Culinary Lavendar

lolaaz(9/10)April 8, 2010

I'm brand new to GW but already impressed with the information I'm finding here. I could use some guidance on starting (from seed) and growing culinary Lavendar here in Phoenix, AZ. Some garden guides say this is zone 9, others say it's zone 10 or 10b. I'm having moderate success with a Square Foot Garden (planted the end of Feb) and with several container grown plants. With some 300+ days of sunshine each year and temperatures already in the 80's, I'm hoping I'm not too late to get started with culinary Lavendar. Any and all feedback will be much appreciated. Thanks all!

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It is important that you get the true English Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, or one of its derivatives, such as Hidcote, Lady or Munstead (derivatives aka cultivars may not breed true from seed). Other lavenders taste and smell somewhat camphor-y - not desirable to the taste-buds!

The concept of climate 'zones' as used in America is alien to me. But from your description, your lavender should do OK - as long as you give it some water, especially when it's young. Lavender can take copious amounts of water, as long as the excess is allowed to drain away quickly. It becomes more drought-resistant as it gets older, but will always require some watering in hot/dry times.

In its natural habitat, lavender prefers hot, dry, sunny summers and a winter rainy season. But it does well here in the subtropics, which is just the opposite - hot wet summers, and mild, dry winters. In a true Mediterranean climate, winter temperatures rarely drop below 5C (41°F) and are more likely to be in the region of 12°-13°C (53°-55°F) while in summer averages can be up to 27°C (80°F).

Lavender can do OK in a pot, as long as it's big enough to accommodate the root system. It prefers a pH of pH 6.5-7.5. Remember, potted plants are high maintenance - you will probably need to water your plant much more frequently than if you put it in the garden, and you'll need to fertilise it from time to time as well. Tricky with a plant which prefers to work hard for its living. As a rule, the poorer the soil, the better will be the fragrance and flavour.

Seeds are difficult to germinate and should be refrigerated for one month, or frozen for 24 hours, before sowing. They should be sown in autumn at an ideal temperature of 20°C. Just barely cover seed. They need warmth and good light. If no germination in 3-4 weeks, move to Â4-+4°C for 2-4 weeks. Once established, prune each spring or summer by about one-third.

If you want to start from seed, by all means give it a go. But you might find it easier and better to start with a small plant - for one thing, you can usually trust that a plant you can see is going to be the one you want, whereas (as you'll know if you read this forum regularly) some seed-suppliers are somewhat flexible with the truth of their labelling. You MIGHT get English lavender, but then again, you might not!

Broadly-speaking, the English lavender has grey-green, narrow, spear-shaped leaves with no indentations at all along the edges. French and other lavenders have a serrated edge to their leaves. Also, the flowers of English lavender a quite a deep purple colour. Other species tend to have paler colour.

Harvesting: For drying, pick flowers just as they open, along with some of the foliage, and hang in bunches upside down in a dark, airy room. Some experts recommend harvesting when the bottom third of the flower spike is in bloom. Do not use excessive or prolonged heat if drying them artificially, as the oil is very volatile. When they are dry, rub the flower heads over a bowl to loosen them from the stem.

In an ideal garden situation, English Lavender will get to about 1 metre tall. I've seen it 1.5 metres tall in a temperate climate, but here in the subtropics it rarely gets to 1 metre (probably due to the high summer temps of up to 40C, usually mid-30s). Lavender is a short-lived perennial, and is best replaced every 5 years or so - though I've seen some plants live for double that without being unduly straggly and woody.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 4:30AM
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I think in Phoenix with your 100+F with dry humidity you may find that your lavender needs to be grown in shade but where there is light wind circulation.

Please try and forget about temperature zones. There are two types heat and cold. Most refer to the cold one as the heat zone idea is a recent addition. Try to think more as climate type since zone wise you are in the same zone as humid Florida while you are living in a desertly area.

By culinary are you planing on using the leaves or just flowers. If you plan on using leaves like I do test smell the plant before you purchase as there is a wide variety of scents. Some are stronger where others have what I call a sharp scent.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 10:37PM
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Thanks you both for taking the time to reply. I'd purchased a lovely English Lavendar from a local nursery, but it's my understanding that one cannot use nursery grown Lavendar for culinary purposes because it's likely been treated with pesticide. I've purchased some seeds and will refrigerate them as instructed, then I'll start them indoors and see where that takes me. With a little luck, my darling husband will have Lavendar-infused Creme Brulee for his September birthday! Thanks again!!!


    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 11:16PM
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Once the plant has grown a while any pesticide should be out of it's system. By September your plant could be big enough to use. You can sidestep the growing by purchasing lavendar flowers from a tea shop as long as they are not labeled for external use only. That way you can practice getting the infusion correct before his birthday. Lavendar shortbread goes well with Creme Brulee.

Although many use just the flowers I like using the leaves in all kinds of dishes esp chicken soup or placed inside a roasted chicken. The English lavenders do poorly for me so I grow the larger leafed ones such as Provance or Dutch leafed.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2010 at 12:44AM
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Is Dutch leaf same as Dutch Mill?

    Bookmark   April 9, 2010 at 10:36AM
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Dutch Mill is one of the names some large leafed lavendars are sold under. If you have a nursery with a good selection of lavendars try and look at types side by side to compare. Sad to say some nurseries receive the same plants/seeds from different nurseries with the same or different names. Unless you look at the plant structure you can, I have, ending up purchasing several of the same plant just because the name was not the same.

The sellers are not trying to pull a scam it is just the way they receive their information.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2010 at 9:01PM
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