How to Grow Lavender From Seed in 7 Simple Steps
Thinking about growing lavender from seed, but aren't sure where to start? Lavender can be grown several different ways, but growing from seed is one of the most popular. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey (who has worked at one of the largest lavender farms in the United States) walks through how to grow lavender from seed by following seven simple steps!
With its delicate sweet aroma and eye-catching purple spikes, lavender is one of the most coveted herbs on Earth. A close relative of rosemary and sage, lavender is a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family. It prefers hot, dry summers and cool, moist winters similar to its native Mediterranean climate, however, lavender can grow just about anywhere in the U.S.
This easygoing perennial is simple to tend once it’s established, however it has a reputation for being notoriously finicky to grow from seed. For this reason, lavender is most commonly propagated by cuttings. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to propagate from seed. In fact, with a little bit of patience and finesse, anyone can grow this aromatic herb from seed to a thriving floral garden shrub.
With these secrets for success, you can start dozens of lavender plants for very cheap. Let’s dig into the 7 simple steps to growing lavender with seeds, plus some pro tips to maximize your success!
Lavender Seeds vs. Cuttings
Like most herbaceous perennial herbs, lavender can be grown by seed or cuttings. While cuttings tend to be faster and more reliable, they require having a mother plant and lead to less genetic diversity. Cuttings are technically vegetative (asexual) clones of lavender, whereas seeds are sexually reproduced for more genetic diversity.
Professional growers prefer cuttings for their uniformity and ease of propagation. When you already have a mature lavender plant, clippings of the stems are easy to root and grow into new plants. However, home gardeners may prefer to grow from seed for four primary reasons:
Reasons For Growing From Seed
- Save money (lavender seeds are quite cheap)
- Grow unique heirloom varieties not available in garden stores or nurseries
- Experiment with traditional growing techniques
- Create more genetic diversity in the garden
Just like garden vegetable seeds, lavender seeds require soil, water, light, and warmth to grow. The main reason most growers forego seed propagating lavender is due to their finicky germination rates and long time period until bloom.
Seeds need a special temperature treatment to break dormancy and ensure even germination. Most seeds germinate in about 14-30 days, but the sprouting rate can be uneven without cold stratification.
Cold stratification is essentially just exposing the seeds to cool temperatures that mimic the winter weather of their native climate. In doing so, it “primes” them to break out of their dormant stage and sprout up vigorously and evenly. Though intimidating for most people, this cold exposure process is actually quite straightforward (we’ll cover how to do it below).
When it comes to the time period before blooming, there is no getting around lavender seeds’ slow-growing nature. While cuttings can get established and flower as soon as the first season, lavender seeds take up to 2 years to bloom from the date of sowing. However, patience can pay off with more vigorous, diverse plantings that are extra resilient to pests and diseases.
As you can see, cuttings have several advantages for the impatient or beginner gardener. But don’t let that influence your choice, as growing from seeds can also be extremely satisfying and rewarding, especially for larger crop areas.
Pros of Growing From Seed
- Cheapest option.
- Largest varietal selection.
- Easy to grow a large quantity.
- No “mother plant” required to start.
Cons of Growing From Seed
- More patience is required.
- Need cold stratification.
- 1+ months for germination.
- Lower success rate than cuttings.
- Takes longer from seed to flower.
Starting from seed requires the standard materials for seed propagation. If you’ve started seeds of any kind before, you may already have most of these on hand.
Just be sure that you opt for a super well-drained potting mix, as lavender seedlings are prone to rot and may not perform well in the standard dense seed starter mix often used for vegetables.
- Plastic bag
- Paper plate
- Moist paper towel
- Seedling cell trays
- Well-drained seed starter mix
- Full sun: greenhouse, south-facing window, or grow lights
- Heating mat (optional)
- Humidity dome (optional)
Once you’ve gathered your materials, it’s time to get sowing!
Though growing lavender from seed is not complicated, it requires some patience and a bit of a learning curve. While most growers opt to produce lavender from cuttings, this route saves you a lot of money and opens the door to diverse varieties you otherwise may not be able to find.
