Lavender and Florida
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Judy Roland
Posted on: November 24, 2003

I have a sister living in Gainesville who is envious when I wrote and tell her about the various lavenders I grow in Wales, UK. She loves lavender, but says "it won’t grow here". I cannot imagine why not! I have seen tough-as-old-boots lavenders growing in Spain, Provence, etc where it gets hot and much drier than Florida. I know their soil is thin and sandy, but again, surely that won’t bother lavender.

Do you have any idea why she thinks it won’t grow, and, to reassure her that it will, would you suggest that she grows it in tubs, so she can control the soil quality? I would imagine potted lavender might need some grit mixed in with the compost to make it free-draining? What would be your advice, and can she / can I order lavender from you in spring or summer for delivery to Gainesville?

Which variety or varieties might do best? Thanks in advance. I have to convince her this Christmas that all is not lost. (We’re New Englanders transplanted to other climes, so we need reminders of things we loved as kids.)

Yes, it may seem strange that lavenders that grow wild in Spain don’t do as well in Florida. Both areas are rated in the same 9-10 range of USDA hardiness zones, for example.

The main problems for lavenders are humidity and excess moisture around the roots. In Spain, as you indicate, it is drier than Florida and that is what lavenders generally prefer. Lavenders can tolerate some excess precipitation and humidity as you might expect in Wales, but the combination of high heat, high precipitation and humidity that they are exposed to in Florida is often fatal. Lavenders are susceptible to a variety of fungal diseases that thrive in these conditions.

Certainly, it is not impossible to grow lavender in Florida, but it does take some work. You touched on the need for improved drainage – that is an absolute must. Adding sand (but not salt-infused sand from an ocean beach!) and gravel will certainly help, as will raising the beds at least 15cm (6 inches) or growing in tubs. Increasing the alkalinity of the soil with the addition of lime will help because lavenders are famously partial to chalky soils. The high humidity is the hardest to control, but if there is a spot in the garden that is partially sheltered from rain while open enough to allow the wind to pass through and allow direct exposure to the sun, then your sister’s chances of success will increase.

As for which varieties will do best, it is probably easier to answer that question by focussing on which varieties are least likely to thrive in Florida’s conditions: mainly what we call the English group of lavenders, the various cultivars of Lavandula angustifolia. They, however, are often the ones with the best scents and the classical, neat low shrubby habits that most herb lovers associate with lavender. The varieties that are likely to do best in Florida are also the ones that have the least desirable scents and flowers. The compromise group of lavenders are the lavandins, which includes the varieties most important to the commercial lavender industry, are probably your sister’s best choice. Of these, ‘Provence’ and ‘Grosso’ are recommended.

Yes, we do ship our plants to Florida – we have done so successfully for decades. Our shipping season runs from April to November.

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