pruning much easier as they get older.
  • For middle-aged plants, some heavy pruning is necessary, and you can remove up to one-third of the length. This is also the best time to shape them for increased airflow and even spacing between blossoms.
  • For mature plants - Don’t hold back! If you started pruning them early on, they’re ready for a more drastic chop. Heavier pruning wakes up dormant older stems to make them bloom and flower once again.

Gardening tools you'll need to prune lavender

Before getting started, you need some tools to get the job done. Sharpening your shears and trimmers will give your plants a clean cut to help them heal faster. To avoid contamination and disease, make sure your tools are clean and sanitised properly in a diluted bleach solution:

  • Gardening gloves for sanitation and protection
  • Pruning shears for small, singular plants
  • Hedge trimmer for bigger, outdoor bushes and hedges

How to prune lavender

If you want to fill your home or garden with beautiful, fragrant blooms, pruning is the best way to achieve that goal. Now it’s time to level up your lavender plant care with these five simple steps!

1. How to deadhead lavender

Do some spring cleaning by removing any dead or damaged bits and blooms from the shrub. You can do this during the summer, but you can also do so as many times as needed throughout the year.

2. Pruning

Take a bunch of shoots in your hands, then cut back at least two-thirds of the length with a good pair of pruning shears. Cut a few nodes above the woody base of the bush, but never prune too close to the bottom because they may not grow back.

3. Shaping

We recommend shaping your lavender into a mounded bun or gumdrop shape, then stop when it looks symmetrical all around. You’ll notice an even amount of shoots next season, and they’ll look more enchanting than ever!

4. Positioning

Lavenders love the sun! So make sure you place them somewhere with lots of sunshine. However, if you’re dealing with English or Spanish lavender, you need to take some precautions for colder climates. You can protect them from frost by moving them to a greenhouse or in your home during winter.

5. Cutting

Did you know that you can actually clone your plants? Take cuttings from your pruned plants and use them to propagate more lavender ! You can place them in a small pot, then start transplanting them to a soil bed when they get bigger.

There’s nothing lovelier than lavender

Lavender is one of nature’s most vibrant creations and having an abundance of them will add some much-needed colour to your life! Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to put our trimming tips to good use. Just remember to keep your lavenders looking lovely so they can give you lush blooms for many years to come!

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