Purchase Seeds From a Reliable Source
First, you’ll need to pick what variety of lavender you want to grow. Growing lavender gives you a much wider selection of lavender cultivars that may not otherwise be available as cuttings or potted plants.
Be sure you purchase lavender seeds from a reputable seed company to ensure there are no pathogens that may cause seed-borne diseases. You may also opt to collect seeds from a neighbor’s lavender plant. In this case, be sure that the flower spike has completely dried and matured the seed before you gather them.
Pro Tip: If you prefer popular Lavandin hybrid varieties like ‘Provence’ and ‘Grosso’, you will need to propagate these by cuttings. Because they are hybrids, the seeds of these plants are typically sterile or have a very low germination rate.
Choose Direct Seeding or Indoor Sowing
Next, choose where you prefer to start your lavender seeds: in the garden or indoors?
Direct seeding in the garden is the most natural way to plant these seeds. If sown in the winter prior to your planting season, the seeds will naturally receive the cold exposure they would get when growing in the wild.
This cold period improves the chance of germination in the spring. However, directly sown lavender has a lower success rate due to the unpredictable weather and exposure to wind, water, and pests as tiny young seedlings.
Starting lavender indoors tends to be preferred for its higher probability of success. You can more reliably germinate lavender seeds in the controlled conditions of a window, greenhouse, or grow light setup. Whether you use cell trays or open flats, your seedling containers can be filled with a quick-draining seed starter mix and easily monitored for the 3 to 4 weeks they need to germinate.
Contrary to popular belief, you can certainly direct seed lavender in your garden. After all, the abundant wild lavender meadows of Mediterranean slopes were proliferated by seeds flying in the wind and landing in the rocky soil to grow.
Direct seeding allows your lavender to establish in-place the way it would in nature. The main caveat, however, is a lack of control over the climate. Be sure to sow 50-60% more seeds than you need to account for unexpected losses or a lack of germination. Follow these steps when it comes to direct seeding.
- Prepare for direct seeding in the late fall or early spring, depending on your climate.
- A cold winter will naturally “stratify” the seed and signal it to break dormancy.
- If needed, amend the soil with sand, fine gravel, or peat moss before planting.
- Rake flat and mark off where you’d like the bushes to grow.
- While they can technically be transplanted later, it’s best to sow in their permanent location.
- Scatter seeds in perennial herb beds and barely cover with fine sandy soil.
- Remember that lavender needs light to germinate and will not emerge if buried too deep.
- Keep continuously moist with soaker hoses or overhead irrigation.
- When seedlings emerge, thin to 2-3 feet apart in every direction.
The rest of this article will cover the steps for indoor sowing, which is the most common form of lavender seeding.
Cold Stratification: The Paper Plate Method
Cold stratification is just a fancy word for exposing seeds to a period of cold temperatures. This mimics the overwintering process that lavender seeds would undergo in nature.
Ideally, you should begin the cold stratification method in late winter so that your seeds are ready to sow 10-12 weeks before the last frost date. I love the paper plate method for its simplicity:
- Simply scatter your lavender seeds on a moist paper towel atop a paper plate.
- Make sure the paper towel isn’t soggy. Sprinkle the seeds so as to avoid clumps.
- Place the whole plate in a sealed plastic bag and put it in the fridge for 30 to 40 days.
- After 30 to 40 days, pull out the bagged plate of seeds out of the fridge.
- Place it in direct sunlight in a window.
- They should germinate on the moist paper towel in 7 to 14 days.
Alternatively, you can place a lightweight soil mix on the plate and scatter the seeds on top. However, it can be difficult to sort out the seeds for planting once they are mixed with soil. Either way, the bag needs to be sealed to protect the seeds from drying out. Keep the plate level so the seeds don’t spill.
While cold stratification is technically optional, it makes a massive difference for your lavender seeds. Without cold stratification, lavender may have only a 20 to 30% germination rate. That means a ton of your lavender seeds could completely go to waste! With stratification, however, lavender usually has a germination rate around 80 to 90%.
