Woody Lavender: Likely Causes And 3 Salvage Tips

Lavender makes beautiful borders in your garden and is an excellent option for filling a blank space in your yard. Woody lavender, not so much! So is there a way to prevent that or salvage a plant that has developed the issue?

Lavender gradually becomes woody with age. However, it will become woody and leggy faster if it isn’t pruned regularly. Layering lavender can sometimes salvage a woody plant, as can a technique called the “donut method.” If the bush is beyond help, take a cutting and begin anew. 

Lavender is part of the genus Lavandula. There are more than 45 species of the plant with over 450 varieties. Some types of lavender are much more delicate and temperamental than others. Some kinds love the heat, and others thrive in cooler clients. They come in a range of colors. But all of them can become woody due to time and neglect.

Why Is Lavender Prone To Being Woody?

Lavender’s drought-resistant properties come at a price. To minimize moisture loss, they grow watertight bark, which traps water inside. This special bark allows the trunk to be brilliant at transporting nutrients and sap between the roots and leaves. All of which is fantastic, but it also means new stems and buds can’t penetrate the bark.

Thus, woody lavender is due to the hard bark. This eventually gives the bush a leggy look. One evolutionary reason lavender can sacrifice its lower limb sprouting capabilities is graze-resistance, not prone to be eaten to the stump. The plant is edible, but its strong taste puts off champion grazers such as deer and rabbits.

While woody lavender is a natural consequence of the bush’s aging, you can extend the plant’s longevity and slow down the woody process with a bit of care and attention.

How To Prevent Woody Lavender?

Pruning lavender

The best way to deal with woody lavender is prevention. The best way to prevent lavender from becoming woody is pruning the bush once a year. A properly pruned lavender will develop and retain a satisfying mounded shape that is sets off the flowers in the most eye-catching manner.

How To Prune Lavender?

You prune lavender once a year, either in late winter or early spring. This is when the plant is ready to push out new growth, so pruning will encourage it to make new shoots closer to the base.

Lavender should be cut back by one-third. Any more than that risks harming the plant. But too little will risk it extending the woody base. As you trim, get rid of any dead or damaged sections. This is also when you can give the bush shape, encouraging it to form the mounded shrub aesthetic.

Trim half the floret on a spike if you wish to harvest some flowers.

Once flowers are gone, sheer them back so the stems don’t protrude past the greenery of the bush.

In late autumn, you may also neaten up the plant with a tiny trim to ensure it keeps its mound shape.

Do not prune into the woody part of the lavender. This part of the bush will not grow back.

Why Give Lavender A Mounded Shape?

While many find the classic mounded shape of lavender pleasing, there are practical reasons for doing it.

  • Dense lavender, rather than leggy lavender, will retain heat better in winter, helping it resist snow and ice that could weaken the bush and lead to rot.
  • The mounded shape allows snow to slide off rather than pile up. However, the weight of too much snow can weaken or break part of the plant.
  • More flowers tend to be produced by a thicker, mounded-shaped lavender than one that’s been allowed to become scraggly and wooden.

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How To Salvage Woody Lavender?

There are a few possible methods for trying to salvage a woody lavender plant. However, results vary and take time. Some types of lavender are more sensitive and might not be robust enough to survive. Other plants might live but always look quirky.

Method 1: The Long Hard Prune

The long hard prune is a method that is technically done over three years but will take a good five to look good. Some will do it for four years, reducing the chance of killing the plant, but then it will take at least six before the bush begins looking right. The whole process takes time, luck, and a wiliness to have a quirky bush for a while.

To do the long hard prune, you first give your lavender the typical 1/3 normal prune. Then you cut every third branch to the trunk (edge of the wood). If you are doing it for four, adjust accordingly.

Year 2:  give the lavender its basic annual prune but half the length of the new shoots. Then cut back about half of the remaining long branches to the trunk.

Year 2: cut back the remaining tall branches. The first-year shoots can be cut a third smaller, and the second year’s shoots can be cut in half.

Year 4: give the first two-thirds of your shoots a standard third clip, and baby shoots halved.

Year 5: give your lavender bush an annual one-third trim, shaping into a mound.


Method 2: Layering Lavender

This method is basically making cuttings without cutting. It works pretty successfully for French lavender, but not all other varieties will respond as well. Some people do this with a variation of the long hard prune.

Essentially, you select three or four of your long branches and secure part of them to the ground. So you bend the branch (don’t break it) and try to secure the lower portion “in” the earth, burying that bit. Thus, it creates a funny U, with the base of the U buried.

These buried long branches will hopefully start developing roots. You can “cut” the new plants free from the old bush in 2-3 years.

Method 3: The Donut Method

This method works best with a plant with a dead woody center already. It, too, requires a wiliness to look at a quirky bush for a while. Its success rate is iffy, so don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work.

You cut those dead middle branches to the trunk. Then you spread out the remaining perimeter branches, similar to the layering method, except this time you burry the center of the bush. Use a mixture of soil, sand, and some gravel. Then plop some mulch on top.

The hope is that new growth will begin to emerge from the center. Then, after a year, you can start trimming the old long branches radiating from the sides if you have new shoots.

How To Propagate Woody Lavender?

Lavender propagation

Many people prefer to propagate a woody lavender than attempt to salvage a quirky plant over the course of years. Once they are confident that some successful new plants are coming along, they dig out the old woody mess.

Thankfully, growing lavender from cuttings is much easier than starting from seed. Also, this has a much higher success rate than any of the methods used to salvage a woody lavender.

Wait until summer to take a cutting. However, it’s good to do a few, if you can, since not all cuttings take. When selecting shoots, look for nice healthy green ones that don’t have a flower. These will need to be at least four inches long with no hard stem.

Once you have your health shoots, remove two inches of the leaves from the bottoms using a sterile knife or scissors. Then you dip them in root growth if you like, although many people don’t use it.

These shoots need to be planted into containers, one each. The soil should be about one-third of sand mixed with a third potting soil and a third compost. Ensure the two inches of bare stem are covered, and the soil is firm enough to hold the shoot upright.

The new shoots will require slightly damp soil and misted leaves. Be sure to keep the containers in a warm place. You will need to mist them more often if you live in a dry and aired climate.

You will have established roots in four to six weeks if all goes well. Then you can transplant your new lavenders into larger pots or around your garden.

Also Check: How To Save A Lavender Plant (Plus 7 Causes And Solutions to Wilting)

Conclusion on Woody Lavender

Wood lavender is difficult to fix once it occurs. Thus, it is best to try to prevent it from happening. If it does happen and you can’t stand the look of it, taking cuttings is your best bet of replacing the bush. The other methods can be fun to try but do take time and mean you will have to put up with a quirky-looking plant for a few more years.