When Should You Harvest Lavender For The Best Results?
Do you have some lavender in your garden but aren't quite sure when to harvest it? Lavender can be a tricky herb to time perfectly when it comes to harvesting. In this article, organic gardening expert and former organic lavender farmer, Logan Hailey takes you through the perfect timeline to harvest your lavender this season.
Lavender harvest is one of the most lovely times of year in the garden. As a watercolor sunrise emerges on the horizon, you step out into the dewy grass of your garden with a basket, scissors, and a calm smile. As you cut the elegant stems, the sweet aroma of fresh blossoms envelops you with the calm and joy of spring.
But how do you know the best time to begin this exciting harvest? Depending on how you want to use your lavender, it is crucial to harvest the flowers at the right time for the highest quality end product. This decadent herb can be used for culinary seasonings, candles and fragrant crafts, dry or fresh bouquets, and soothing sachets.
Let’s dig into the best time of year for harvesting lavender blooms for specific projects.
The Short Answer
The best time to harvest lavender is early: early in the morning, early in the bloom cycle, and early in the spring or summer. The flowers are made up of whorls of buds on a spike. Generally, the best time to harvest a lavender flower stem is when half of the buds on the spike are in full bloom. You want to catch the floral spikes before all the flowers have fully opened, but not so early that they haven’t released their fragrant essential oils.
The Long Answer
Lavender’s addicting aroma and vibrant color make it the start of spring and summer herb gardens. If you want to use it for more than just an ornamental shrub, you can cut the blooms and create all sorts of fragrant projects for decoration, aromatherapy, and recipes. These beautiful creations all start with scissors and a harvest basket.
Remember: Regardless of the end use, you always want to pick as early in the morning as possible. Heat will cause the plant to start losing its fragrance.
Lavender usually sends up its first floral stems as the weather warms in the spring. A nice spring pruning can encourage this flush of new growth. The flowers are called spikes because of their elongated shape.
Each spike is made up of a whorl of buds that start out tightly closed. As the flowers mature, the buds open and the corollas (flowers) emerge. But not all the buds on a given spike will bloom at the same time. There can be flower spikes with several different stages of blooms on the same plant.
Finding the perfect window of opportunity to harvest requires observation and practice. But once you get the hang of it, harvest is quite simple. The timing mostly depends on what you’re using the plant for:
For Dried Crafts
When flower spikes have 25-50% of buds open, they are ideal for dried potpourris, culinary blends, or sachets. Closed buds will retail more color and fragrance over time, but may not be as aromatic at the time of harvest.
For Scented Uses
When you want to get as much scent as possible up front, it’s best to wait until 50-90% of the buds are open and blooming. This is ideal for essential oil distillation or herbal preparations such as infusing lavender in vodka, witch hazel, or another fast-acting preservative.
If it’s your first harvest, you may want to take a sample cut of 10-20 stems at different bloom stages and bring them inside to observe more closely. Notice how spikes with all their buds closed look smaller and more compact.
The buds are cylindrically-shaped and may still have a greenish hue. On the other hand, open flowers will have a more vibrant color as the five-petaled mini flowers burst from each bud.
How Do You Harvest AND Keep it Growing?
Harvesting is very simple. First, be sure it is in the right stage of bloom for your use. Find an area of the plant where most of the flowers are at a uniform stage of growth. Bring your hand down toward the base of the plant and grab a bundle of stems.
Use sharp scissors or garden pruners to cut to your desired length. Usually, longer is better because you’ll have more stems to play with. If you want to encourage another flush of blooms, it helps to cut near a node above the woody growth. This is a green, pliable point where two leaves intersect with the stem.
Elastic rubber bands are the best thing to use when bundling, so be sure that your wrist is filled with a bundle of them. As the stems dry and shrink, you can wrap the rubber band around them again to tighten the hold. If you use string, twist ties, or twine, you may risk your bundle falling apart as it dries.
If you still want to enjoy this popular herb in your garden, it’s best to harvest from the bottom edges of the shrub. This leaves the top looking fluffy and full of flowers.
Harvesting & Preservation
Picking lavender is just like picking any flower. You wait until the blooms have opened to your desired amount
Harvesting For Culinary Use
Bloom Stage: 25-50% buds open
You can dried culinary lavender in herbes de provence blends (with oregano, savory, sage, and others), meat marinades, or as garnishes for desserts. The best varieties for eating are English lavenders (Lavandula angustifolia).
You can technically use the dried buds, leaves, and stems, but most chefs prefer only flowers. Harvest them as dried bouquets and hang them upside down (as described below) or simply use your fingers to pluck the blooms straight from the stem. The latter method leaves you with only flowers to dry on a screen or in a dehydrator, which means less processing later on.
