The absolutely best way to prune English lavender beautifully
I’ve been making a big mistake when I prune English lavender.
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.
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 is starting 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.
August is the time to give my lavender its summer chop. The flowers have gone grey, and there are no bees humming amongst them. So I looked for the best English lavender advice. (French lavender has the little ears and needs different pruning).
I have always pruned my lavender rather warily. I snip rather than hack. I’m too frightened I’ll 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.
‘Don’t be frightened to cut it back to 9″ just after flowering,’ they say. ‘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 are the bushes that I took out because they got so spindly within a few years.
Last year, 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.
This year I’ve taken my courage – and my secateurs – in hand. I’ve chopped back the lavender mounds. 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.
I use these Felco secateurs, which have lasted for around fifteen years, and always cut well. That’s an Amazon affiliate link which means you can buy them there. I may get a small fee if you do.
Can you really prune English lavender right back into the wood?
Yes and no. Secateurs also mean you can see what you’re doing. 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 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. And repeat. I find it easiest to do sitting down. My trousers have got very grubby.
There’s a video of the technique 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.
Most lavenders are ready to be pruned when the flowers fade. So that’s any time from August onwards. So if you have English lavender, be tough! And do spread the word by sharing, using the buttons below – thank you!
More practical gardening tips
If you’d like to know effective ways of gardening, try 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!