How to Grow Beautiful Lavender Plants in Pots or Containers

Lavender can excel when grown in pots or containers. But getting it going can take a little bit of work. In this article, organic gardening expert and former organic lavender farmer Logan Hailey walks through how to grow beautiful lavender in containers this season.

container lavender

The fragrant spikes of lavender blossoms aren’t only for those with giant Mediterranean gardens. In fact, you don’t need an outdoor garden at all to grow lavender. Thanks to the development of dwarf varieties and container growing techniques, this elegant herb can be grown right inside your home or on your patio. In some instances, potted lavender can even fair better in a pot than in the ground.

Whether your climate is too hot or too cold, or you lack the outdoor space for a full-grown lavender shrub, potted lavender is a joy to have around. You can use containers for a welcoming porch display in the summer and a pleasant windowsill houseplant in the winter.

So, are you ready to add some lavender to your container garden this season? Let’s dig into 7 easy steps for growing lavender in pots or containers!

Pros and Cons of Container Plants

When you think of lavender, you may imagine lush fields of giant shrubs abound with long stems of purple-colored blossoms. It’s true— it was traditionally grown as a giant ornamental bush that can get up to 3 feet wide and tall!

However, the Lavandula genus has over 450 unique varieties, including dwarf cultivars that are perfectly suited for container growing. Depending on your climate and space, there are a range of benefits (and a few drawbacks) to growing lavender in pots.

Pros

  • You can grow more tender varieties in cold northern climates.
  • Pots improve the air circulation in southern humid climates.
  • Pots make it easier to overwinter in harsh climates.
  • Containers have better drainage.
  • Pots need more water.

Cons

  • Larger English varieties don’t perform as well in containers.
  • Container plants are often shorter-lived and prone to disease.
  • You may need to move planted pots indoors and outdoors.
  • Container plants need more frequent attention.
  • Container plants are less drought tolerant.

7 Steps For Growing in Containers

Now that you’ve learned a bit about the pros and cons of growing lavender in containers, it’s time to walk through each step you’ll want to follow in order to do it properly. Let’s dig in!

Step 1: Choose a Quality Pot

woman transplanting lavender plant into ceramic pot
When planting in a container, it is recommended to choose a 16-24-inch, terracotta, clay or ceramic pot.

First things first, determine how big of a container you have space for. At the bare minimum, lavender needs a pot no smaller than 12” in diameter. The ideal size is a 16-24” container that allows for both portability and room for future growth.

If you opt for an extra large planter, be sure to prepare a way to move it indoors. You don’t want to strain your back trying to lift a giant plant! There are several types of heavy duty rolling planter caddies you can use to easily transport potted plants before winter arrives.

When it comes to materials, terra cotta, clay, or ceramic pots are best. Considering that lavender can live for up to 5 or more years in a container, you to be sure your pot is naturally resistant to weather damage for greater longevity.

Terra cotta pots have been around since ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, whereas plastic and metal containers tend deteriorate and become flimsy in less than a year. These cheaper pots aren’t great because they are typically thin and prone to heating up in the sunlight.

On the other hand, earthen materials like terracotta and ceramic pots are thick and less conductive. They will insulate the roots from extreme heat and cold. They are also naturally porous to allow for even soil drying and breathability in the root zone to prevent root rot. 

Lastly, be sure that your container has a drainage hole that is at least 2” wide. Large drainage holes are excellent, because this herb loves quick filtration so much. Avoid pots with attached saucers or “self watering” mechanisms. This will limit the drainage and potentially lead to stunted growth or root rot.

Step 2: Select a Dwarf Variety

Spanish lavender in purple flowerpots
Choose dwarf varieties of lavender for container planting.

There is a wide diversity of different lavender varieties to choose from. Technically, any type can be grown in a pot and pruned to your desired shape. However, dwarf varieties are specifically bred for compact growth that will still yield an abundance of flowers in a small space.

Our favorites include white lavenders like ‘Nana Alba’ and ‘Crystal Lights’ as well as ‘Fathead’ Spanish lavender and ‘Thumbelina Leigh’ English lavender. 

When selecting a variety, consider your climate and whether or not you’d like to move the plant indoors in the winter or keep the pot outdoors year-round. You don’t want to make the mistake of picking the wrong sized variety for your pot.

If you live in a humid southern climate, heat-tolerant Spanish lavender (Lavendula stoechas) is your best option. These plants are sometimes called “butterfly lavender” because of their frilly bracts on the top of the cone-like flowers.

While they may not look as classic as the English and French lavenders, they are still very fragrant. Compact varieties like ‘Kew Red’, ‘Fathead’, and ‘Ballerina’ are great for containers.

If you live in a frigid northern climate, cold-hardy English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) can tolerate down to -30°F during its dormant state. It may be extra insulated in a large, thick terra cotta pot. However, many zone 3 and 4 gardeners still grow in containers and bring it indoors for the winter.

Hardy yet compact English types include ‘Blue Cushion’, ‘Thumbelina Leigh’, ‘SuperBlue’, and ‘Betty’s Blue’. For a gorgeous dwarf white variety, choose the compact shrubby variety ‘Nana Alba’. Most of these average just 12-15” tall and bloom profusely throughout the growing season.

Step 3: Use a Well-Drained Soil Mix

woman adding soil to a flower pot
Use a well drained gravel or sandy soil with decent drainage.

Lavender is a Mediterranean native that thrives in gravelly or sandy soil with quick drainage. This becomes especially important in a container where water can easily get pooled up or soggy. You’ll want to fill your pot with the most well-drained soil mix possible.

*Pro Tip

You can save money by making a good homemade blend of potting soil. You can create your own potting mix with 1 part coarse garden sand,1 part pumice or perlite, 1 part clay pebbles or pea gravel, and 1 part potting soil. Mix it all up until it looks gritty and chunky. This is perfect for lavender’s drought-tolerant roots.

