The absolutely best way to prune English lavender beautifully
This post will tell you how to prune English lavender beautifully.
I wrote it seven years ago. And I planted the lavender over 11 years ago. Yet now, in 2023, 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. But when I followed this advice – from 2010 to 2014, my lavender sprawled. It became leggy and never looked as good as my neighbour’s lavender.
But there are always different views and different ways of doing things. I now cut my English lavender back hard. And it comes back – looking good – 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.
Can you use shears or a strimmer to prune English lavender?
In the seven 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.
Can you trim lavender in spring?
If you forget to trim your lavender at the end of the summer, it’s best to wait until the mid to end of spring the following year. If I have to trim in spring, I just give a very light trim.
Then I’ll cut back harder the following autumn.
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.
And the 2022 lavender pruning update!
The lavender was cut back hard in August 2021 and once again it flowered beautifully in July 2022. But the lavender is now 12 years old, and it is getting gappy and woody. However well you prune English lavender, it is not a long-lived plant and at some point you will have to replace it.
This year we have cut back extra hard to see if the lavender will re-grow from the base. It may die. But we know we will have to replace it at some point, so it is worth experimenting.
And now in 2023!
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.
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