The absolutely best way to prune English lavender beautifully
This post will tell you how to prune English lavender beautifully.
I wrote it five years ago. And I planted the lavender over 10 years ago. Yet now, in 2021, my lavender is still a brilliant blue. Everyone asks me how I keep it looking so good.
Yet when I first grew lavender, many of my plants went leggy and woody, although I was following all the ‘right advice’.
When you read instructions on how to prune English lavender, you’ll always see: ‘Never cut lavender back to the wood’. That’s because lavender doesn’t regenerate from old wood.
Sometimes you’ll be told to leave about one third of the new green growth. Or ‘trim lightly.’
So I used to prune my lavender rather warily. I was too frightened I’d kill it. My mother said that lavender would die if I cut it back too much. Even the RHS cautions against cutting into the woody part of lavender.
But when I followed this advice – from 2010 to 2014, my lavender sprawled. It never looked as good as my neighbour’s lavender.
But now I know that we amateur gardeners often misinterpret advice. And there are always different views and different ways of doing things. I now cut my English lavender back hard. And it comes back year after year. Let me explain.
Should you hard prune English lavender or just give it 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.
The lavender specialists at Downderry say that English lavender needs hard pruning. ‘Generally, the harder lavenders are pruned, the longer they will last,’ says the company.
(French lavender has the little ears and needs different pruning).
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!’
I’d also noticed that an Italian gardener friend of mine cut his lavender right back, so that there was just a light frosting of green at the top of brown stems.
He cut back especially hard in any parts that were beginning to look gappy. This exposes tiny buds to the sunlight so they can spring up, almost from the base of the plant.
And although the plants looked quite brown, they plumped up with new foliage in a few months. They made elegant grey mounds for the winter garden.
If you prune English lavender back hard, you create these neat sculptural mounds in winter. It adds to the winter structure.
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 when you prune English lavender. 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 is ‘don’t prune English lavender into the wood’ a myth?
Yes and no. Look closely at your plant. You will see tiny blue-grey shoots. They are just little dots, often almost at the bottom of the stem. You do need to cut just above those tiny shoots, because if you cut the lavender down below them, it won’t regenerate. It will probably die. So wear your glasses!
So take a good thick bunch of lavender in one hand. Chop down to just above where you see those tiny little lavender shoots in the brown wood.
See it in video here:
Can you use shears or a strimmer to prune English lavender?
In the five years since I first wrote this post, we have experimented. We’ve pruned our lavender with both shears and a strimmer. Both made the job quicker, and it has grown back well after both shears and a strimmer. You’ll need to neaten the bushes by hand with secateurs for a really tight, sculptural finish, however.
There are several different kinds of lavender. Some may react better to hard pruning than others. However, if your lavender is looking leggy, woody or gappy, give it a good, hard trim. If it doesn’t survive, then you haven’t lost anything because you didn’t like how the plant looked anyway.
Update! The lavender three years on!
And five years later in 2021!
The lavender is now nearly 11 years old. It’s still a wonderful display.
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.
And I’ve put my favourite gardening saying ‘Gardeners Learn by Trowel and Error’ on a mug, t-shirt and organic cotton tote bag, available on the Middlesized Garden Spring Store. It’s to remind you not to worry about trying new things in the garden. If you’re happy with how your lavender looks, then carry on pruning it the way you always do. But if you’re not happy with the effect, then try pruning it back really hard. You’ll find out what works for you, your climate and your lavender.
Pin to remember lavender pruning tips
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