Your Winter Lavender Questions Answered
We have had several questions about how lavender does in Michigan winters. So, let’s get some of those questions answered today!
How does lavender tolerate Michigan winters?
There are several things you must consider when planting lavender in Michigan. One of the most important is purchasing the correct variety for Michigan’s Zone 5. Almost all local retailers, greenhouses and hardware stores know enough to carry Zone 5 hardy plants. It never hurts to double check the label that is stuck into the plant, just to make sure. If you are ordering online you will definitely need to specify Zone 5 compliant lavender plants. It is so disheartening to watch a plant die because it just isn’t cut out for Michigan’s climate.
Are there animals that will eat my lavender over the winter for food?
The answer to this one is yes, BUT they don’t do so as a first choice. Deer and rabbits are the two main creatures in Michigan that chew on lavender. That being said, they really don’t like the taste of it and much prefer other food sources. If our winter is brutal and we have sub-zero temps for an extended period of time they will start heading for your lavender plants. Often times you will see that the snow has been shoved aside from the top of your plant, typically they take a nibble to see if it is edible. We see this often at the edges of your lavender rows. (See picture) When we planted our first 400 plants we noticed that the plants on the outer edge of the field were chewed down to bare stems. I was concerned and asked Martha, the owner of Lavender Hill Farm in Niles, MI, for advice. She told me to “consider it a winter pruning” and it most likely would be fine. When the plants are young like that they don’t have such a strong camphor taste so the deer/rabbits tend to try them out more readily. Martha was right and the plants did well after the deer nibbled on them that first year. They sometimes will dig up the plant and chew on the roots, which is less bitter tasting then the crown of the plant. This of course will kill your plant. All in all lavender is pretty resistant to most winter critters and works well in an area that deer and rabbits inhabit heavily. Lavender is deer and rabbit resistant, not proof.
Will my lavender freeze over the winter? Do I need to cover it?
Lavender does so well in southwest Michigan because of our lake effect snow. This snow acts as an insulator from the deeply cold temps that can occur in Michigan. When you’re a Michigan lavender farmer, you celebrate snowstorms that bring a good dumping onto your plants. We are the weird ones doing a happy dance in winter squalls. Unfortunately the snow does not always stick around. When the snow melts off the plants such as we had this past weekend we lose this protection. If a deep deep freeze happens next then this is what can cause “freezer burn” on your plants. (This is my non-technical term) We lost a few plants last winter due to this. Most of them did well but they had shorter stems with less overall harvest then the previous year. We also noticed dead areas on about 25% of our angustifolia plants. We cut that out and are hoping the plants do well in the summer of 2018.
There were numerous lavender farmers that lost significant amounts of lavender plants in the winter of 2016/2017. Mike Neustrom, the president of the United States Lavender Growers Association, lost thousands of mature plants. Many of his plants were over 17 years old! His farm is Prairie Lavender Farm in Kansas. This can be devastating to a lavender farm that is open to the public and relies on the ambiance of lavender. I mean seriously, who wants to go to a lavender farm where there are only holes of dirt where the lavender used to be? Hello disappointment! Although, this is an amazing opportunity for the farm to teach the public about farming; the real life Mother Nature is a mean bitch type of farming. This is why we want to bring you out to the farm, to experience the good with the bad, the beauty with the pain and the rewards after the hardship. Sorry, I’ll get off my soapbox now. lol.
The point is, many types of lavender are cold tolerant and do amazingly well in Zone 5. After all, Leelanau Peninsula is on the same 45th parallel as Italy and France. This is why the grapes do so well for wine and the lavender for us ; ) Bottom line-plant that Zone 5 lavender and rest assured that it will most likely come through our winter with maybe a few small scars, but overall it will thrive.
Oh! Regarding winter covering. Most home gardeners do not need to worry about this. I would say no, don’t cover. There are several large lavender farms across the US that covers their plants. I have heard mixed results. So far we have chosen not to cover. This may change after this winter if we get too much winterkill again. It might be time to experiment with cover next year. We will keep you updated.
I hope that helps answer some of your questions. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Unfortunately I am unable to respond to comments on here. : (
Stay warm folks!