The absolutely best way to prune English lavender beautifully

August 28th, 2016 Posted In: Gardening know how, Town gardens

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.

How to prune English lavender

My lavender in 2013. It was planted in 2010, and the lavender by the obelisk had gone woody and gappy by 2014. It had to be taken out.

Prune lavender well and it'll last longer

A neighbour’s lavender – it’s been there for over 14 years and still going strong.

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.

How to prune English lavender

The central lavender is beginning to get too stalky. Holes are appearing in the neat mounds.

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.

Prune lavender into a sculptural shape for winter

Lavender is a lovely sculptural presence for the garden in winter. It looks especially good in the frost.

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.

How to prune English Lavender to make it last longer

I’ll pin this to a Pinterest board as an easy way to remember what to do.

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.

I use these Felco secateurs, which I bought around fifteen years ago. They always cut well. (Note: links to Amazon are affiliate, see disclosure.)

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.

How to prune English lavender

Here you can see one mound of lavender pruned to just under half its height. It looks brown and woody, but if you look closely you can see tiny lavender shoots on the lower branches.

Update! The lavender three years on!

How to prune English lavender beautifully

The same lavender in July 2019. It’s been nearly three years since I originally wrote this post,. The lavender is now nine years old and is still going strong! The lavender variety is Lavender Hidcote, by the way. 

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

I’m often asked for recommendations so I’ve put together some useful lists of my favourite gardening books, tools and sustainable gardening products on The Middlesized Garden Amazon store. I’ve picked a selection of products that I use regularly and which I’ve found excellent.

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.

Pin to remember lavender pruning tips

And for more tips, ideas and inspiration for your garden, follow the Middlesized Garden by email. See the box below.

Prune lavender beautifully - most of the advice you see is not correct! This is how lavender growers and professionals prune lavender and it's easy (and you do prune 'into the wood'!)



29 comments on "The absolutely best way to prune English lavender beautifully"

  1. dave says:

    Hi, I missed the autumn window for pruning our woody lavender and wondered when the next viable timeframe would be advisable?

    1. I’ve just asked Downderry Lavender who hold the National Collection of Lavenders for their advice and they say that the next best time to prune your lavender is as the sap is beginning to rise. That would be late March/early April in the southern part of the UK, so generally early to mid spring. He says to cut about one third into the foliage at this time.

      1. dave says:

        Brilliant, thank you for the advice. I’ve set a reminder :)

  2. Jennifer says:

    I planted a small hedge of young Hidcote lavender plants in June this year, they have grown well over the summer and flowered late August/September. I haven’t been able to get out and trim off the flowers and wondered if I did this now (07 November) if it might be too late as the weather is getting colder? Would it be better to leave them over the winter and then cut them off in the Spring?

    1. I think that as you only planted them this year, I’d suggest leaving the trim until spring. Although you could trim the dead flowers off – if you’re happy to leave them on, the birds will enjoy them.

      1. Alexandra says:

        Hi Alexandra

        I have the same problem except my lavenders aren’t newly planted!

        They’re about 2-3 years old and in pots, I haven’t been able to prune them yet this year and am wondering if I can give them a hard prune now.

        What do you think?

        Best wishes,


        1. I think it would be best to wait till spring. Although you could always experiment and see what happens!

  3. Siobhan says:

    Thanks for this informative post. I am extremely new to gardening, and planted 2 lavender hidcote plants into containers about a month ago. Is your advice on pruning any different for new plants in their first year? Thanks so much

    1. When you prune them, just check that there are buds below where you cut. They will look like tiny lavender flakes. But in the first year, it will be fine to prune less severely because hard pruning keeps the shape tight. Take off about a third to a half of the green growth and cut back harder once the plants are established. There’s always a certain amount of trial and error in this, hope that helps.

  4. Sam says:

    I planted lavender last fall, fully grown, from a nursery.they are now flowering — in April, 2020 – and bees are having at them. I’m wondering whether pruning the flowers now will turn away the bees, interrupt their work….there do seem to be a bit fewer than 2-3 weeks ago, but they’re still there. So I don’t know what is the right course…..I’m in Los Angeles, btw.

    1. Don’t prune lavender until after the flowers are over. You’ll know when that is as they’ll be more grey than blue, and you won’t see any bees or other pollinators buzzing around them. In my garden they are usually flowering for about a month before it’s clear that they’re over.

