15 Lavender Varieties For Colder Hardiness Zones
Looking for a cold-friendly lavender plant to grow in your cooler hardiness zone? There are a few different types of lavender that can thrive in cooler climates. In this article, organic gardening expert and former lavender farmer Logan Haliey examines her favorite types of cold hardy lavender for colder hardiness zones!
If you’re worried about cold temperatures killing your herb garden, you’re in luck! Lavender can still grow in hardiness zones 4 through 6. In spite of its delicate flowers and sweet aroma, this shrub is a remarkably hardy plant. Originating in the Mediterranean, this perennial herb has been cultivated for over 2,500 years. But can it survive the cold temperatures of northern growing zones?
The answer depends on what lavender type you choose and how you grow it. There are five main types and over 450 cultivars. They all require proper tending and pruning to tolerate cold winters.
Some varieties are only hardy in zones 7 and warmer, while others can withstand temperatures down to a frigid -20°F during their dormant phase. Some varieties will eagerly grow in pots that can be moved indoors during the winter. Others need plenty of space and an insulating mulch to protect their roots. Let’s dig into the top varieties of cold hardy lavender and how to grow this delightful herb in a cooler climate.
Growing in Cold Climates
Contrary to popular belief, you can grow lavender outdoors in climates as cool as USDA zone 4. Hello Alaskan, Rocky Mountain, or New England lavender! Even renegade gardeners in zone 3 (bless your frozen hearts!) can get away with growing in a container that comes inside during the winter. You simply need to be strategic with your herbal tending.
Lavender is technically considered a herbaceous perennial with slightly woody growth. In temperate zones 5 through 10, most types are evergreen (their leaves stay intact year round).
In hardiness zones 3 and 4, the softer (non-woody) parts of the plant will partially die back and go dormant while the woody core remains. With proper protection, the herb will re-sprout and continue growing in the spring.
There are 5 key secrets to keeping this Mediterranean native alive in a cold climate:
Choose the Right Variety
Although the elegant French varieties have that classic lavender look, they are only hardy to zone 7. Northern growers will need to choose from English lavender and Lavandin hybrids for cultivars that can actually withstand deep freezes. If you are growing in containers, you will need a dwarf variety.
Plant After the Last Frost
In order to survive cold winters, lavender must get established in the warm spring and summer months. Young plants can be transplanted outdoors after the danger of frost has passed. They need consistent water and well-drained soil to encourage quick root growth.
Lavender requires a good pruning in the fall that will help it funnel energy into its roots. A strong root ball and woody base means your plants have a greater chance at surviving harsh conditions.
Gardeners in areas without reliable snow cover should give their lavender plants added insulation. A mulch of pea gravel, crushed rock, landscape fabric, or pine needles helps protect the root zone from harsh winds and freezing conditions.
(Optional) If you live in zones 3 or 4, it may not be worth the risk to potentially lose your lavender every winter. Growing in a container allows you to enjoy its beautiful blossoms during the growing season and then transport it inside for the winter. You don’t even need a heated greenhouse! Because it will be in its dormant phase, it can be kept in the cool temperatures of a mudroom, garage, or windowsill.
Best Types For Cold Climates
All lavenders belong to the Lavandula genus, which encompasses around 45 different species. They are all members of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and native to the countries that border the Mediterranean sea. While they tend to love the hot, dry, rocky slopes of eastern Spain, southern France, and western Italy.
They can be divided into five main types:
Best for Cold Regions: English Lavenders
Without a doubt, the best type for northern growers is English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). These “true lavender” varieties are hardy and resilient. Plus, their fragrance is absolutely divine.
They can overwinter in zones 5 through 8 and tolerate long periods of drought. In zones 3 and 4, most growers rely on added frost protection or a microclimate area to keep these semi-woody shrubs alive.
Because they can grow up to 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide, English lavenders aren’t typically suited to containers (unless, of course you choose a dwarf cultivar like ‘Munstead’ which is described below).
Adaptable to Cold Regions: Lavandin Hybrids
Lavandula intermedia varieties are technically bred from hybridized crosses between English and Portuguese lavender.
This means they have the hardiness and fragrant flowers of English types combined with the long stems and pungent foliage of Portuguese types. The Lavandin group includes the most infamous cultivars ‘Provence’ and ‘Grosso’.
