A little-known fact is that lavender is not actually native to the UK although common lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is widely known as English Lavender. Lavender is actually native to many southern European countries on the Mediterranean Sea, and that is why they thrive in hot/ dry conditions and not so much when they are too damp or wet. Bees love lavender and we do too, and if your lavender is looking a little worse for wear wondering Why is my lavender dying? We are going to look at the 3 main symptoms, what they mean and what to do about them to ensure that your lavender lives for years to come.

Lavender Plant
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Understanding the Basics of Lavender Care

Lavender thrives when its specific needs are met. Understanding these requirements can provide insight into potential issues affecting your plant.

Optimal Growing Conditions

  • Soil Type: Lavender prefers well-draining soil, often with a slightly alkaline pH. While they can tolerate a range of soil types, heavy clay soil can be problematic.
  • Sunlight Requirements: These plants thrive in full sunlight, needing at least 6-8 hours daily for optimal growth.
  • Temperature Range: While lavender is hardy, it can be sensitive to extreme cold, especially when coupled with wet conditions.

Watering Needs

  • Frequency: Lavender is drought-tolerant once established. However, while it’s still young or in pots, regular watering is essential. The key is to let the soil dry out between watering sessions.
  • Dangers of Over-watering and Under-watering: Excessive water can lead to root rot, whereas too little can cause the plant to dry out and wither.

Common Reasons for Lavender Plants Dying

Unravelling the mystery of a dying lavender plant often lies in identifying where care might have deviated from the plant’s natural preferences.

Watering Issues

  • Root rot: This is a common issue in lavender plants and is often due to excessive moisture around the roots.
  • Drying Out: Especially in potted plants, if the soil dries out completely for extended periods, the plant can suffer.

Soil Problems

  • Heavy, Poorly-draining Soils: Lavender’s roots can rot if they’re constantly wet. Ensuring good drainage is paramount.
  • Lack of Essential Nutrients: Over time, soil can become depleted. Regular soil testing can help in identifying and addressing nutrient deficiencies.

Pest and Disease Problems

  • Aphids, Whiteflies, and Spider Mites: These pests can suck the sap from the plant, leading to weakened growth.
  • Fungal Diseases: Lavender shab and root rot fungi are two common diseases that affect lavender, often due to high humidity or excessive moisture.

Environmental Stressors

  • Extreme Temperatures: Early frosts can damage plants, as can sudden heatwaves.
  • Inadequate Sunlight: Lavender plants that are shaded for extended periods may become leggy and weak.
  • Wind and Physical Damage: Strong winds or accidental damage can break stems or harm the plant’s structure.
Butterfly on a Lavender Flower Head
Butterfly on a Lavender Flower Head

Why is My Lavender Dying?

There are numerous reasons why your lavender may be dying, some of them are quite simple to figure out and rectify and others are a little more difficult. First, we will have to look at what is happening to the plant that indicates to you that it is dying, this will help us work out what the problem might be and then we will be able to come up with a solution to help you revive it.

Lavender With a Drooping Appearance with Browning Foliage

The most common causes of lavender with a brown drooping appearance are root rot, overwatering and poor drainage. We have the explanations below.

Lavender Drooping and Turning Brown
Lavender Drooping and Turning Brown

1 – Root Rot

This fungal disease attacks the roots, causing them to decay. Affected roots might appear brown or mushy and may emit an off-putting smell.

What to do if your brown, drooping lavender has root rot:

  • Inspect and Prune: Remove the plant from its pot and inspect the roots. Trim away any rotten or overly soft sections using sterilized scissors or pruners.
  • Treat with Fungicide: There are specific fungicides available for treating root rot. Apply according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Re-pot: Once the affected roots have been removed and the plant treated, re-pot the lavender in fresh, well-draining soil. Ensure the pot used is clean or even consider using a new one.
  • Regulate Watering: Moving forward, be more cautious with watering. Let the soil dry out between waterings to prevent the conditions that cause root rot.

2 – Over-Watering

Lavenders, originating from the Mediterranean, are adapted to a more drought-like environment. Over-watering disrupts their natural preference and can cause the roots to become waterlogged, leading to various problems.

