Once the soil amendments had been figured out, the next step was to choose and order lavender plants. That is not as easy as it might sound!
According to the US Lavender Grower's Association, there are over 45 different species of lavender with over 450 varieties. To decide which would be the best variety for us, we needed to do a lot of research on which types would grow best in our climate, produce the most essential oil (for use in products we'd be making), be good for culinary use, and of course look and smell amazing both fresh and dried. That's not too much to ask of one flower, is it?
We were able to narrow things down significantly just by finding varieties that could survive the winters here in Nebraska. We are in planting zone 5. Since lavender is native to the Mediterranean, our temperatures would definitely be a concern. There are several varieties out there that say they are hardy up to zones 4 and 5, but we would need to take steps to try to help our plants make it through each winter.
Per the USLGA, in North America the two most common species are angustifolia and x intermedia (also called lavandin). We concentrated our research on these types, and eventually decided on a fairly new hybrid lavender, Lavandula intermedia Phenomenal. It seemed to check all our boxes. It was reported to be one of the most winter hardy varieties of lavender, and also being tolerant of high heat and humidity. Luckily, here in Nebraska we get both, very cold winters, and very hot, humid summers. In addition, this lavender is deer, squirrel and rabbit resistant, and a big bonus for us, bees love it! This was important to us, as the other part of our business would be raising honeybees, and this would give them plenty of pollen and also create some fantastic lavender honey.
We made our final decision and called to order plants. We planned to order cuttings, and raise them in our basement with grow lights through the winter to save a little money on plants. Thankfully, a very helpful person at the nursery let us know that lavender has to vernalize before it will flower. If you are like me and have no clue what vernalization is, it is exposing the plants to the prolonged cold of winter. There are some plants that won't germinate or flower until they have gone through vernalization. This was probably a great thing for us actually. The cost of setting up a greenhouse in the basement would most likely have been pretty close to the cost of getting some larger plants anyway, and would have been a lot more work!
With all this new knowledge, we placed our order for 1700 plants to be delivered in early May 2018. We were placing our order in October, 2017 and really just taking our best guess at when everything would be ready to plant. The field would need to be prepared, the soil amended, all danger of frost past, and the spring rains over for the most part. Then we would need a good week of sunny weather to get the plants in the ground. We took another leap of faith that things would go our way in May!
Something worth noting is that this order may not have been the best idea. We won't know until we go through our first winter. It was brought to our attention during the summer of 2018 while we were attending some lavender festivals and meeting other lavender farmers, that 1700 plants was very risky. Many of the folks we met had started with 300-500 plants. We also found out that they had all planted multiple varieties of lavender to find out which ones worked best for their fields, which produced best and bloomed the most. In retrospect, this seems like a great idea, and if we were to do it again, we'd probably start with 2 or 3 types. However, at this point we have a field full of healthy happy lavender plants, and will hope that the majority of them make it through the winter.
Next Post: The Bees!