11 Tips For Growing Lavender in Hot, Dry, Desert Climates

Do you live in the desert but want to grow lavender? Hot, arid climates can create complicated growing conditions for many different plants. In this article, gardening expert and former organic lavender farmer Logan Hailey walks through her top tips for growing lavender in hot, dry, desert climates!

desert lavender

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Despite its graceful blossoms and scrumptious aroma, lavender is practically as rugged as a cactus. Lavender has evolved with a robust tolerance for heat and drought in its native habitat of Northern Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean basin. In fact, it actually despises excessive moisture, humidity, or fertility.

This coveted perennial herb thrives in the gravelly, dry soils and direct sunlight of exposed slopes and high mountain deserts. If you live in a hot, dry climate, you can easily enjoy its delectable fragrance for a significant part of the year.

Let’s dig into these time-tested tips for growing beautiful lavender plants in a desert climate.

Does Lavender Grow in the Desert?

Purple blooming shrub in desert
It can grow well in sandy soils and in hot, sunny weather.

Lavender is well-adapted to desert regions. In fact, it often prefers them over the humidity or cold of northern temperate areas. In spite of names like French and English Lavender, this herb originated in areas around the Mediterranean Sea, including the Middle East and Northern Africa.

These desert regions particularly suit its preference for sandy, gravelly soil that is well-drained, alkaline, and low in nutrients. The hot, sunny weather is also ideal for its fast growth habit.

Tips For Growing in Desert Climates

You may be surprised to discover that this popular shrub thrives on a bit of neglect. Its delicate flowers willingly bloom even in the hottest, driest conditions. Nonetheless, it isn’t completely resilient to problems. Here are the most important steps you can take to grow hardy lavender plants that are ready for whatever your desert climate has to throw at them.

Plant in the Fall or Early Spring

Gardener planting in dry soil
In dry regions, plant in early spring or autumn.

Lavender needs time to develop its roots before it can withstand difficult conditions. In arid regions, planting in the early spring or fall ensures that the young plants have enough time to get established before the heat kicks in.

If temperatures are already over 80°F at the time of planting, consider providing your young plants a little bit of sun protection with a shade cloth.

Avoid planting between May and September. The brutal desert sun dries out the soil and can quickly annihilate young plants before they get a chance to adjust to their surroundings. Instead, plant seedlings during the mildest weather possible.

Keep Young Plants Watered

Woman watering a shrub in the garden
Fresh transplants need to be watered abundantly and frequently to encourage growth.

Although it is incredibly drought tolerant once it’s established, newly transplanted lavender plants need plenty of water to fuel growth. That doesn’t mean you should water it every single day. Instead, keep an eye on the newly planted seedling and give it a deep, generous soak every few days for the first two weeks. Allow the soil to moderately dry out between waterings.

After that initial establishment phase, plants prefer watering about once per week for the first month (assuming there is hot weather and no rainfall). If it rains, there is no need to provide additional irrigation.

After one month, spend the rest of the establishment year irrigating once every 2-3 weeks. Over the following 6-12 months, you can slowly wean the plant off of additional water as it becomes firmly rooted in the soil.

Ensure Well-drained Soil

Soil that's been well drained
This plant prefers to grow in gravel, rocky and sandy soils with good drainage.

Just because your climate is hot or dry doesn’t mean it has desert sand. In fact, the clay soils of places like Arizona and Southern California often need some major aeration before planting. Drainage is of the utmost importance for this arid-climate plant.

When it does get rainfall or irrigation, lavender prefers for that water to rapidly drain through the soil profile. Otherwise, it is at risk of developing root rot and other fungal diseases.

Gravelly, rocky, and sandy soils are perfect for its shallow roots. A great way to test your soil’s drainage is to pour a gallon bucket of water on one area of the soil and see how quickly it infiltrates. If it pools up on the soil surface or quickly runs off to the sides, it may be an indicator that your soil needs some drainage work.

Use a broadfork or digging fork to loosen the soil at least 1 foot down. Then, incorporate materials like peat moss, pine bark, peat gravel, or lava rock into the planting hole to improve the drainage. Some gardeners also plant on a mound to help further facilitate quick drainage after heavy rains.

Don’t Fertilize

Hand holding fertilizer
It is not recommended to add fertilizer in dry regions.

You may think that a beautiful flowering plant like this needs lots of fertilizer, but it’s actually the opposite! Excess nitrogen is known to cause flimsy, weak foliage growth and less flower production.

These leggy, thin stems can be problematic in desert regions because they are more prone to wilting or damage from heavy winds.

Lavender naturally thrives in gravelly or sandy soils with very low fertility. If you want robust plants with lots of blooms, it’s best to avoid adding any fertilizer to the soil.

Let it Dry Out Before Watering

Dry soil under a garden shrub
Make sure the soil dries out between waterings.