What to do if your brown, drooping lavender has been over-watered:

  • Regulate Watering: Ensure that the plant is only watered when the top few inches of the soil are dry to the touch. This can be tested by sticking a finger into the soil.
  • Monitor Weather: If there has been significant rainfall, adjust your watering routine accordingly.

3 – Poor Drainage

If the soil can’t drain away excess moisture, the plant’s roots might sit in water, which can lead to root rot and deprive the roots of necessary oxygen.

What to do if your brown, drooping lavender has poor drainage:

  • Re-potting with Well-Draining Soil: Opt for a soil mix specifically designed for Mediterranean plants or mix in sand or perlite to improve drainage.
  • Check the Pot: Ensure the container has adequate drainage holes. If not, either drill additional holes or consider moving the lavender to a better-draining pot.
  • Elevate the Pot: Place a saucer with pebbles or small stones beneath the pot. This ensures any excess water drains away from the base of the plant.

Note: A common misconception about lavender is that when people see the plant become droopy and begin to go brown, they presume that it is because there is a lack of water and then they compound the problem by watering even more.


Lavender with Yellowing Foliage

If the green leaves of the lavender provide a lush backdrop to its violet flowers, begin to take on a yellow or golden shade. Instead of signalling autumnal beauty, this colour change can be a distress signal from the plant.

Lavender with Yellowing Foliage
Lavender with Yellowing Foliage

1 – Over-Watering

Lavenders are not fond of constantly damp conditions. Over-watering can not only suffocate the roots but also create a conducive environment for fungi and pests.

What to do if your yellowing lavender has been over-watered:

  • Watering Schedule: Adjust your watering routine, ensuring you only water when the soil’s top few inches are dry.
  • Check Soil Moisture: Before watering, insert a finger or a moisture meter into the soil to gauge the moisture level.

2 – Under-Watering

While lavenders are drought-resistant to some extent, prolonged dry conditions can stress the plant, leading to yellowing leaves.

What to do if your yellowing lavender has been under-watered:

  • Consistent Watering: Establish a more regular watering routine, ensuring the plant doesn’t remain dry for extended periods.
  • Mulching: Applying a thin layer of mulch around the base can help retain soil moisture and reduce evaporation.

3 – Nutrient Deficiencies

Lavender, like all plants, requires certain nutrients to thrive. Lavender on the other hand does not like to be overloaded with nutrients and something like too much nitrogen can cause the leaves to yellow.

What to do if your yellowing lavender has poor nutrient levels:

  • Soil Test: Use a soil test kit to determine the nutrient levels. This will guide you on what to supplement.
  • Fertilization: Based on the soil test results, think about any amendments you can make. Lavender pretty much likes barren soil so don’t overdo the nutrients or you may end up with bushy stems with no flowers.
  • Organic Matter: Incorporating compost or well-rotted manure can help enrich the soil.

4 – Poor Drainage Leading to Root Rot

Stagnant water due to poor drainage can lead to root rot, a condition where the roots begin to decay, leading to a host of symptoms, including yellowing leaves.

What to do if your yellowing lavender has root rot:

  • Well-Draining Soil: If potted, ensure the lavender is in a well-draining soil mix. For ground plantings, consider amending the soil with sand or perlite.
  • Pot Inspection: For container-grown lavenders, ensure the pot has sufficient drainage holes.
  • Elevated Planting: For garden plantings, consider creating a raised bed or mound to ensure water doesn’t stagnate around the roots.

Lavender Not Growing or Showing Stunted Growth

Despite providing what seems like an ideal environment for growth, the lavender plant lags. It neither matches the size nor the vigour of its counterparts, suggesting something is amiss beneath the surface or in its care.

Re-Potting a Lavender Plant
Re-Potting a Lavender Plant

1 – Root-Bound Conditions

When the roots of the plant become tightly packed and entangled, forming a dense mass in the container, the plant becomes “root-bound.” This inhibits further growth as the roots struggle to extract nutrients and water.

What to do if your lavender isn’t growing due to a root condition:

  • Repotting: Transplant the lavender to a larger container, allowing space for roots to expand.
  • Root Inspection: Periodically remove the lavender from its pot to check for signs of roots becoming circular or densely packed.
  • Root Pruning: If the plant is significantly root-bound, consider gently trimming and untangling the roots before repotting.

