Lavender is a perennial bushy shrub is one of the most popular herbs for cultivation.
Large-scale lavender farms usually grow this herb for essential oil production, but it is also grown for its flowers, as well as medicinal and culinary uses.
Cassie Snyman, manager of a Pretoria herb nursery, advises growers in summer rainfall areas to plant lavender in winter, when it’s drier.
LOTS OF VARIETY
Lavender bushes range in height from 0.3 m to 1.2 m, depending on the variety. It has aromatic evergreen leaves and fragrant purple flowers that bloom in spring and summer.
The South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ (DAFF) guidelines for lavender production say there are 48 species of the herb, as well as hundreds of genotypes differentiated by variations ranging from growth form to the chemical composition of the essential oil.
The main species (within the genus) that produce essential oil are: angustifolia (English, or true, lavender), L latifolia (spike, broad leaves) and angustifolia x L latifolia (lavandin). Lavender varieties vary greatly and some grow well in a variety of climatic zones. Before buying large quantities, test to see which varieties are suitable for your climate.
- Lavender can tolerate moderate frost and drought, although spike lavender cannot tolerate frost.
- Bushes usually produce well in areas which have an annual rainfall of 300 mm to 1 400 mm. The herb doesn’t like wet feet (waterlogged roots), so allow the soil to dry between irrigations, and don’t over-irrigate.
- Lavender requires well-drained light, sandy, sandy loam or gravelly soils with a pH of 5,8 to 8,3 and a position in full sun.
- If the soil is too moist, plant growth will be poor and diseases could occur; such conditions could also kill the plant.
- English lavenders prefer alkaline soils, whereas the lavandin varieties require slightly more acidic soils. Snyman says yellowing leaves are usually an indication of too little sunshine or too much water.
- According to the DAFF guidelines, lavender can be planted on slopes, provided thar it’s still possible to perform farming operations without extra effort.
- Lavender is planted in rows 1.2 m to 2 m apart, with 30 cm to 60 cm between plants, which gives a plant density of 8 000 to 28 000 plants per hectare.
- Spacing is calculated according to available moisture, cultivar size, variety as well as for mechanical cultivation and harvesting.
- Higher densities will increase establishment costs, but result in higher yields.
- Lavender grower, Charmaine Chaplog, says that lavender is best propagated through cuttings. Remove a side shoot from the plant by pulling downwards on the stem. This will create a “heel” where the cutting can start growing.
- Remove excess leaves from the lower end of the shoot. Dip the heel in water and a growth medium and plant into soil or a seed tray.
- Chaplog prefers a seed tray, as she can monitor growth and ensure that the shoots receive enough water.
- Leave for 6 weeks, then check whether roots have been established, and only plant out if they have.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Very few pests occur on lavender in South Africa as the plant is a natural pest repellent.
- Excessive applications of nitrogen can harm oil quality, make plants unhealthy and increase weed competition.
- Mulching reduces the quantity of weeds and improves the soil’s moisture retention.
- A higher plant density and dense canopy will decrease weed populations.
- This article was written by Wilma den Hartigh and first appeared in Farming SA.