Known for their strong fragrance and long, elegant stems, Lavandin hybrids are the most coveted by essential oil and perfume producers. They are the most popular type for their vigor, disease-resistance, and wide adaptability in growing zones 5-9.
Not Recommended: French Lavenders
While you may be able to get away with growing potted French lavender in zone 7, these tender shrubs with fluffy, tooth-shaped leaves are only suited to mild climates.
They also don’t have nearly as much perfumey fragrance as their English and Lavandin counterparts. It is generally advised that northern gardeners steer clear of French lavender varieties.
Not Recommended: Spanish Lavenders
The most drought tolerant of all lavenders, Spanish varieties are also called “butterfly lavender” because of the bracts above the flowers. Their distinctive pine-cone shaped blossoms add a unique accent to your herb garden. However, they are not very fragrant and are only hardy in zones 8-9.
Not Recommended: Portuguese Lavenders
Portuguese lavenders are sometimes called “spike lavender” for their spikey lilac blossoms. They have pungent broad leaves and a long bloom window, but they’re only hardy in zones 6-8.
Varieties For Cold Hardiness Zones
English lavenders and Lavandin hybrids are the most cold-friendly categories. Next we take a look at our favorite varieties of each type, and how each of them are best utilized in your cold climate garden.
English Lavenders For Cold Climates
Old legends say that the Romans originally brought lavender from the Mediterranean to northern parts of the UK when they invaded the British soils. Roman armies were known to carry lavender in their herbal “first aid kit”, along with rosemary, sage, parsley, thyme, and borage.
Lavender later became integrated into royal English gardens and associated with the elegant upper class. Plant breeders slowly adapted varieties to withstand colder temperatures. Most of these cultivars tolerate somewhere between zone 3 and 9.
With reports of hardiness down to zone 3, ‘Munstead’ is definitely the most cold-tolerant cultivar available. It is an all-purpose lavender grown for ornamental landscaping, culinary use, and companion planting.
While the stems are a little crooked (not ideal for fresh bouquets), the flowers hold onto their aroma when dried and make a great herbes de Provence seasoning.
For that dreamy castle garden vibe, grow this classic British lavender. Thanks to its elegant shape and vigorous flowering habit, this ‘Hidcote’ is a winner of the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
It is hardy down to zone 5 and spreads up to 24” in each direction. This cultivar is exceptionally easy to grow and versatile in a variety of conditions.
If you love dried arrangements, this is the cold-hardy cultivar for you! The extra large flower spikes have beautiful elongated stems and a vibrant purple color.
‘Royal Velvet’ makes a great rock garden addition thanks to its extra drought tolerance. With proper mulching and pruning, it tolerates down to subzero temperatures.
The gray-green foliage and pastel purple flowers of ‘Blue Cushion’ are a gorgeous sight. This dwarf English variety is semi-evergreen in zones 5 and 6, tolerating down to -20°F in its dormant state. It blooms throughout mid-to-late summer and perfectly doesn’t slack on aroma.
Tidy dome-shaped shrubs of ‘Betty’s Blue’ bloom in one big burst of summer glory. The erect stems are topped with giant spikes of rose-tinted violet flowers that smell like heaven.
This variety is unique because it can adapt to hot, humid climates as well as ultra cold zones 5a and 5b. If you trim this lavender back in the spring after the first blooms, it will grow even bushier. Deadheading old flowers also encourages more growth and color.
Known for its popularity with butterflies and bees, this English lavender has speckled pink and creamy white lavender flowers on every spike.
They are rounded and fluffy for a unique texture in ornamental gardens or bouquets. Perennial in zones 5-9, ‘Little Lottie’ will eagerly bloom in early summer and again in the fall if properly trimmed back.
Cold-Hardy Varieties for Containers
Whether you are short on space or you live in an ultra-cold climate, growing in a container is the best way to ensure winter survival because you can easily move the plant indoors.
It’s generally best to plant compact varieties in a pot about 1.5 to 2 times the size of the root ball. Ensure that the soil is extremely well-drained. When frosty conditions come around, move the plant into a well-lit, cool (non-freezing) area of your home or garage. Slow down on watering, but maintain plenty of air circulation.