2 – Soil Pests

Organisms like nematodes, grubs, and root aphids can infest the soil, damaging the root system and inhibiting the plant’s growth.

What to do if your lavender isn’t growing due to soil pests:

  • Beneficial Organisms: Introduce beneficial nematodes or other predatory insects to counteract harmful pests.
  • Organic Treatments: Use neem oil or diatomaceous earth as natural deterrents for soil pests.
  • Soil Replacement: If infestation is severe, consider replacing the potting mix entirely.

3 – Nutrient Deficiencies

For optimal growth, lavender requires a balance of nutrients. A lack, especially of primary nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, can stifle growth.

What to do if your lavender isn’t growing due to having the wrong nutrient levels:

  • Soil Testing: Periodically test the soil to monitor nutrient levels, adjusting fertilization based on results.
  • Balanced Fertilization: Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer tailored for lavenders or Mediterranean plants.
  • Organic Amendments: Enrich the soil with compost, worm castings, or well-decomposed manure to naturally boost nutrient content.

4 – Inappropriate Soil pH

Lavender prefers slightly alkaline soil conditions. An unsuitable pH can reduce the plant’s ability to absorb nutrients, leading to stunted growth.

What to do if your lavender isn’t growing due to the soil having the wrong pH:

  • Soil pH Testing: Utilize pH testing kits or meters to determine the soil’s acidity or alkalinity.
  • Lime or Sulfur: To raise pH (make the soil more alkaline), apply garden lime. To lower pH (make the soil more acidic), use elemental sulfur or specialized acidifying agents.
  • Monitor pH: Periodically check and adjust soil pH, especially after significant rain or after adding amendments.

Wilted or Drooping Lavender

The usually robust stems of the lavender plant lose their vigour and start to sag, resulting in a drooping appearance.

Wilting Lavender
Wilting Lavender

1 – Under-Watering

Lavenders, although drought-tolerant, still require regular watering. When deprived of sufficient moisture, the plant cannot maintain the turgidity of its stems, leading them to droop.

What to do if your lavender has wilted due to under-watering:

  • Consistent Watering: Water the plant deeply and regularly, but ensure you don’t over-water. A deep soak followed by allowing the soil to dry out is ideal.
  • Check Soil Moisture: Before watering, it’s a good habit to check the soil’s moisture a couple of inches below the surface. If it feels dry, it’s time to water.

2 – Intense Heat

While lavenders are well-suited for warm climates, they can still get stressed during periods of intense or prolonged heat, causing their stems to wilt.

What to do if your lavender has wilted due to intense heat:

  • Partial Shade: During heatwaves or the peak of summer, provide some shade during the hottest parts of the day using shade cloths or a natural canopy.
  • Mulching: Applying a mulch layer around the base of the plant can help retain soil moisture and keep the roots cooler.

3 – Sudden Change in Temperature

Lavender can struggle with rapid temperature fluctuations. A sudden cold snap or a rapid rise in temperature can cause the plant to go into shock, manifesting in drooping stems.

What to do if your lavender has wilted due to under-watering:

  • Acclimatization: If moving the lavender (e.g., from indoors to outdoors), ensure a gradual transition over a week to help the plant acclimatize to the new conditions.
  • Protection Against Frost: If a sudden frost or cold night is predicted, cover the lavender with a frost cloth or bring potted plants indoors.

White Spots on Lavender Leaves

Distinct white, powdery, or speckled discolourations manifest on the usually green and healthy-looking leaves of the lavender plant.

Lavender with White Spots
Lavender with White Spots

1 – Fungal Infections (notably Powdery Mildew)

This fungal disease, recognized by its powdery white appearance, thrives in warm and humid conditions, especially when the plant’s foliage remains wet for extended periods.

What to do if your lavender has powdery mildew:

  • Prune and Destroy Affected Areas: If you observe sections of the plant heavily affected by powdery mildew, prune these areas to prevent further spread. It’s crucial to burn or dispose of these clippings properly and not to compost them, as this can perpetuate the spread of the fungus.
  • Improved Air Circulation: Ensure plants are spaced adequately apart and prune them to allow airflow, preventing the fungus from establishing.
  • Avoid Overhead Watering: Water at the base of the plant in the morning to prevent prolonged moisture on leaves.
  • Organic Fungicides: Apply natural solutions such as a mixture of baking soda, dish soap, and water or use neem oil as a preventative measure.

