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Xeriscape Gardens

Lavender Cotton: Growing Santolina Chamaecyparissus


7 min read

Santolina chamaecyparissus, also known as lavender cotton or gray santolina, is a beautiful drought-tolerant evergreen shrub with silvery gray and green foliage. It belongs to the family Asteraceae and blooms with button-like flowers in the summer.

A great candidate for borders, beds, a rock garden, knot gardens, and as a xeriscaping plant, lavender cotton adds a subtle but silvery gray-green color to a green space and grows as tall as 2′ feet. The oils in the silver foliage deters rabbits and deer too.

So, let’s talk about lavender cotton and give you everything you need to add it to your garden among your ground cypress and other plants in an informed manner.

Quick Care Guide

Yellow button-like flowers are a staple of Santolina chamaecyparissus
Gorgeous, yellow button-like flowers are a staple of this plant. Source: fturmog
Common Name(s)Cotton lavender or lavender-cotton, gray santolina, ground cypress, holy herb, and petite cypress
Scientific NameSantolina chamaecyparissus
FamilyAsteraceae or Compositae
Height & Spread1-2′ tall and 2-3′ wide
LightFull sun
SoilWell-draining sandy soil
WaterDry to medium; this plant is drought-tolerant
Pests & DiseasesFungal root rot and basal crown rot is a problem if soil is poorly drained.

All About Lavender Cotton

Santolina chamaecyparissus – also known as lavender cotton, gray santolina, and other names – is a fragrant, dwarf green shrub. It has dissected, narrow leaves in silvery-woolly color with long-stalked, bright yellow flower heads that are 1″ in width. The silver foliage has an herby scent that’s been likened to oregano.

Grown for its foliage, Santolina loves dry soil. Native to the western and central Mediterranean regions of Spain and Morocco, lavender cotton is a fast-growing, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant flowering plant that blooms in May-June. Much like other herbs, Santolina chamaecyparissus appreciates repeated trimming and harvesting, which makes it great for topiaries.

Gray santolina has a few popular varieties that are native Southern Europe and Northern Africa. ‘Weston’ is a dwarf shrub that doesn’t grow above 1′ foot. It has a unique silver foliage with a strong, pungent fragrance. ‘Edward Bowles’ is another variety with creamy-yellow flowers and gray-green leaves.

‘Lemon Queen’ has pale yellow blooms and rich green leaves and grows up to 2 feet. ‘Morning Mist’ is 15 inches tall and bears yellow blooms with grayish-waxy leaves that add winter interest to a garden. It’s the only variety that can tolerate wet soils. Plant Santolina chamaecyparissus among ground cypress plants for contrasting bluish greens and yellows.

Santolina Chamaecyparissus Care

Cotton lavender in a natural xeriscape habitat
The carpets of bright blooms make cotton lavender an excellent xeriscaping choice. Source: fturmog

Lavender cotton is drought tolerant and thrives well in poor, dry soils. Here’s everything you need to know about its care and maintenance.

Light & Temperature

Drought-tolerant gray santolina grows well in full sun and can grow well in USDA hardiness zones 6-9. Santolina chamaecyparissus can also grow in up to 4 hours of full shade, if there isn’t a full sun area to plant it in. This could encourage a floppier growth habit, though.

When it comes to temperature ranges, lavender cotton can handle cold down to 0°F. It will take on damage with temperatures consistently at or below this, and a frost cloth could assist in a snap freeze. Heat, on the other hand, is no problem at all.

Water & Humidity

Since it is drought-tolerant, gray santolina has minimal water needs. Simply give an inch of water every week when the Santolina chamaecyparissus plants are young to help strengthen the root system. Once established, watering is only required twice a month. Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation in the morning to water deeply and slowly. The plant also needs dry spaces, rather than humid ones.

Soil

Gray santolina plants like well-drained, gritty soils, preferably dry to medium. A wet soil should be avoided at all costs as it can easily lead to root rot. They prefer alkaline soil so don’t add too much compost or excessive moisture. 7 is the ideal soil pH for this plant, and good drainage is essential. Poor soils are fine as long as they are well-draining. Rock gardens are ideal.

Lavender Cotton Fertilizer

Lavender cotton doesn’t need fertilizer. If nutrition in the soil needs some refreshment, a light dressing of compost in early spring is enough. Do not feed Santolina chamaecyparissus as it is used to living in nutrient-deficient, sandy soil.

Repotting Lavender Cotton

The yellow flowers are excellent as house plants and ground cover for your gardens. Smaller lavender can grow well in containers and pots. Prepare a pot – larger than the root ball – with potting mix. Untangle the root ball, gently separate the roots, and place the plants 6″ inches apart.

Give plenty of bottom heat to help the gray santolina roots establish themselves in their new home. Keep it in a well-lit spot and water once a week until your Santolina chamaecyparissus puts on new growth.

Propagation

Propagate in spring using semi-ripe stem cuttings or seeds. If gray santolina gets too large, take the flopping stems and mound layer them. Take a pruning knife and cut a 45° angle cut most of the way through a branch. Bury it in the soil close to the plant where it can form roots. Once the roots form, cut the new plant when the season ends and plant it elsewhere in your garden.

You can also propagate lavender cotton via stem cuttings. Take a 3 inch cutting in spring or summer, and remove all but the top couple of rows of silver foliage. Then dip the tip in rooting hormone and place them in a potting mix of potting soil with some added peat. Keep them out of direct sunlight. Water it in, and in 2 to 3 months you should see new growth.

Pruning

Snip off the dead wood and deadhead the yellow flowers in spring just as the growing season begins. Prune the plants into a nice, circular shape after flowers have bloomed. This will prevent the plants from collapsing or becoming woody. In winter, every 3 to 4 years, prune your entire shrub back to 6 inches above the soil. This will promote adequate growth.

Troubleshooting Lavender Cotton Issues

While lavender cotton is pretty hardy, it does have a few issues that can crop up. Let’s talk about them now.

Growing Problems

Over-watering can be a major problem for lavender cotton. Excess moisture can cause the roots to develop destructive diseases. If you’re growing them in your garden, watering is required twice a month. Similarly, don’t fertilize your plant with more than a light layer of compost once per year.

Pests

Lavender ground cover is virtually pest-free. The oils in its aromatic foliage not only keep away rabbits and deer, insects don’t appreciate it either.

Diseases

Poorly drained soils can lead to basal crown rot and fungal root, which can be prevented by reducing watering. If you don’t have success with withholding water, you can try to replant the shrub in fresh, dry potting media. If that doesn’t change the situation, remove the entire plant and dispose of it in the trash.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is Santolina used for?

A: Santolina grey has fragrant silver foliage, which can be used for flavoring stews, soups, broths and as a herbal medicine – although rarely – to treat indigestion and menstrual problems.

Q: What does lavender cotton smell like?

A: It smells a lot like oregano, and other similar herbs.

Q: Is lavender cotton an evergreen?

A: Especially in its hardiness range, lavender cotton is evergreen.

Q: Is lavender cotton poisonous to dogs?

A: Lavender cotton contains lanalool, a terpene that is present in many herbs. It can be toxic to dogs and cats if it is consumed.

Q: Is lavender cotton edible?

A: It is! Use it like other Mediterranean herbs.

Q: Why is my Santolina dying?

A: Most of the time, overwatering is the culprit responsible for lavender cotton problems.

Q: Should I deadhead Santolina?

A: While you don’t have to, you can prune back spent flowers.

Q: When should I plant lavender cotton?

A: Always plant in a temperate season, either in spring or fall. Try not to plant in the height of the growing season, in summer.

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