Prepare Seed Trays With Soil Mix
Starting lavender indoors is the preferred method of seeding because it is more reliable and climate controlled. It’s best to begin indoors around 10 to 12 weeks before the expected last frost date in the spring. This means
Anything previously used to start vegetable or herb seedlings will do. Begin by ensuring you have a seed starting setup with:
- Ample light (sunlight in a south-facing window or grow lights
- Air flow (low running fans)
- Warmth (room temperatures around 60-70°F).
You can choose any size seedling flat that suits you. I prefer to start at least 20 to 30 plants at a time to account for losses. Any extra you can give away! Fill seed starting trays or cell flats with a well-drained seed starter mix. Be sure not to overly tamper down or press the medium into the cells so it maintains plenty of drainage.
Sow Seeds Shallowly
Lavender seeds absolutely need light to germinate. It’s very important that they don’t get buried beneath too much soil.
If you cold stratify and germinated with the paper plate method, use a small spoon or trowel to gently move each sprout into a cell.
Otherwise, sow 1-2 lavender seeds per cell right on the surface of the soil. Lightly press them down so they don’t get dislodged with watering.
Barely dust the lavender with vermiculite, sand or soil. They require light to germinate, so it is important that you don’t allow them to be buried any deeper than ⅛”.
Place Seed Trays in a Warm, Sunny Space
Lavender seeds need to grow in a warm place with ambient temperatures between 60° and 70°F. You can add a heating mat set at 75°F beneath the seed trays to help promote quicker sprouting.
Ensure that there is plenty of light. A south-facing window or greenhouse nursery are ideal, but you can also hang LED grow lights from a shelf to create your own DIY seed starting set up.
The seeds will likely germinate in 2-4 weeks. But you should keep the soil consistently moist for at least 30 days. Don’t allow it to dry out, but also ensure it never gets soggy. Lavender seedlings can be prone to damping off and rotting in excessively moist conditions.
After 10-12 Weeks, Harden Off
Once the lavender seeds have sprouted and grown to fill out their cell trays, you can transplant them into larger pots just like you would with any other herb. Wait until after the last frost date to plant outside.
Be sure that you harden them off by placing them in a protected area for 1-2 weeks and easing them off water to prepare for the transition into the garden.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does lavender grow easily from seed?
Lavender seeds are easy to grow, but require extra patience and attention. As long as you cold stratify the seeds (place in the refrigerator for 30 to 40 days), sow them shallowly, and keep consistently moist, you have a good chance at growing an abundance on a budget!
What month do you start planting seeds?
It’s best to plant lavender seeds indoors in late winter, about 10 to 12 weeks before your last frost, typically in January or February. If you are directly sowing them in the garden, you can try planting in late fall so seeds can experience a natural cold exposure period.
Does lavender bloom first year from seed?
Lavender seeds grow quite slowly and are unlikely to bloom in the first year. They typically take 2 years from the time of seeding to begin producing flowers.
While most people go the cutting propagation route, old-fashioned seed growing is still plausible with lavender. Though it requires a bit more attentiveness and patience, these finicky seeds can reap huge rewards (in the form of tons of cheap plants) if you follow a few time-tested tips:
- Cold stratification improves germination: Exposing seeds to cold temperatures around 32-34°F for 30 to 40 days mimics the natural winter period of cold exposure to break the seed dormancy.
- Choose a well-drained potting mix: In general, lavender despises waterlogged soil. This is especially important for young seedlings that are prone to rotting and damping off. Opt for a potting mix
- Lavender needs light to germinate: Sow very shallowly to ensure that it has the sunlight it needs to germinate.
- Be patient: Expect to wait up to 30 days for germination and another 10 to 12 weeks before transplanting in the garden. Plants grown from seed typically don’t flower until the following year.
Ultimately, growing from seed is not the easiest task, but it is certainly rewarding. Once you crack the code to cultivate plants that others struggle with, you will feel ready to tackle any gardening challenge that comes your way. Enjoy the