2 – Pest Infestations

Pests like aphids and spider mites can be very disruptive in the garden.

a. Spider Mites

These tiny arachnids suck sap from the undersides of leaves, leading to a stippled or speckled appearance.

What to do if your lavender has spider mites:

  • Regular Inspection: Using a magnifying glass, check the underside of leaves for mites and their webs.
  • Increase Humidity: Spider mites dislike high humidity. Occasional misting or placing plants in groups can deter them.
  • Natural Predators: Introducing predatory mites can naturally control spider mite populations.
b. Whiteflies

These small white insects congregate on the underside of leaves and, when disturbed, fly up in a cloud-like swarm. They suck sap and can excrete sticky honeydew, leading to mould growth.

What to do if your lavender has white flies:

  • Yellow Sticky Traps: Place these around your plants to trap adult whiteflies.
  • Insecticidal Soap: A gentle spray can help reduce their numbers. Ensure to spray the undersides of the leaves.
  • Beneficial Insects: Ladybugs and lacewings are natural predators of whiteflies.

Leaf Drop in Lavender Plants

The lavender plant, known for its fragrant foliage, experiences a premature or higher-than-normal shedding of leaves.

Close-up of Lavender Leaves
Close-up of Lavender Leaves

1 – Environmental Stress

Factors like sudden temperature changes, extreme heat or cold, or poor air circulation can cause the plant to shed leaves.

What to do if your Lavender loses its leaves due to environmental stress:

  • Acclimatization: If relocating the plant, ensure a gradual transition over a period to help it adapt.
  • Provide Shelter: Protect the plant from extreme conditions using shade cloths or frost covers as needed.
  • Ensure Good Air Circulation: Proper spacing and occasional pruning can help maintain good airflow around the plant.

2 – Over-Watering

Lavenders are drought-tolerant and can suffer from root rot if the soil remains constantly wet.

What to do if your Lavender loses its leaves due to over-watering:

  • Well-Draining Soil: Ensure the plant is in soil that drains effectively.
  • Check Soil Moisture: Before watering, probe the soil a few inches down. If it’s moist, wait before watering again.

3 – Pest Infestations

Pests like aphids, whiteflies, or spider mites can stress the plant, leading to leaf drop.

What to do if your Lavender loses its leaves due to a pest infestation:

  • Regular Inspections: Examine the plant for any signs of pests and treat them promptly.
  • Natural Predators: Introducing beneficial insects can help keep pest populations in check.

Sparse Flowering or Lack of Blooms in Lavender Plants

Instead of the expected lush flowering, the lavender plant produces few to no blooms.

Small Lavender Plant
Small Lavender Plant

1 – Lack of Sufficient Sunlight

Lavenders thrive in full sun and might produce fewer blooms if they don’t get enough sunlight.

What to do if your lavender isn’t flowering due to a lack of sunlight:

  • Relocation: If possible, move the plant to a sunnier location where it can receive at least 6-8 hours of sunlight daily.
  • Prune Surrounding Plants: If other plants are shading the lavender, consider pruning them to allow more sunlight.

2 – Excessive Nitrogen in Soil

While nitrogen is essential for plant growth, too much can promote leafy growth at the expense of flowers.

What to do if your lavender isn’t flowering due to too much nitrogen:

  • Balanced Fertilization: Use a balanced fertilizer that doesn’t have a very high nitrogen content.
  • Soil Testing: Regularly test the soil to understand its nutrient content and adjust fertilization accordingly.

3 – Pruning at the Wrong Time

Pruning lavender at the wrong time can cut off the developing flower buds.

What to do if your lavender isn’t flowering due to pruning at the wrong time:

  • Timely Pruning: The best time to prune lavender is after flowering, ensuring you don’t cut into the old wood. This encourages new growth that will flower the following year.
  • Educate Yourself: Understand the specific variety of lavender you have, as pruning needs can slightly vary.

Holes or Bite Marks in Lavender Leaves

Lavender leaves showcase visible perforations or have irregular, jagged edges, often signifying a breach by pests.