The ideal time for a culinary harvest is early in the morning when less than half of the spike buds have opened up. These buds are aromatic and flavorful, but won’t leave your food tasting like soap or perfume.
However, you still want some sweet fragrance. If the flower spikes are still closed, green, or excessively hard. Their scent has not fully developed yet and it is best to let them open more before picking.
Harvesting For Fresh Bouquets
Bloom Stage: 50-90% buds open
For beautiful fresh vase displays, you can harvest lavender just like classic cut flowers. When the florets of each spike are about half open and half closed, this is the perfect time to harvest them for fresh bouquets.
Some buds will continue to open once they are in a glass. Cut the stems as long as possible and place the bundle in a tall vase of water. Like all cut flowers, they will eventually wither. The cut bunches will last up to 10 days in water, but if you wish to dry them you should remove them after 3 days and hang per the instructions below.
Harvesting For Dry Bundles
Bloom Stage: 25-90% buds open
Technically, you can harvest for drying at any stage. The earlier-harvested buds tend to hold their color for longer in a dried bouquet. Spikes that are about half open and half closed have the best combo of color, fragrance, and longevity.
However, it could take forever to sift through an entire plant full of flowers. For a quicker harvest, find clumps of flower spikes that are at a similar bloom stage. Grab them by the handful, cut near the base of the stem (where it’s still pliable), and bundle them together as you pick. Rubber bands are the best for securing harvested bundles before drying.
How to Dry
Once you have picked lavender at your preferred time, there are lots of different ways to dry it before use. Here we cover the two most popular methods. It is important to start the drying process right after you harvest. Otherwise, mold can infiltrate the blossoms.
By far, the most popular way to dry lavender is to hang the bundles upside down. This makes for a beautiful drying display and fills your home with the aroma. If you plan to hang dry, it’s best to make several small bunches rather than one huge one. You can suspend them from a string or bar with clothespins or twine.
Depending on your climate and the humidity as well as the size of the bundle, most varieties can take 7-14 days to fully dry. At this point, you can cut the flowers off and preserve them in a jar or you can keep the bouquets for decor around your house. Drying in the dark ensures that the sun doesn’t strip away the color
Pros of Hang Drying
- Quick and easy harvest
- Very passive form of drying
- Fills your home with the smell
- A beautiful display of upside-down bouquets
- Best for wrapping crafted wands
- When dried in the dark, it preserves the vibrant purple color
- Slow drying helps maintain a lot of fragrance
- Best for dry, warm climates
Cons of Hang Drying
- Requires plucking flowers later on (for sachets, herb blends, etc.)
- Longer process (7-14 days)
- Climate-dependent (dry, warmer climates are best)
- In humid areas without airflow, mold or mildew could be an issue
- Plant matter can fall on the area below as it dries
- Dust can get into the bundles
- Rubber bands need to be tightened as the stems shrivel
- If there is too much light, it can lose color and fragrance
Dry in a Food Dehydrator
If you live in a humid climate or don’t have space to hang dry lavender, a food dehydrator is the most sanitary way to prepare this herb for eating. Although you can dehydrate whole stems, it’s most efficient to just snip or pluck off the flower spikes alone. Arrange them on a dehydrating screen in a single layer.
The best temperature to dehydrate lavender is 85 to 100°F, but no hotter. Leave the dehydrator running for 1-2 hours and then check the blooms. They should still have plenty of colors and feel papery or dry. If you can still feel moisture when squeezing a flower, let them dry for another hour. Once complete, place dried plants in a tightly sealed bag or jar.
It’s not recommended to dry in the oven because high heat destroys the fragile essential oils that make the flowers smell so delicious.
Pros of Dehydrating
- Most sanitary form of drying (less risk of bugs, dust, or mold)
- Best for culinary use and sachets
- Best for humid, wet climates
- Quick process (2-3 hours)
- No hanging mess needed
- No stems in the final product
Cons of Dehydrating
- High heat may reduce the aroma and color of the blooms
- Requires electricity
- Requires more processing (not as passive as hang drying)
- Takes more time to process
- Cannot keep stems intact for craft projects
- Overdrying can lead to brittle blooms with less fragrance
Ultimately, the best rule of thumb for when to harvest is to catch the spikes when about 50% of the buds have started to bloom. This gives you a nice array of fragrance and color variations within each individual stem. If you don’t want to complicate your harvest, the halfway mark is the most versatile harvest timing for a variety of projects and crafts.
Perhaps the best part about harvesting is that it can also be part of your pruning process! You can get two jobs done at once. Here is everything you need to know about when to prune lavender, and the steps you need to take when doing it.