The absolutely best way to prune English lavender beautifully
This post will tell you how to prune English lavender beautifully.
I couldn’t work out why next door’s lavender is still healthy and bushy after fourteen years. Some of my lavender bushes have barely lasted four.
Yet I followed all the advice I was given. ‘Never cut lavender back to the wood’ is in every list of gardening dos and don’ts.
But now I know that we amateur gardeners often misinterpret that. So we are not cutting our lavender back enough. Let me explain.
The lavender is a major feature in my garden. There are four big clumps around a pot in the centre. At midsummer, it is humming with bees and other pollinating insects.
But it started to look gappy and woody. There was also some lavender around the beds and that went completely woody and stalky. It was so ragged that I took it out.
Hard pruning or a light snip?
August is the time to give your lavender its summer chop. You can tell when it’s ready because the flowers have gone grey. There won’t be any bees humming around the stalks. So I looked for the best English lavender advice. (French lavender has the little ears and needs different pruning).
I used to prune my lavender rather warily. You could say that I snipped rather than hacked. I was too frightened I’d kill it. Everyone always says that if you cut into the wood, then it won’t regenerate. My mother told me that I would kill lavender if I cut it back too much. Even the RHS cautions against cutting into the woody part of lavender.
But the lavender specialists at Downderry say that English lavender needs hard pruning. You need to cut right down into the brown part, where little lavender shoots can just been seen.
Cut it back to 9″ high!
‘Don’t be frightened to cut it back to 9″ just after flowering,’ advises Downderry Lavender. ‘It will love it!’
It’s true that I hardly pruned the lavender on the edge of the beds at all. I followed advice to ‘prune lightly in spring’ Those bushes got spindly within a few years. I’ve taken them out.
Then, three years ago, I asked Salvatore, the Italian gardener, to cut the lavender in the centre of the garden.
He cut it right back to the brown, especially in one part that was beginning to look gappy. It plumped up again before Christmas, and made elegant grey mounds for the winter garden.
The following year, I took my courage – and my secateurs – in hand. I’ve chopped back the lavender mounds down much further than I used to. I haven’t quite dared to take it down to 9″, but I have remembered that next door do cut their lavender very low.
The experts also say that you should use good secateurs for cutting lavender. This makes the job a lot longer than using shears, but it seems to give a tighter, more sculptural finish.
So can you really prune English lavender right back into the wood?
Yes and no. You do need to cut just above those tiny shoots at the bottom of the stem because if you cut the lavender down below them, it won’t regenerate. It will probably die. So wear your glasses!
Take a good thick bunch of lavender in one hand, and chop down to where you see tiny little lavender shoots in the brown wood. They’re like tiny grey-blue dots and can be difficult to see.
And repeat. I find it easiest to do sitting down. My trousers have got very grubby.
See it in video here:
You can use the lavender for pillows or in bowls to scent the house. In this post here from Doddington Place Gardens, Amicia de Moubray explains the difference between English lavenders, which help you sleep, and French lavenders which make you feel more alert.
Update! The lavender three years on!
More practical gardening tips
See this post on an easy tip for weeding without chemicals, how to plant a border like a pro, find out why compost can be easy or it can be quick (but it can’t be both) and whether you really need to dig up your dahlias.
And you can save yourself lots of time and effort if you read this about why ‘no dig’ works just as well for flower borders as it does in the veggie patch!
Shop my favourite gardening tools, books and products
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For example, I’ve got my list of essential gardening tools. And if you’re interested in sustainable living, there’s also a list of my favourite sustainable garden products, such as compostable pots and peat-free compost.
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