  5. ruth says:

    It’s nearly the end of September- is it too late to prune lavender ( I’m in Oxford)

    1. It might be a bit late. I did it once in late September and was fine. But you can certainly trim all the flowers off, but leave maybe a couple of leaves above ‘the brown’. Or give it a good hard prune, then replace it if it doesn’t survive.

  6. Reg Mitton says:

    I purchased my French lavender plants in October and planted them out They were in two litre pots. They were in full flower and have taken very well. The flowers are still visible but not as coloured. When is the best time to prune them ?

    1. Generally the best time to prune lavender is once the flowers have faded, so now sounds good. The technique in this post is for English lavender, not French lavender but the method is similar. French lavender is shorter-lived and less hardy, so more likely to be affected by frost or poor weather. As with English lavender, some experts say ‘never cut into the wood’ and others say ‘cut down into the wood to encourage new shoots’. I haven’t personally grown French lavender so I can’t comment, but I’d suggest clipping it fairly firmly to encourage bushy growth. And experiment a bit to find the right way for your garden and climate – although it can be annoying to buy new plants when one has died, plants do die and it’s not necessarily anything you’ve done wrong.

  7. Helen Sterling says:

    I planted two rows of English lavender last year either side of a large stone staircase and it has thrived this year, I’m so pleased as I’m definitely an ‘amateur’ gardener. My concern now though, as one other lady mentioned last year, is that there are still so many flowering stalks and so many bees (Sept 2nd 2017). I don’t know whether to prune but obviously would rather not because of the important wildlife value (butterflies also visit). I have started literally pruning out the spent flower stalks and areas around the flowering stalks, time consuming but hopefully the lavender won’t mind this sporadic pruning? (and the bees will appreciate!).

    1. I have the same debate with myself, but I believe that the lavender needs the last few weeks of summer to put on a bit of growth before the winter, so I am going out into the garden today (September 3rd) to prune my lavender. But it will be with regret as I love the long grey stalks.

  8. I too was told at some point that it wasn’t possible to cut lavender back down into the woody bit – but as mine looked so straggly, I ignored the advice one year and it grew again! Some of my plants are VERY old though, 25-30 years, and the wood is warped,splinters easily, and no longer throws out new shoots lower down, so these are probably now past hope.

    1. 25-30 years is amazing!

  9. rusty duck says:

    That’s a good tip Alexandra. I don’t think I cut severely enough. At the moment there are still flowers though, even new ones coming, it seems a shame to cut them off and I end up leaving it too late. Lavender is always a struggle down here anyway, it’s far too wet.

    1. Yes, it’s such a dilemma, isn’t it? I think we probably need to cut now to give the plant some growing time before the winter comes, but it’s sad to cut off even a single flower in full bloom. And it does hate wet – a friend of mine has lost three lots of lavender, probably because there’s an underground spring or pond in what appears to be an absolutely dry area.

  10. Claire says:

    Thanks for this post. I am just about to prune an ancient English lavender bush and will be braver than usual. I too do this job sitting down, mainly so I can drink in the beautiful smell.

    1. Hope it goes well, I rather expect to fall asleep if I breathe too much English lavender in.

  11. Sarah says:

    Perfectly timed advice. I’m looking out at some lavender that’s ready to be trimmed, but is already starting to look a little leggy in the middle. I was just about to Google it when your newsletter popped into my inbox. So it’s secateurs in one hand, mug of tea in the other and I’ll be outside being brave in a second or two!

    1. Great. The secateurs method does take alot longer than clipping it with shears but I briefly went back to shears this morning. Not good. You just can’t see where the little buds are, and you really need to make sure you clip as far down as you can, but leaving at least one or two buds on to create new growth. Definitely not a job I should do without my glasses!

  12. Caro says:

    This is a very informative post on the hows and whys of cutting back English Lavender. I always cut mine back in August/September since Jekka McVicar told me that she feels a dual cut (autumn and then a tidy up in spring) is best for the plants due to climate change. She used to cut springtime only which I think is the traditional way but found this system suited the plants best, particularly in the south of England.

    1. Thank you – I think Jekka McVicar is indeed the ultimate guru. I haven’t quite dared add the ‘tidy-up in spring’ yet, but I will give it a try. I’m just amazed at how many plant sellers say ‘just give lavender a light prune in spring’. When I followed that advice, my lavender got very twiggy very quickly.

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