Thursday, April 21, 2011

Too Late to Prune Lavender?

Lavender crowds sidewalk before pruning

My four lavender plants have grown nearly a foot over the sidewalk, an indication that I have been negligent in pruning them. I’ve gone online to check on the best pruning time, and, alas, the consensus is August.

But this is April. Should I prune them? Hmm, I’ve pruned them in the spring at other times, and they didn’t seem to suffer. Yes, I’ll do it again.

Our plants are of the so-called English line of lavenders (Lavendula angustifolia), thanks to the ancient Roman invaders and colonists who brought it with them from sunnier climes to the British Isles. The specific variety is ‘Munstead,’ named after Munstead Wood, the home of the late Gertrude Jekyll, a famed British garden designer and writer.

Lavender after pruning
When ‘Munstead’ blooms, first come small pollinators—insects of all sorts, most of which I have not identified—but then come butterflies. And after the flowers fade, American goldfinches perch on the flower stalks and dine on seeds. Another great feature: deer have never browsed a leaf. I imagine the oils and fragrances of the lavender are offensive to deer noses and tongues.

But time it is to prune the lavender. “Put on your gardening gloves to protect your hands,” advises, a good online source. “Get down close … so you can see small, green shoots on the lower stems.” Yes, I’ll leave new growth.

After pruning, new shoots predominate

So I clip away with my pruners, cutting out all branches that are crowding the sidewalk on one side of the bed and the lawn on the other side.

“Cut back old, straggly lavender plants in the spring to 6 inches. This may encourage it to form shoots close to the ground and it may save the plant,” says the ehow “Tips & Warnings.”

Save the plant? I just want to shape it, but when I think of my history of pruning plants, perhaps “save the plant” is a good thought.

I clip and shape, but decide not to cut it back to six inches—well, not all of it. Soon all of last year’s growth is gone, and this year’s bright-green shoots predominate. I top off the old mulch with some fresh pine-bark mulch, and the lavender pruning is done.

Buckeye butterfly on 'Munstead' lavender

The four ‘Munstead’ lavender plants have given us so much pleasure, added so much beauty, since I planted them in 2005. With just a little care, an annual pruning, they may continue to please for another 15 years, according to the website.

I smile a happy, Frugal Gardener smile. Twenty years of pleasure—and to think I bought the plants at a half-price, November close-out sale.

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