overwintering lavender

jitsmith(5)March 9, 2014

I bought three types of lavender - English, Munster and Blue Mound - on a whim late last year, planted them, realized they were too damp there. The only dry sunny place I have to put them is in a barrel in the NW corner of the yard. I think they'd add color to an ugly spot near the trash cans - maybe with Purple Fountain Grass as an accent.

But: I'm wondering if anyone has had any luck overwintering perennial plants, above ground, in a half barrel. I'm afraid the roots would freeze and I'd loose them, 'cuz no way can I move that barrel after filling. Thought of bubble wrap, and old blankets - desperation. Can't put plants or pot in ground there due to concrete plate 6" under the ground.

I'm gonna add compost and spread Cosmos and portulacca seeds around, want the barrel in the corner. Please tell me it's possible, zone 5bCentralDenver. Thx

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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Jit,

Your English lavender and your 'Munstead' lavender are BOTH English lavender. 'Munstead' is just one of the named hybrid varieties. I wasn't familiar with Blue Mound so I googled it and didn't come up with anything. My guess is that's just some generic term that's being used on the plant tag. If the foliage is the same size and looks the same as the other two, that's English lavender too--Lavandula angustifolia.

Any good garden center around here should really only be selling the English--at least without warning you--since that's the one that's hardy to zone 5 and should pretty reliably survive our winters. I've seen French and Spanish lavender in big box stores at times, they do look somewhat different than the English (smell the same), but I'd say there's a 50/50 chance--or less--of them making it over winter. Hopefully all three of yours are English!

Those pics are my "current patch" of English lavender! It's either 'Munstead' or 'Hidcote'! I don't know which because it was already here when I bought the house, and those two are so similar that I can't tell the difference! Actually, none of the plants you see there were here when I bought the house! The original plant the previous owners had put in (as near as I could tell) was (first pic) right next to the front of the garage between the existing plants and the forward-most Hibiscus (the tall things by the garage!). That plant had already died when I moved in, but there were a couple new small plants (seedlings, about a year old) coming up in the general area! Ever since then I've just left the seedlings come up wherever they happen to be, unless they're totally in the way of something else, and that's how my "patch" has developed. A couple years after I moved here they "spread" across the walk, where I'm now getting more and more of them! I think they may be somewhat short-lived, but it's hard for me to be sure because of the way I "treat them!" I like to keep them short and compact like you see them in the pics so at least once, and sometimes twice each summer I cut them ALL the way down--an inch or two above the ground. That way they come back, short and compact, with a whole new bloom at least once, and depending on the summer, sometimes twice. But because I cut them down so severely, sometimes some of them don't come back at all! They DIE! That's ok with me too since there are so many of them, and since I know there will always be more seedlings coming up--somewhere!

So! About your situation! They definitely don't like to stay wet, so you're right to be moving them. All the plants you see in my pictures that came up as seedlings are growing thru the rock mulch, ON TOP OF LANDSCAPE FABRIC! A tiny root or two will find their way thru the landscape fabric down into the really, really bad clay that's below it, and that's "what" they're growing in! In other words, they'll grow ANYWHERE! Growing in a whiskey barrel, barrel, planter above ground is always a little chancy, but if you can get them pretty well established this summer, my guess would be that they, or at least one or two would make it. And if they bloom, it's VERY likely that you, too, will start to see seedlings next spring--if not this fall already. Just remember to watch for them and don't pull them out as weeds!

And! If they do bloom for you this summer in the barrel, I'd expect you to have at least a couple seedlings coming up in your 6" of soil around the barrel too! (is this a "full" barrel, or a "half" whiskey barrel?) If you can get even just one plant to grow and bloom, you should have seedlings here and there, and you can very easily collect seed for future use--which you probably won't need because of the seedlings that come up all by themselves. The seeds are tiny black round seeds which will be very obvious when they start to ripen--put your hand under one of the dead flowers and tap it, if they're "ready" you'll see them!

So if you put cosmos and portulaca seed in the ground around the barrel, in a couple years I'm guessing those things will be competing with the lavender for space!

Stick them in the barrel and water them in well, and then don't water again till the soil is mostly dry down to where the bottom of the roots were. Then soak, let dry, soak, etc. I really don't think you'll have any problems. Can't guarantee what will happen next winter, but I'd say it's worth a try! (And if they should happen to all die--I'd be surprised--come to one of our swaps and I'll get some English lavender seed to you to try again!

Welcome to RMG,

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 3:57PM
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jitsmith, it's not a problem with the roots freezing. What you want to avoid with container growing is that the soil isn't freezing and thawing repeatedly. It's better to stay mostly frozen during the winter.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 5:21PM
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I'll try to remember to put "Bob" or "Bob Smith" someplace in the msg so I don't have to be jit - trying to find a user name when you're Robert James Smith is not easy.

Man, you can't beat GW for quick, helpful advice. So glad I found you guys.

Glad to hear this should work, I'm sure you all know how it is when you get a picture in your mind and just have to make it come true. I was already feeling down 'cuz I didn't know about the impatiens problem, and I had this vision of a bowl of white ones seeming to float on the rocks near my shady birdbath. My plan B for the lavender was smaller individual plastic pots and stick em in the ground in another bed overwinter.

