When To Harvest Lavender

Since ancient Rome, lavender has been used in everything from cosmetics to medicines. Lavender’s essential oil can promote relaxation, induce sleep, and even repel insects! Its purple flowers are also lovely and fragrant even when dried.

Although lavender buds are edible, its flowers are usually dried for their scent or processed into essential oil. Exactly when to harvest lavender depends on how you plan to use it.

Growing and harvesting lavender can be very rewarding. Lavender is beautiful as a landscaping plant but also has many uses.

You likely have used a lavender product before. Lavender is used for olfactory reasons like perfume and is also a common flavoring in food and alcohol. It can be used as an organic pesticide and as a medicine.

The ideal time for lavender harvesting depends on what you plan to use it for. Lavender produces more oils if picked at the proper time. The extraction of the oils also requires some processing of the flower after you’ve harvested it. The essential oils smell wonderful and have so many uses that they’re more than worth the effort!

The hybrid variety called lavandin is usually grown for oil, while English lavender is the best variety for dried flowers.

English lavender tends to bloom earlier in the summer than hybrid lavenders. If you’re growing lavender for drying, be ready to harvest it earlier than higher-oil producing lavandin.

Lavender grown for oil needs to be timed just right, down to the time of day for harvest. Lavender’s essential oil is volatile and tends to dissipate faster from open blooms. In general, the longer the blooms have been open, the less fragrant oil they contain.

Try to harvest oil-producing lavender by the morning of the first full bloom. If you see mostly brown petals on your lavender, it’s probably too late to get a good crop of essential oil from those flowers.

If it’s early in the season, you can try trimming down the stems below the first leaf node. This can encourage a second late-season flowering, which will give you another shot to time your harvest better.

Where Do You Cut Lavender When Harvesting?

To harvest lavender, cut the green stems at any spot above the first leaf node. A lavender bush can be harvested all at once or stem-by-stem. After harvest or during, you’ll need to prune the lavender stems at a particular spot to preserve future yields.

Make sure you leave at least two leaf nodes, and don’t remove more than half of the total green growth. On page 34 of this pdf about lavender growing there are illustrations of where to cut the lavender.

In the fall, when any leftover blooms have faded, give your lavender a final pruning. Find the spot where green growth meets the woody part and trim 2-3 inches above this spot.

Lavender is a unique plant; it’s actually an evergreen, since its woody base will survive winter. The green stems that hold lavender blooms are the part you can safely trim or prune.

Make sure you never cut into the woody growth at the base of your lavender! New growth only comes from the green stem portions left after pruning. If you prune deep into the woody part of the plant, it won’t be able to regenerate new stems.

The tidiest lavender shrubs are cut back yearly. Without pruning, plants will quickly grow top heavy and “split” in the middle. Fall pruning is also the best way to ensure a big flower crop next year!

Much like harvest time, where you cut your lavender after harvesting depends on what you want your lavender for. If you just want it for its flowers, you don’t need to cut it after harvesting. Just cut the stem to whatever length you want it when you take the flower, and you’ll be fine.

We’ll go over drying the lavender later in the article. In order to dry the lavender, you need to keep as long a stem as possible, so make sure to cut it as close to the bottom as you can.

How Many Times Can You Harvest Lavender Per Year?

How many harvests will your lavender give in a year? It depends! Factors like variety, plant maturity, and certainly harvest size will affect how often you can cut stems from your lavender.

Older plants are larger and more resistant to shock from frequent trimmings. For example, a fully mature English lavender plant can spread into a shrub 3 feet in diameter.

A plant that size can yield 4-7 fist-sized bundles of lavender at full bloom. These bundles can be taken all at once or spread across the growing season; both methods are safe for a healthy plant. If you only need one bundle at a time, say for fresh flower displays, you can effectively “harvest” 4-7 times in one summer!

English Lavenders will also produce more blooms than a Lavandin. English Lavenders, when mature, will bloom twice in a growing season. Lavandins will only bloom once.

If you want a second “full” rebloom late in the season, pruning is your best friend. Lavender blooms on new growth, meaning freshly pruned stems encourage the plant to set flowers again. Prune lavender at the height of its June/July color and another crop of blooms will grow in by September or October.

This method will consistently give you two full harvests per summer with English lavender varieties. In fact, most gardeners prune their lavender twice per season. Pruning in early summer promotes a second set of blooms, while pruning in the fall encourages lots of flowers next spring.

The big exception is newly planted lavender. It’s best to give your lavender a year to get established before trimming it. Some gardeners even recommend you clip off year-one flower stalks, which focuses the plant on root growth during its first year. So be prepared; first-year lavender plants might give you no harvests at all!

Depending on the type of lavender, you might only be able to harvest it once or more than once. You most likely either have an English Lavender or some variety of lavandin, which is a hybrid between two species of English Lavender.

Note that lavandins are sterile and thus can only be cultivated through clippings, while English Lavender produces potentially fertile seeds.

Lavandins will produce more essential oils than an English Lavender, but the English Lavenders produce higher quality oils. So, to summarize, you can harvest an English Lavender twice a year. A lavandin you can harvest once a year.

Can You Harvest Lavender After It Has Bloomed?

Lavender is a tolerant plant that you can harvest at any time without fear of damaging the plant.  You can absolutely harvest lavender after it has bloomed! In fact, most uses for lavender require at least several blooms to be open along the stem.

