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 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.

How to prune English lavender

My lavender in 2013. It was planted in 2010. I used to trim it lightly, afraid that I would kill it if I pruned back too hard. The lavender by the obelisk went very 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. He cuts it back hard every August.

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.

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. Some lavenders are less frost hardy than others, so if you lose your lavender over winter, it may not like your weather.

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

How to prune English lavender – 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 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.

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 – nearly three years after I originally wrote this post,. The lavender is now nine years old and is still going strong, so I’d recommend you prune English lavender this way! The lavender variety is Lavender Hidcote, by the way.

And five years later in 2021!

The lavender is now nearly 11 years old. It’s still a wonderful display.

Cut your lavender back hard

We’ve swapped the spiral topiary for a sundial at the centre of the lavender, but the lavender is flowering as well as it ever did.

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.

Middlesized Garden mug

This mug reminds me of the lavender in the garden in mid-summer. It’s also available in blue. Treat yourself to a tea or coffee as a break from gardening! Available from the Middlesized Garden spring store.

Pin to remember lavender pruning tips

And for a free weekly email with more tips, ideas and inspiration for your garden, see here.

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'!)

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

  1. Laura says:

    I started growing Lavender from plug plants in June this year, they are now about 10in tall. I assume I shouldn’t prune in the first year?! They haven’t flowered yet.

    1. If they haven’t flowered, there’s no need to prune them. If they do flower, just snip the flower heads off once they’re over.

  2. Emma Golebiewski says:

    I just bought some English lavender plants and they are already all woody at the bottom and are starting to drop. When should I be pruning these if they are in the first year being planted ? I am not sure if I over watered them but the stalks are mostly all wood at this time. I am not sure if they can be revived. Can I send you pictures for advice ?

    1. It would probably be better to send a picture to the company you bought them from – if something has gone wrong so soon, it may not be your fault. In the meantime, plant them somewhere sunny, but don’t water them unless you have more than two weeks without any rain. They may recover. Good luck.

  3. 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 :)

  4. 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,

        Alexandra

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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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