This will all go in a 3'x4' new, sorta raised bed behind my chain link fence, in the alley. I prowl alleys when I walk, and always wonder why no one does anything with the space. We've got some artists working on garage walls and doors, damn few flowers.

Skybird - I was going to post pics, but first I guess I have to scale them down to fit the size limit. Anyway, the third one is tagged as Lavandula 'Blue Cushion', described as 'spectacular dwarf cushion habit. Astonishing free-flowering character.' Says grows 16" tall, 16" wide. Looks decidedly different from the English, compact with sort of fleshy-looking gray-green leaves. Did not grow any stems last year, looks like a low mat, but seems to have established itself and is showing life already this year. I bought it at City Floral in Denver, but here's a link to its home.

Here is a link that might be useful: Blooms of Bressingham

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 10:59PM
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gjcore - Thx. I knew freeze/thaw was death on terra cotta planters; is the frost heave associated with it as bad for plants, or is there another problem to worry about? No way It'll stay frozen all winter here.


    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 11:11PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

With three "initials" I thought maybe it meant something, like some kind of nickname or something. I'll just use the whole thing from now on--not very good at remembering real names to go with the screen names, so I usually use the screen names around here even when I know somebody personally, and for the folks that don't hang out as much, it's easier for them to figure out who somebody's talking about with the screen name. [As in: xyz posted about that last week, check out their thread.] But I AM curious! Why the three "initials?"

I just searched "lavender" with the variety name earlier when I didn't come up with anything. Did it with the botanical name now and got more! Or maybe I typed something wrong the first time!

Since it is L. angustifolia, it's English lavender, and it looks like the height is the same as the rest of them. Perennials.com is one of the first sites that came up and it's a pretty good site so it was the first one I checked. Will link it below. The pic they have looks the same as mine, 'Munstead' or 'Hidcote'. So if you wind up with a bunch of them growing into each other like mine, it should wind up looking pretty similar to what I have. If you want to keep them as individual plants with a specific spacing you'll need to be sure to watch for the seedlings to keep them pulled out.

I'm familiar with Blooms, over the years they've come out with some really good introductions, and I don't want to discourage you, but in this case I think their description of "spectacular dwarf cushion habit" and "astonishing free-flowering character" is pretty much just advertising hyperbole. If you plant all three of your plants near each other I suspect that in two or three years you won't be able to tell the players without a program. But I don't really mean that in a bad way! In a couple years I think you'll consider all of them to be spectacular and amazing!

I wouldn't recommend trying to overwinter them in smaller pots sunk in the ground like you mention in your "Plan B," at least not unless the "smaller pots" are pretty big. With a very small pot the moisture could be pretty difficult to control over winter. When something is actually planted in the soil, there's moisture transfer to/from ALL the soil around the plant, but if something is isolated in a small pot, what's in the pot could get too dry or stay too wet, even if the soil around it seems to be "just right."

Planting in something as big as a barrel/whiskey barrel should have enough soil to maintain a reasonably stable temperature. As you speculated, the heaving is the primary problem when you have a lot of freeze/thaw/freeze/thaw going on. If you plant yours in spring and they have all summer to establish deep roots to "anchor" them, I don't think that'll be a problem, but you will want to keep an eye on them if we're getting wildly fluctuating temps, to be sure they stay "in the soil." Using a good layer of bark mulch or some other kind of wood mulch will help control both the moisture and the temps for you. The worst conditions, and there's nothing you can do about this, is when something happens like it did last fall when we had been in the 50s/60s for over a week, and then we went down to zero in less than 24 hours! That's bad! But it's bad for plants in the ground too! That's when you need to remember your Gardener's Sense of Humor and just go with the flow. Sometimes you need to just replace a couple things! I lost one of my favorite things when we had that wild swing last fall, and I'm hoping to get a start for it back at one of this year's swaps!

Since you're just getting started in a new yard, try a bunch of different stuff. It might not all come out like Your Picture, but I bet you're gonna find a bunch of stuff you love--and maybe some of it will come out even better than Your Picture!

Have fun playing,

P.S. Here are a couple more of my lavender pics from last year, closer up than the first ones.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lavandula angustifolia 'Blue Cushion'

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 12:34AM
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skybird - Bob here, newish to forums, so I'll go by dumb, no-meaning username, avoid confusion Say hi to jitsmith.

Far as I know, jit is an abbreviation for Just In Time, a manufacturing/retail practice. It's also GI slang for a jitney, 3-wheeled small taxis/pedicabs all over Asia.

thx for the closeup pics, I really like the shorter bushier look. I may try cutting at different times to vary the look if they're all the same - and no, I don't mind. My aim is to create some flowering color in a neglected part of the urban landscape, not create botanical art.

I worked in marketing for a dozen years, developed a rule of thumb - the more grandiose the adjectives, the worse the product. Bought the Blue Cushion in spite of that - it just looked so unlike a lavender, sitting there on the shelf. I actually checked several others, just to make sure the tag hadn't gotten stuck in the wrong pot.

Wondering about your bark mulch recommendation, I was planning a gravel mulch because I don't want to keep them too moist. Did you mean add it in winter for extra protection?

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 3:33PM
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