Avoid keeping container lavender in overly warm conditions during the winter, as this will confuse the plant’s growth cycle. Your goal is to keep the roots comfy during the winter, but not to encourage heavy new growth until spring when you put the container outside again.
‘Thumbelina Leigh’ among the most popular patio container lavenders thanks to its compact growth (about 12-15” tall and 12-18” wide) and elongated stems.
It is an English type that blooms plump, highly aromatic flowers in two big flushes per season. It is especially tolerant of poor soils, cold temperatures (down to zone 5) and drought.
This extra small, hardy variety grows has a compact rounded shape that maxes out around 16” tall. The snow white blossoms add a dazzling contrast to colorful lavender plantings.
This is an heirloom English lavender from the UK that can tolerate as low as -10°F during its dormancy. Alternatively, you can bring it indoors to maintain evergreen leaves.
Another container-friendly English variety, ‘Lavenite Petite’ has stout pom-pom-like flowers with an intense violet hues. This is one of the smallest varieties and only blooms once or twice in the springtime.
However, the sage-green foliage is almost as aromatic as the flowers and adds a nice texture to perennial ornamental landscapes.
The name says it all: this cultivar has the bluest, biggest blooms of any compact variety. It has superior tolerance to both heat and cold, with hardiness in USDA zones 4 through 9.
This container-friendly English variety tops out at a cute 12” height, however it is tough enough to grow outside as an edging or patio accent. This small but mighty lavender reliably overwinters beneath heavy snow cover and trudges through summer droughts without complaint.
‘Vera’ is another compact bushy variety known for its darker flower spikes and sweet, fragrant oils. It is an heirloom English cultivar that is extremely cold hardy and often selected by high-elevation lavender farmers in the intermountain west.
However, in zones 3 and 4, you probably still want to keep this lavender in a container that you can overwinter inside.
Cold-Hardy Lavandin Hybrids
Lavandin hybrids were first developed in the early 1900s when “true lavender” (English lavenders of the Lavandula angustifolia species) were crossed with “spike lavenders” (Portuguese lavender of the Lavandula latifolia species). The result was an ultra-vigorous, disease-resistant, and super aromatic powerhouse.
These varieties are typically adapted to regions as cold as USDA zone 5. Because their seeds are sterile, they are only propagated by cutting and tend to be the most uniform.
Known for its infamous aroma, ‘Provence’ is the variety of choice for perfume makers. It has extremely high essential oil content. These large shrubs need at least 2 feet of space between them and especially love sandy or gritty soil with excellent drainage.
‘Provence’ is cold hardy down to around -10°F and is widely adaptable to different climates. It typically flowers from June to August and is the same variety found in the dazzling lavender fields of southern France.
This award winning variety has an extravagantly strong fragrance and graceful long flower stems coveted for bouquets and wands. The dense 2-4” long flowers bloom in great abundance throughout the summer.
‘Hidcote Giant’ is truly a giant lavender that forms majestic mounds up to 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide. It has all the cold hardiness of English types paired with the heat resilience of Portuguese types. It is hardy down to zone 5.
Ideal for beginners, ‘Sensational’ is a hybrid lavender suitable for eastern New England, the midwest, and parts of Colorado. It is especially adapted to the humid heat and wet springs of the eastern U.S. It has lovely silvery foliage and thick stems with extra large blue-tinted flowers.
This hybrid type is as close to a cold-hardy French lavender that you can get. ‘Phenomenal’ is truly a classic purple lavender. It tolerates temperatures down to -20°F during its dormant phase, yet also withstands humid summer heat.
As long as it has plenty of space, this variety is incredibly low maintenance. It will reward you with fragrant evergreen foliage and profuse blue-lilac hued blooms all summer long.
Whether you live in mountainous Colorado, the chilly Great Lakes, or the moist Northeast, English and Lavandin varieties will eagerly grow in your climate.
Even gardeners in Montana, Idaho, the Dakotas, and Minnesota can grow lavender with strategic planning, dense mulches, and/or a few mobile containers. Just don’t forget to choose an extra cold-hardy variety, prune in the fall, mulch generously, and move your lavender indoors if needed.