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Grow Lavender in Acid or Clay Soil

An avid gardener for over 40 years, Dolores has landscaped for private clients and maintained one client's small orchid collection.

Lavender Bloooms in the Garden

growlavenderinacidorclaysoil

I love lavender—the delicate foliage, the long, thin stems topped with blue or purple flowers, the way the blooms appear as a mist of blue when viewed from a distance, the lazy loitering of honey bees among the blooms—I love it all. The fresh, clean scent of lavender is delightful and remains with the dried flowers long after cutting.

For years, I fought a battle with lavender in my back yard. The soil is chunky with clay and generally acidic. Drainage is poor and in late winter and early spring, part of my yard looks like a swamp.

But with a bit of thought and creative planting, I am pleased to say that I have 3 lavender plants that have survived through 4 winters (including a major blizzard) and several soggy springs.

If you want to grow lavender in clay or acid soil in a yard that retains way too much moisture, read on . . .

Create a Micro Climate for Lavender

We all basically understand the climate of the area in which we live. But there are variations in a climate, and small variations around our own homes. Plants that survive in the sheltered southern exposure of the house might perish in the cold winter winds on the north side of the house.

So it is with lavender. In order to offer lavender a happy home in which it will thrive, consider its needs:

  • bright sunlight
  • dry, well-drained soil
  • alkaline soil

Plant lavender in a spot where it will receive full sun (6 - 8 hours of sunlight a day)

To avoid root rot from lingering moisture, build up a bed to lift the lavender garden slightly above the level of the yard. Make sure that the raised bed is well drained.

A rock garden works well with lavender. If the lavender is elevated, it will dry out more quickly during wet seasons.

Another method is to plant the lavender in a southern exposure under the eaves of the back porch. Sun still shines on the plant, but there will be less rainfall and puddling.

Create Drainage To Avoid Root Rot in Lavender

Plant lavender late spring or early summer after the soil has warmed up.

  • If the soil is full of clay and you do not want to build a raised bed or rock garden, dig the planting hole at least twice as deep and twice as wide as the potted purchased plant.
  • Fill the bottom of the hole with limestone gravel.
  • Add a layer of garden soil mixed with compost, and sand. Set the plant on a third layer of gravel and turkey grit or sand. Turkey grit is ground granite. Crushed oyster shells work as well.
  • Gently remove the lavender plant from the pot and backfill the hole with the garden soil mixture. Allow the top of the soil in the pot to protrude 1 inch above the soil line.
  • Mulch with limestone gravel and turkey grit.
  • Do not over water.

Lavender Needs an Alkaline Soil

Lavender needs an alkaline soil of about 6.5 to 7.5 pH and will not thrive in acidic soil.

The addition of limestone gravel adds the alkalinity to the soil that lavender needs to thrive.

If you don't want to use gravel—personally, I don't like the look of white gravel, so I added a couple of chunks of broken concrete near the base of the plant. The lime leaches out of the concrete and into the soil.

Lavender

bunch lavender and hang in a dark, dry place

bunch lavender and hang in a dark, dry place

Harvesting Lavender

Cut lavender early in the day in order to retain utmost color and fragrance

Cut stems above the top leaves to encourage repeat blooming later in the season

Bundle lavender stems and hang them upside down in a warm, dark, dry place to ensure retention of color and scent. Hanging the lavender in a clothes closet will add a delicate fragrance to your clothing.

And remember that lavender is an insect repellent!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: I have planted lavender and really hope it takes in the clay soil. I have noticed that the bark has started to peel on some of the plants. Is this normal? I have lavender Grosso. I hope that I have added enough grit. The ground is pretty wet right now.

Answer: You don't want to plant lavender in clay soil. The idea is to remove the heavy clay and change the soil in the area where you place the plant. Clay retains too much moisture, and that moisture may damage the roots. I have kept lavender growing for years in a garden where the soil has been loosened and the clay pretty much removed. This past year has been a wet one in my area, far wetter than usual. The garden was often flooded and standing water killed off all the lavender. Lavender will not thrive in a soggy area.

If I were you, I'd wait until spring and see what happens.

Question: Where do I buy limestone gravel? I live in Los Angeles, CA.

Answer: Limestone gravel can be found at Home Depot, Walmart, Amazon, and many other places that sell home and garden supplies.

Comments

Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on May 31, 2020:

Thanks for the comment, BowBells. There are so many varieties of lavender and we must attempt to find the one that best fits our local environment. I think the best sources for appropriate varieties to grow in our own areas are local nurseries. Buying at big box stores is not the best. Good local nurseries have employees who understand plants and can point out the appropriate types.

BowBells on May 28, 2020:

Hello! I wish to add a comment about lavender and soil type. Haven read the comment above from Los Angeles, I share some of your disappointments until last year when I tried lavender Sweet Lavender. I think we can presume LA area, overall is pretty clayey unless you live in the coastal or more specific locations. For the last 3 years which I intentionally tried Munstead and Hidcote, with mixed sand in clay and raising the base higher, still the last Hidcote I tried last year, it survived half a season. By this spring it didn't come back. Contrary though, the Sweet Lavender (one of the hundreds of hybrids I am sure) not only survived and thrived, it also bred new ones from cuttings!! The cuttings took about 5 months from Sep to Feb to see signs of birth, so be patient if you were to try propagating from cuttings. I am very particular with the type or bread of lavender; I specifically wish to have Lanvender Angustifolia, and learned that Munstead and Hidcote both are descendents of L. angustifolia. But I have not succeeded in the LA and clayey climate. I have seen Grosso and read that it is 'easier' or more adaptable than Munstead and Hidcote, but it comes from Lavandin, a group off of L. angustifolia. Grosso is the French lavender where as the other two are English. Grosso has a beautiful foliage and kinda bigger leaves, so it's very robust when healthy looking. Though I didn't care much when I planted Sweet Lavender, its attributes meet what I wanted: very fragrant, leaves and stems alike L. angustifolia, and drought tolerant in the clayey soil!

Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on April 30, 2019:

Hi Valerie - if your yard is solid clay and you dug a trench it seems like the clay would form a sort of pool where the surrounding soil would hold moisture in the trench. I lost my own lavender when we had a year of very heavy rain. Very cold weather can kill certain lavender plants. I am sorry that you lost your plants, but gardeners often lose plants. Two hundred dollars seems a lot to pay for dirt.

Valerie on April 28, 2019:

My whole yard is clay so i dug a deep 6 foot long trench and took all the clay out to follow your directions to a t. And guess what happened....all 6 plants died after spending over 200.00 to do it.

Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on May 15, 2018:

Hi Amanda - lavender will not thrive in wet soil. Before you decide what to do, think about why the area is wet. Maybe you should just plant the lavender in another, drier area. You could build a raised bed. You could dig a small channel around the garden for drainage.

If the problem is heavy clay soil, you can amend the soil by mixing in organic materials such as compost, or a garden conditioner that you can find at a garden supply store.

I used to like the idea of mixing in some sand, but that is not the best idea.

amanda on May 04, 2018:

Hi there! thanks for this info. would wood chips be a good alternative to rocks for drainage in wet areas? maybe mix in some sand?

Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on September 26, 2016:

Jenna - lavender itself? I am writing here about the soil conditions needed to grow lavender. It needs some alkalinity so if you have acid soil, you need to augment the soil.

Jenna on September 23, 2016:

Hello, I was wondering and I think .. correct m if wrong.. I think lavender is acidic is it not? possibly around 7 or so?