Starting a lavender farm is a great way to bring the sights and smells of France into your home. The hearty, spiky plants grow quickly and produce lovely purple stalks, full of aromatic oils. If you have the right soils, and the land to spare, you might be considering taking your private garden public. Commercial lavender farms can provide you with a reliable income provided you choose the plants properly, plant them with care, develop an intriguing product line and harvest properly.
While lavender is relatively easy to grow on a small scale, you should ensure that your land can support a large field of plants before you invest your time and resources. Lavender grows best in conditions that simulate its native Mediterranean environment. Daytime temperatures should be warm, but not hot. Winters should be mild. There should be a few cool springtime nights. The humidity of the air should be low on most days.
Lavender plants prefer soil that drains well. Sandy soil is ideal, but rocky soil will also provide your plants with a good home to grow in. Lavender plants are susceptible to death from root rot in soil with high clay content. If your plot contains only clay-based soil that doesn't drain with ease, lavender farming may not be the best choice for you.
There are over 30 species of lavender plants available. Blooms can vary in color from deep purple, to lilac, to white, to pink. The size of the plant, as well as the length of the stalks on the plant, can all vary. In general, plants from the lavendula family are good choices for commercial production. These plants produce a pleasing aroma, and are the most resistant to disease. Before you purchase your plants, ask to see adult versions of the plants, so you can determine how the blossoms smell and how large the plants will be as adults. Ensure that your garden supplier guarantees that the plants you are buying are the lavender species you have requested. If the supplier will make no such guarantee, find another supplier.
You may be able to save money by buying small plants. Young lavender plants may be shipped in trays or 2-inch pots. If you purchase older, larger plants you may pay more money upfront, but these plants will likely withstand the transplant process a little easier, and you may lose fewer plants as a result.
Lavender plants can vary widely in size. In general, plan to provide your plants with about 30 inches of space between plants, and 5 to 6 feet between rows. Measure your plot before you order your plants, to ensure you have the right number. If you're buying large varieties of lavender plants, you may need to buy fewer plants and space them yet farther apart.
Your plants will likely be shipped in the fall. This allows the plants to put down roots before the spring and summer arrives. You should begin preparing your soil in the late summer, to be ready for the plants when they arrive.
Take a sample of your soil to your gardening center to have it tested. You may discover that your soil is lacking in a beneficial nutrient (such as nitrogen) that you can easily apply before your plants arrive. Lavender, in general, doesn't require a significant amount of nutrients and fertilizer to grow and thrive.
Lavender plants do not enjoy competing with weeds for water and resources. Place a large piece of landscape fabric over your field several months before you plan to plant. The sheeting will deprive any weeds in the soil of sunlight, and it will warm the ground and trap in moisture. You can cut directly through the landscape fabric when it's time to plant your lavender plants.
While lavender does enjoy a dry climate, it doesn't enjoy dry soil. Before your plants arrive, consider installing an irrigation system. A drip-type irrigation system provides water directly to the roots of your plants, which can help you avoid fungus and diseases that can occur when the foliage of the lavender plant is drenched with overhead sprinkler systems.
By the time your plants arrive in the fall, your rows should be clearly delineated with irrigation drip tubes, and the ground should be covered with sheeting. You should also have an idea of how many plants will stand in each row, and how far apart they should be. Burn a hole in the sheeting in the location where your plant will go. Use a small spade to dig a hole and sprinkle a mixture of bone meal and dried manure into the hole. Place your plant in the hole so the root ball is level with the ground. Cover the roots with dirt.
As you're waiting for your plants to come to harvest, think about what you will do with your lavender. A successful lavender farm will utilize lavender in innovative ways. Consider:
Visit your local farmer's market to determine if you can sell products there. Talk to local shops about whether you can display and sell your products, and at what cost. Set up an online store, so out-of-town visitors can buy your products and schedule a visit. Visit other local lavender farms to determine what products are readily available; this may help you think of new products no one has tried before.
Your plants will be ready to harvest when stalks contain flowers that are equally split between open and bud. You will likely harvest your lavender by hand, using a sharp, sickle-shaped tool. Bundle your lavender in 1.5-inch batches and hang to dry. Bundles should dry as quickly as possible, so the color is preserved. Most commercial producers prepare a drying room with hooks to hang stalks. The room is kept dry and dark, and fans are used to circulate the air. After drying, the processing you'll do depends fully on your product line. You may use a still to distill essential oils, or weave the dried flowers into wreaths. Regardless of your choice, remember that harvest is the most romantic time to be a lavender farmer. Your neighbors and customers may enjoy being included in the aromatic work, or at least watching it happen.