Caterpillar on Lavender Plant
Caterpillar on Lavender Plant

1 – Insect Pests

Insects such as slugs and snails can cause havoc in the garden.

a. Slugs and Snails

These molluscs are nocturnal feeders that leave behind a slimy trail. They love damp conditions and can munch on the lavender leaves, leading to holes.

What to do if your lavender is being eaten by slugs or snails:

  • Diatomaceous Earth: Sprinkle this around the base of your plant. It’s abrasive to the pests and will deter them.
  • Beer Traps: Fill shallow dishes with beer and place them near affected areas. Slugs and snails are attracted to the beer, fall in, and drown.
  • Copper Tape: Place around pots or raised beds; it delivers a mild electric shock to the molluscs.
b. Caterpillars

These are the larvae of butterflies or moths. They can cause significant defoliation if present in large numbers.

What to do if your lavender is being eaten by caterpillars:

  • Physical Removal: Handpick them during the early morning or late evening and relocate or dispose of them.
  • Beneficial Insects: Introducing natural predators like ladybirds and lacewings can keep caterpillar numbers in check.
  • Organic Sprays: Solutions like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are effective against caterpillars without harming beneficial insects.

Woody Base in Lavender Plants

The lower part of the lavender plant becomes densely woody, leading to a reduced number of leaves in comparison to the upper, more verdant sections.

Old Woody Lavender
Old Woody Lavender

1 – Age of the Plant

As lavender plants age, the base can naturally become woodier, especially if regular pruning hasn’t been practised.

What to do when your lavender gets too old:

  • Replacement: If the plant is very old and isn’t responding well to interventions, consider replacing it with a younger specimen.
  • Layering: This is a propagation method where you bend a long, flexible stem to the ground. Cover a portion of it with soil, leaving the end free. This buried section can develop roots, and once established, can be severed from the main plant and replanted.

2 – Insufficient Pruning

Not pruning or infrequent pruning can cause the lavender to develop a thick, woody base.

What to do when your lavender gets too woody because of bad pruning:

  • Regular Pruning: Annual or bi-annual pruning helps to encourage new growth and prevents the plant from becoming overly woody. Always ensure you don’t cut into the old wood, as this can harm the plant.

3 – Suboptimal Growing Conditions

Poor soil, inadequate sunlight, or inconsistent watering can stress the plant, leading to an excessively woody base.

What to do when your lavender gets too woody because of bad growing conditions:

  • Soil Improvement: Ensure the soil is well-draining. You can amend it with sand or small gravel to improve drainage.
  • Adequate Sunlight: Lavenders thrive in full sun. If they are in a shaded area, consider relocating them.
  • Watering Schedule: Ensure the lavender is watered consistently but not over-watered.

Conclusion

I hope that we have been able to solve your problem and help you discover why your lavender was dying and what you could do to fix it. Lavender is a great plant to have around, especially for our little honey-making friends, the bees. Ensure that you do your best to replicate their native conditions of sandy, well-draining soil and your lavender should continue to thrive for many years.

Garden Doctor Trev

Garden Doctor Tips

“Lavender is a heat lover so you will need to ensure that your lavender is planted in the sunniest part of your garden!”

“Lavender does extremely well in raised beds where the soil is free-draining!”

“Only prune lavender into green foliage, if you go into the wood, the lavender could die of shock!”

“Ensure that you do not fertilise your lavender, although it may seem like a good idea, they will not like it!”

“If planting a new lavender in the garden, mix in plenty of sand into the soil to replicate lavender’s native Mediterranean sandy soils!”

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you revive a dying lavender plant?

Lavenders need plenty of sun and sandy, well-draining soil that is low in nitrogen so once you have ascertained why the lavender is struggling, you will have an idea of the solution.

Why is my lavender turning brown?

If your lavender is turning brown, it is extremely likely that it is being caused by root rot. Root rot occurs when the roots are over-saturated.

Stop watering immediately and let the plant dry out for 3-4 weeks. After around 4 weeks, the lavender should start to look a lot healthier. Remove any browned areas to promote overall plant health.

How do I know if my lavender plant is dying?

There are many different visible symptoms that your lavender is dying. Yellowing could indicate too much nitrogen, browning could indicate root rot and poor growth and fragrance could indicate that the plant is not getting enough sun.


Author

Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.


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