Experimenting: Lavender


When you think of Lavender, the first few images that come to mind are the lush fields with never ending rows of billowing lavender flowers.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/evil_giraffes_rule/3717625645/

Photo by Rob James

Lavender is not only aesthetically beautiful but it gives off a sweet, floral aroma that is extremely soothing. The oil is extracted from the lavender plant is the most used essential oil in the world. It's relaxing and calming scent is often used to reduce anxiety, help with better sleep and alleviate headaches.

Photo by Derrick (afderrick on Flickr)

 

There are many varieties of Lavender - French, English, Spanish; But the smell of the English lavender is what you will be familiar with in aromatherapy oils.

Being plant people, we wondered if it was possible to grow our own lavenders instead of diffusing essential oils. Alas, lavenders are native to temperate climates which means they prefer cool and dry conditions, with a good amount of sunlight. This makes growing lavender in Singapore difficult as our climate conditions are the opposite of cool and dry, and our midday sun is too harsh for these plants.

But hey, no pain no gain right?

So to kick-start our mission, we bought some English lavender (lavandula angustifolia) seeds, got hold of two packs of experiment kits, and planted them in our red Plantui 6 for good luck.

About 2 weeks later, they germinated! Since seeds are living organisms, there will be a variation in germination time from seed to seed. In our case, one of the seeds germinated much faster than the others, giving it about a full week of head start compared to the rest. We watched and waited in anticipation for the others to catch up. You can see in the image our front runner growing pretty large on the left-back.

Plantui lavender at 6 weeks

Even when they were tiny, their leaves had little oil droplets on them which carried the fragrance of the lavender plant. With a solid 16h of light daily and ample nutrients, they started to grow many side shoots and got very bushy. This is how they looked like around the 4 month mark.

Plantui lavender

What we have learnt from our own experience and other growers:

  1. Choose the right variety of lavender for your area
  2. Good water drainage - Lavender requires well-drained soil or loose soil that will not compact around its roots preventing the excess moisture from draining away
  3. Adequate sunlight - Give lavender 6 or more hours of full sun. The morning sun would be best as Singapore's sunlight is generally too harsh
  4. Fertilize sparinglyLavender plants prefer more nutrient poor soil. Too much fertilizer can may cause it to grow excess foliage and never flower or may even kill it.
  5. Be patient -  Lavender takes a long time to grow (one year or more!)

The reason why we have seen such good success with growing Lavender in the Plantui (on the first attempt) is probably because of the ebb and flow irrigation system. The plant capsules (made of lava rockwool) retains moisture for the plants but are not perpetually soaked in water. They are then watered at regular intervals. This is extremely important for lavender which does not do well with too much moisture (this includes moisture from humidity).

Plants can wilt from too much water - meaning that the roots are waterlogged and cannot absorb what is there.  Over wet soil conditions will also to fungus and root rot problems.  If this happens, what you can do is to cut off the diseased parts and allow the plant to dry out.

Also, the Plantui can be placed in a cool indoor environment with central air conditioning that is turned on the whole day. We measured the average humidity outdoors (~80%) vs. the cool, drier air indoors (~45%).

Plantui Ebb and Flow Irrigation

(Picture above) Plantui's separate water tray for the Ebb and Flow Irrigation System

From pictures and plants that we seen of lavenders from other homegrowers, it seems that the plants are not getting the adequate amount of sunlight that they need. We have also tried growing lavender ourselves in a pot outside.

Take a look at the leaves of the lavender. 

Plantui Lavender comparison

Healthy and happy lavender plants will have spindle-like leaves. From our anecdotal experience, the leaves tend to unravel and flatten to get more sunlight when the lavender plant is placed in an area with insufficient sunlight. 

In a tropical country like Singapore where the normal sunlight is too harsh, there is a need for a netting over the lavender plant to provide it with some shade but still allow it to get sufficient sunlight.

Growing lavender is not an easy task indeed! Where other plants tend to be more forgiving with a larger margin of error, lavender plants need to have just the right amount of water, sunlight and nutrients for it to thrive. Also, lavender plants do not like to be moved so it is better to grow new ones than to move them around.

When it grows, prune lightly to help maintain its shape. Lavender will appreciate the pruning and have a bushier and more compact shape. Here's a video as a guide to pruning your lavender plants!

We will give another update in the near future on the growth of our Lavender when it gets a little larger. In the meantime, try growing some yourself and leave us some comments on your experience!

If you have questions, post them on our Reddit page!

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