It makes for an eye-catching and aromatic addition to a bouquet harvested at any time during bloom. If you’re harvesting for dried flower or essential oil you should be more specific about when you harvest.

According to NC State Extension if you’re harvesting a flower to make dried flowers, you should harvest early when only a few of the buds are in bloom. If you want to create essential oils for scent or to flavor food, you should harvest lavender when about half of its flowers are in bloom. If you wait, the flowers’ scent will decrease.

If you’re making essential oil, you should harvest lavender on an early morning when half the blooms are open. This is the window when its oils are most highly concentrated.

If you’re harvesting for dried flowers, cut your lavender even earlier: when just one or two blooms are open. You want to preserve the stems in the freshest state possible, before any flowers have withered. The fewer spent blooms, the more of the fragrance preserved in your dried lavender.

It’s important to catch lavender at the right time in its bloom cycle, but don’t wait too long to harvest, either. Spent blooms can spoil after they’re harvested. You don’t want brown flowers in your lavender craft. If you’re not sure, it’s better to cut lavender too early rather than too late.

You should harvest lavender flowers in the morning, as that’s when they have the strongest scent and the most oil.

When Is It Too Late To Harvest Lavender?

Lavender has a wonderfully long growing season that lasts from spring to fall. Although the exact timing depends on your hardiness zone, all lavender varieties bloom throughout the summer months.

This growing period gives you lots of flexibility with harvests, which can be a little overwhelming for first-time growers. A better gauge for meeting your harvest window is to consider your variety and your intended use.

If you want flowers for a bouquet you can harvest anytime. If you want to create dried flowers, you should harvest early when only a few of the buds have bloomed. After that, when about half of the flowers have bloomed, you can harvest the buds to make essential oils.

Of course, a bouquet and a pleasant scent are both lovely things to have around the house, meaning this plant will have some use to you no matter when you harvest it.

When To Harvest Lavender for Essential Oils

The best time to harvest lavender for essential oils is in the early morning. This is when lavender’s oils are most concentrated, meaning your time and trouble in the garden will yield more fragrant oil.

Why morning? Heat and sunlight both cause the oils to dissipate faster from open blooms. You want to gather flowers in the early part of the day, just as they’re opening, before too much oil is lost.

For the best essential oil, you also need to harvest lavender later in its bloom cycle than for dried flowers. Aim to harvest when 30-50% of the buds are open (compared to one or two open blooms when for dried flowers).

Lavender essential oil is distilled directly from those flower buds. You want to catch the plant when it’s mature enough to flower, but before all those oils are lost to sun and wind evaporation.

Never harvest wet lavender! If there’s morning dew left on the plant, wait an hour or so while the sun and wind dry it. Early harvests are best, but wet blooms can mildew before you have time to process them, ruining your plans for essential oil products.

This also applies to rainy days–if your lavender shrubs just got rained upon, it’s best to wait until the flower stalks have dried before harvesting. Even if that means waiting another day or two!

You shouldn’t harvest at all in the first year. Lavender loves being pruned. If you hold out, prune away potentially flowering branches, and let it regrow in year two, you’ll have a much higher yield!

Pruning a lavender will help it thrive, and some pruning should be continued throughout the lavender’s life, once a year after flowering.

A good rule of thumb is to harvest after the dew has gone away, but before it gets hot out!

How To Dry Lavender

Lavender flowers are unique because they retain their color and scent after drying. Dried lavender can be used in crafting, soapmaking, and even cooking!

Before you harvest, know how you’ll use your dried product. Do you want whole stems for a wreath? Or do you need lavender buds for homemade soap?

Lavender can be harvested for drying when the first flowers have opened, but if you plan to use the flower buds, wait until your lavender is at half-bloom.

After harvesting, tie the stems together in a bundle. You can use twine, although seasoned lavender farmers suggest a rubber band. Why? Lavender stems shrink as they dry, but rubber will contract along with them, keeping the bundle firmly together.

Next you’ll need a spot to hang up your lavender bundles for 2-4 weeks. This step can be the trickiest, since bad conditions can ruin your dried product. Sunlight exposure will fade the flowers, while humidity and poor ventilation will encourage mold.

Choose a place that’s dark, dry, and has good airflow. If you have a spot that meets only the first two requirements, add in a fan to circulate air. Let your lavender bundles hang undisturbed until the buds drop off when gently shaken.

Once your lavender is dry, store the stalks in an opaque plastic container with a tight-fitting lid until you need them. Exposure to dust and light can also reduce the lifespan of dried lavender.

Drying lavender isn’t too tricky. First, to dry your lavender, make sure to cut as long a stem as possible during the harvesting phase. Once you have between 50 and 100 stems of lavender, you can begin to dry them. 

To dry lavender, bundle the stems together using a rubber band or a tightly tied string and leave them in a cool, dark place with decent air circulation.

While this air drying method is recommended for home gardeners, lavender can be big business, and commercial growers have their own methods. There are several methods to dry lavender out. These can have significant effects on what the lavender produces!

For example, in one scientific study, they dried the lavender out at 122 degrees Fahrenheit. They found that it was the best way to get the most oil with the highest quality in the fastest time!

The simplest and safest way to dry lavender for the home gardener is the bundling method mentioned above.

Please comment below!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top