After the initial months of establishment, it prefers to get a little “thirsty” between waterings. The soil should become fairly dry before you water it again. This ensures that the roots don’t fall victim to rotting pathogens, nor become waterlogged in poorly-drained soil.

We recommend sticking your finger in the soil at least 5-6” deep to see what the moisture level is like. If your skin comes out muddy, don’t water it for at least a week. If your skin has some crumbs of soil on it, wait a day or two before watering. Or, if it comes out bone dry, it’s time to provide a nice drench.

One caveat: If your plant is outright wilting under the scorching sun, check if the soil is dry and help it adjust. However, if it starts drooping in ultra hot weather but the soil remains moist, it is nothing to worry about. The herb will bounce back when it cools down.

Provide The Occasional Generous Soak

Watering blooming flowers in the garden
This shrub prefers rare but deep watering.

In Mediterranean regions, mature lavender farms often receive watering only once or twice a year in the peak summer. In desert areas, you may need to water more often depending on your soil and how old your plants are.

Young plants are inherently more thirsty as they get established, often needing water once per week during peak summer. For mature plants, the hottest, drought-stricken months may warrant a deep soak every few weeks.

But even more important than the frequency of watering is the amount of water. Lavender would much prefer infrequent yet deep watering instead of constant shallow waterings. Yellow leaves are an indicator that you’re overwatering and need to cut back.

Never Water Overhead

Watering plant overhead
It is not recommended to water overhead, it is better to use drip irrigation.

Though incredibly resilient to adverse weather, it is notorious for its susceptibility to fungal diseases. It hates to have moisture or humidity sitting on its leaves. Even in the driest climates, it should never be overhead irrigated.

Instead, use drip irrigation or soaker hoses around the base of the plant (but not right up next to the trunk). Imagine a circle about 4-6” from the center crown. This is where you can deliver moisture straight into the root zone without risking crown or root rot.

Choose a Proper Container

Transplanting herbs into terra cotta pot
When container planting, choose a large ceramic pot with a drainage hole.

Container gardeners in hot climates often forget that pots heat up very rapidly and can bake your plant roots. If planting in a pot, be sure that you choose the largest containers possible and never use unglazed terracotta or metal pots (they will literally become ovens in the summer heat).

Instead, opt for wooden raised beds, fabric grow bags or ceramic pots with large drainage holes. The container size should allow plenty of space for the plant’s roots to grow over the following year without getting rootbound.

Water Container Plants Regularly

Watering herb in container
Potted or container grown plants will need more water than those in the ground.

Lavender growing in containers will naturally dry out more quickly than plants growing in the ground. This is especially noticeable in desert climates where the summer sun rapidly heats up the pots.

Be sure to provide potted plants with water every day or every few days in hot weather. Always use the “finger” test to ensure that the roots aren’t sitting in soggy soil inside the pot.

Plant Where There’s Afternoon Shade

Purple flowers in shade of garden
Plant in a spot with partial shade in the afternoon.

Desert climates are the one place where you can break lavender’s typical sunlight rule. While it usually demands direct, full sunshine, ultra hot climates may warrant planting it in a location with partial shade in the afternoon. To pick the ideal spot, you will need to observe how the sunshine moves over your garden in different parts of the season.

Keep in mind that it still needs at least 6-8 hours of full sunshine to thrive. It especially enjoys the morning sun. If you have irrigation, you can safely plant it in an area with direct uninterrupted sunlight.

Your lavender will be more drought tolerant if partially protected from the harsh afternoon sun. Avoid planting anywhere where it gets overly shaded by structures or larger plants.

Choose Heat & Drought Resistant Varieties

Lavandula stoechas
Lavandula stoecha grows well in desert climates.

Spanish varieties (Lavandula stoechas), French varieties (Lavandula dentata) and Lavandin hybrids (Lavandula intermedia) are particularly well-adapted to desert climates. Each of these types of lavender includes dozens of different cultivars with unique flower colors, scents, and traits.

Also keep in mind that there are some lavender varieties specifically bred for drought tolerance.

Final Thoughts

For such a gorgeous flower, lavender is surprisingly hardy. Once established, it actually thrives on neglect. Too much fertility or water, and this herb will not be very happy. If you want to successfully grow lavender in a hot, dry climate, remember to:

  • Plant in mild weather of spring or fall
  • Water young plants to help them get established
  • Improve the soil drainage with peat moss, pine bark, or pea gravel
  • Don’t fertilize
  • Water occasionally and deeply
  • Avoid overhead irrigation
  • Choose containers that won’t bake the roots
  • Water container plants more frequently
  • Opt for Spanish lavender, French lavender, or Lavandin hybrid cultivars

Whether you live in Southern Arizona or the high deserts of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, lavender can withstand some major heat and drought. As long as it has its basic needs met, this herb is eager to please.

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