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I was at Strader’s Nursery on Rte. 33 and Bethel, in November and discovered their herbs stored away in the large greenhouse.  I started looking at the Rosemary because they were blooming, then I noticed some lavender with bloom heads pushing.  I guess they were responding to the warmth of the unheated greenhouse as the Rosemary in my collection had in my unheated greenhouse.  I found both a Rosemary and a Lavender that had interesting “trunks” and since they were on $2.99 each, I bought them both. (Yes, I know; I don’t need any more plants.)  When I got home I searched the web for Lavender bonsai and found one site; that’s it, one.  The blogger mentioned he had not seen Lavender bonsai either, but decided to try it since it reminded him of Rosemary, which are commonly used as “herbal bonsai.”  His even had some Jin on his “tree”.


Lavender (Lavandula) is native to the Mediterranean region and a lover of dry, sunny, rocky habitats, similar to Rosemary. ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’ were noted to be two Lavender varieties that tolerated cooler temperatures and wetter conditions. Most other varieties are less hardy and may be killed by temperatures below 10F.  The one I bought is “Kew Red””French lavender”.  It was noted to be a zone 8-9 hardy plant, so it went to the greenhouse and now to the basement.


Growing Requirements: 
Lavender plants will tolerate many growing conditions, but it thrives in warm, well-drained soil and full sun. Normally they only grow to about 24” tall X 24” in diameter.  I read that plants “in production” live for about ten years.  An alkaline (pH above 7.0) and especially lime rich soil will enhance lavender flower fragrance. Flowers rise on stalks above the plant’s foliage. Rosemary “Prostratus” flowers are close to the foliage.  While you can grow lavender in the ground in Ohio, more realistically you can expect to have plants that will do well when the weather cooperates and to experience die back or death after a severe winter or a wet, humid summer.  I plan to treat it like any other Mediterranean plant such as Olives or Rosemary.  Lavender foliage is grey in color and grows upright with its buds appearing in pairs just like Rosemary. (One site said that there was a rosemary that had lived for 33 years and was 6 feet tall.) 

I wondered if Lavender and Rosemary were botanically related, so I searched for their botanical roots.  The official botanical name for rosemary is Rosmarinus officinalis. Rosemary is part of the mint family of herbs. This family is described as the Labiatae herb family. Other members of the same family include basil, patchouli, lavender, hyssop, myrtle, mint, clary and sage.  They both belong to the same family of plants along with some other well-known herbs such as oregano, sage, thyme, mint, and basil. Lavender is used as an herb in France and primarily its flowers are used in potpourris to scent homes and keep out wool eating moths.  Rosemary leaves are very aromatic and are commonly used in cooking; lavender leaves don’t seem to be very scented.  However, it was noted that they are not so closely related to allow them to be crossbred.


Lavender is extremely drought resistant, once established. However, when first repotting lavender plants give them some compost and keep them well watered until they recover and begin growing vigorously.

Special Considerations: 
It is dampness, more than cold, that is responsible for killing lavender plants. Dampness can come in two forms; wet roots during the winter months, or high humidity in the summer.  If humidity is a problem, make sure you have plenty of space between your plants for airflow and always keep your lavender plant in a sunny or well-lighted location. If you are trying one of the hardier varieties mentioned so that you can try to keep them outdoors, mulch their pot in after the ground initially freezes. Also protect your lavender plants from harsh winter winds. Keep them next to a stone or brick wall will provide additional heat and protection.

Lavender plants should get regular pruning. Harvesting the flowers can do some of this.  To keep them shaped and to encourage new growth, spring pruning is in order. The taller varieties can be cut back by approximately one-third their height. Lower growing varieties can either be pruned back by a couple of inches or cut down to new growth. If you disturb the plants too early in the season, they give up trying.  Plants kept indoors can be pruned when there is active new growth.  As with maples and rosemary, since lavender had buds in pairs, you will need to cut back to a bud pair that has the direction of growth you want.  You may also wish to discourage one bud from growing too long to direct the plant’s direction of growth.

Locate your lavender in full sun. It is probably wise to bring it indoors for the winter. Although lavender has a large, spreading root system, it prefers growing in a tight space. A pot that can accommodate the root ball with a couple of inches to spare would be a good choice. Too large a pot will only encourage excessive dampness (root rot).

Insure that the pot has plenty of drainage. To prevent water pooling in the pot, you may want to place a layer of gravel or grit at the bottom. Rot root is one of the few problems experienced by lavender plants. Use a loose, soilless mix for planting.  The smaller the container the more water it will require. How much more depends on the season and the size of its pot. Water when the soil, not the plant, appears dry and water at the base of the plant to limit dampness on the foliage. Compact varieties to try as bonsai are L. angustifolia ‘Nana Alba’ and Spanish lavender (L. stoechas subsp. pedunculata)

By Ken Schultz