Lavender also prefers slightly alkaline soil with low fertility. You can amend with a tablespoon of lime per pot to adjust the pH. Avoid potting mixes with added fertilizer

Step 4: Prune and Transplant

woman transplanting lavender into the ceramic pot
Fill a container with potting mix, place the plant in the center, and cover with potting soil.

Whether you start lavender from seed, take a lavender cutting, or purchase a juvenile plant from a nursery, you will need to transplant it into a new container to get established and grow for the coming year or so.

Be sure the root ball you wish to transplant is already well established. Grasp the plant gently by the base and wiggle it out of the existing container to check for any signs that it is rootbound or subject to root rot. 

While small seedlings can be transplanted as is, 6” or larger lavender containers should be pruned before transplanting into their new pot. Use sanitized shears or pruners to remove about one-third of the green plant material.

Leave behind a few inches of stems above the crown, taking care not to cut into the wooden part of the base. This pre-transplanting pruning will ensure that the plant funnels its energy into root establishment in its new pot.

To begin planting, fill your container roughly halfway with your soil mix and place the plant in the center. Begin to backfill with soil until the roots are fully buried and the top 1-2 inches of the woody crown is above the soil level.

Be sure you don’t bury the crown! Gently tamper down the soil just to ensure that the roots are in place. Take care not to overly compact the soil. 

Put the container on its drainage saucer and check that the plant is evenly “tucked in” to its new home. Water thoroughly from the top until water pours out of the bottom drainage hole. This deep initial watering ensures that the lavender can begin extending its roots into the surrounding pot.

Step 5: Keep in a Warm, Sunny Area

hanging metal bucket pot with lavender in sunlight
This sun loving plant requires at least 8 hours of direct intense sunlight.

Potted lavender needs as much sunshine as it can get. This herb is native to the sunny, exposed slopes of the Mediterranean where it has adapted to long days of 8 or more hours of direct intense sunlight

Depending on the variety, you can keep potted lavender outside year-round or move it indoors during certain months. For example, cold northern gardeners can transplant in the spring and move the container outside as soon as the threat of frost has passed. This will allow it to get fully rooted in the outdoor summer sun.

When fall rolls around, you can prune one-third of the new growth back and bring it indoors to a uninsulated greenhouse, sun room, or sunny window. The dormant lavender only needs to stay slightly above freezing and needs little to no irrigation as it overwinters in the pot. Don’t keep potted lavender in an excessively warm area or it may promote too much growth before the spring.

Alternatively, cold-hardy English lavender varieties and some Lavandin hybrids can remain outdoors in their containers through the winter in zones 5 and warmer, especially if the pot is located in a protected area. As long as the soil doesn’t completely freeze, the insulation of the ceramic or terra cotta will keep the roots a bit warmer than they would be in the ground.

On the other hand, southern subtropical gardeners may prefer to keep their English lavender outdoors throughout the winter and move to a more climate-controlled cool (but sunny) windowsill during the hottest summer months. If you choose heat-resistant Spanish lavender, this may not be necessary.

Step 6: Water Sparingly

Watering potted plant in garden
Make sure the soil does not become waterlogged as this can cause root rot.

Regardless of the season, you have to be careful with the amount of water you supply lavender growing in a container. It is naturally drought-tolerant and resents soggy soil. While potted plants have improved drainage due to the root placement higher above the ground, they can be more prone to overwatering.

It is vital that you monitor the soil conditions in your pot to ensure it doesn’t get waterlogged. Root rot is the number one reason why potted lavender plants die or fail to flower.

Like rosemary or pothos plants, potted lavender prefers to thoroughly dry out before watering again. Depending on the humidity, this could mean watering only once every few weeks or more. You can check the soil moisture by sticking a clean finger into the soil about 4-6” deep.

If your skin comes out clean, the soil is dry and it’s time to water. If there is a lot of soil stuck to your skin like brownie batter, the soil is too soggy and you may need to take steps to reduce watering or re-pot it.

Once the soil has dried at least a few inches down, it’s time to water. Give lavender a generous pour from a watering can. Distribute the water around the pot and try to avoid directly pouring water on the crown. Once water begins to flow out of the bottom drainage hole, the plant’s thirst has been quenched. Remember to reduce watering during the winter.

Step 7: Ensure Proper Air Circulation

pruning purple flowered shrub in garden
Remember to prune twice a year – in spring and autumn.

All lavender requires breezy airflow to prevent fungal disease and ensure vigorous growth. This is especially important for potted lavender in humid environments. The compact nature of these smaller plants and their placement indoors makes them more susceptible to stagnant air. The easiest way to keep air flowing through their foliage is to practice regular pruning.

Pruning once per year is fine, but twice per year is ideal. Just like outdoor plants, the first pruning should be in the spring and cut back the new growth by about half.

This can slightly delay flowering, however it helps promote more vigor and health for the plant in the long run. It also gives you the opportunity to shape your lavender plant into a cone or ball-shape for a more decorative display.

The second pruning occurs in the fall after the last flush of flowers fades. You can cut back to just an inch or so above the crown, being sure to avoid the woody portions. This helps prepare the plant for moving into winter dormancy.

Final Thoughts

Growing lavender in a pot is just as straightforward as growing it outside in the garden. It needs plenty of sunlight, warmth, and drainage. Choose a compact variety that suits your climate and aesthetic desires. Remember to choose the proper earthen pot and fill it with a super well-drained soil mix.

You can transplant in the spring, let it grow outdoors in the summer, and move it to a cool area indoors during cold winters. Avoid overwatering and don’t forget to prune in the spring and fall for optimal air flow.

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