FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Answered by Chris

General Nursery Questions:

Are there barn owls living at the nursery?   NO! 
Does the Nursery raise barn owls?  NO!
We do hear different owls at night.  Several owls live in the neighboring barns and occasionally we see them fly over our nursery.  There are no real owls living on our property. 
We suspect they prefer their freedom and the easy access to old barns near the nursery.  
     Barn Owl Nursery got its name because Chris likes owls!  To follow an owl theme, we chose this name and a drawing of a pair of barn owls for the nursery logo.  The gift shop is a barn-like structure and there is an owl weather vane on top of the shop.  Chris has a collection of owl pictures and art she received from her family and friends.  Part of her owl art collection does reside inside the gift shop.  We think this is a wise name for our little herb nursery and lavender farm!

Does the Nursery give advice on what herbs to use for health?  NO!
Does the Nursery sell medicinal herbs and products?  NO!

We do not give advise on how to use herbs medicinally.  We do not sell medicinal herb plants or products, or bulk medicinal herbs or supplements.  As an herb nursery, we do sell some culinary herb plants that can be used medicinally.   A good source for medicinal herb seeds and plants is Strictly Medicinal Seeds in Williams, OR. Website: www.strictlymedicinalseeds.com 

HERB QUESTIONS:

What are the best conditions for growing herbs successfully?
There are three basic requirements for growing most herbs successfully.
     First, it is important that you plant herbs in soil that drains well. Most herbs will not tolerate soggy roots, so do not plant them in poorly drained areas or in heavy clay soil.  Generally, once most herbs are established, they prefer a rather dry soil.  Water them as necessary, a little more during the first season, then sparingly, when they are mature plants.  If you do not have well-drained soil you will need to amend it by mixing one part sand and one part peat moss into your tilled garden soil. Consider planting your herbs in raised beds for added drainage. 
     Mulching the soil surface after planting your herbs will maintain an even soil temperature and moisture content, it also discourages weed growth and will save time watering and weeding. If you are planting in the spring, wait until the soil warms and the rains decrease before mulching.  Don’t mulch around new plants until they are taller, otherwise the mulch might smother them.  If planting in the fall, apply mulch right after planting. Use a 3 to 7 inch layer of mulch to keep the weeds down. A winter mulch for new or tender plants is a good idea too. Organic mulches can harbor snails and slugs and promote rot when wet, so keep them away from the stems of the herbs. Some organic mulches that will decompose and add fiber and nutrients to the soil are:  chopped straw, leaves, hay or bark, grass clippings or peat moss. A light colored mulch like straw will keep the soil cooler. A dark colored cover, like black landscape cloth, will keep the soil warmer for the heat loving herbs.            A neutral pH range is best for most herbs, but some herbs prefer a slightly acid soil with a pH around 6. Heavy, dense clay soils are often more acidic than desirable. Adding lime or dolomite will make a less acid soil, this can also improve the structure of the soil.  If the soil pH is high, you can lower it by adding sphagnum peat or sulfur to adjust the pH. Make these soil amendments around 6 months before you plant, if possible, especially if you are adding lime.  
     Second, an average soil, suitable for vegetables, with a little lime and fertilizer added, is all most herbs need to thrive. Herbs usually require only a small amount of fertilizer and are sensitive to overfeeding.  In rich soils, herb plants may be larger and grow faster, but they will probably be weak in flavor, fragrance, and growth. The best time to fertilize herbs is in the early spring, just as they are planted, or when they start to put on new growth. If the herbs start yellowing and are sparse in growth later in the summer, they may need another shot of fertilizer.    
     Use a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen. Add a fresh batch of compost or well-rotted manure to the garden at the start of the season, before you plant your annual herbs. A one to two inch application will feed most herbs well throughout the season. Herbs are rarely heavy feeders.  If sufficient amounts of trace elements are lacking, the plant may show symptoms such as yellowing between the leaf veins, brown and wilted shoot tips, or stunted growth. You can apply a spray of seaweed extract or a side dressing of kelp meal to provide adequate trace elements.  For more nitrogen, use blood meal as you plant.  You can broadcast dry, organic fertilizers by hand or with a spreader, till it in or leave it on the surface as a mulch.  To feed perennial herbs, add organic materials to the soil surface as a mulch. 
     Third, you should position your herb garden to receive at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight during the day.  A southern exposure with a slight slope is an ideal location. Most herbs need direct sunlight to achieve maximum oil production for the best flavor and fragrance in the leaves and flowers.  There are some herbs that will tolerate partial shade.  If the herb foliage and flowers are leaning toward the light and are not uniform in their growth, they probably need more direct sunlight.

What herbs can be grown in pots and other containers?  
     Container grown herbs require a little more care than herbs grown in the ground. In general, those herbs that are grown for their leaves, rather than for their seeds, may be grown successfully in pots. However, because their roots are contained, they will not produce as much to harvest.  When you plant several herbs in one container, it is best to select only those herbs that require similar amounts of water, sun and soil conditions.  They should be in a container that is big enough to allow good air circulation around each plant. You will need to prune, fertilize and water herbs grown in pots more often than those grown in the ground.  Fertilize container herbs every two weeks with a liquid, low nitrogen fertilizer, or use a low nitrogen, slow release fertilizer that will last for the growing season.
     Most container grown herbs are going to grow better if they are given their own pots. Mints, or herbs in the mint family, are a good example. They will quickly take over a pot on their own. Each type of mint should be given its own pot so it will not cross with other mints. Herbs with tap roots, like parsley, need pots that are deep enough for their full grown roots.  
    Provide container herbs with as much light as possible, 6-8 hours of full sun, if you growing them outside, 14-16 hours under fluorescent lights, if grown indoors. If you are growing herbs in doors in a window, rotate the pots once a week. Most herbs prefer temperatures of 55-60 degrees F at night and 65-70 degrees F during the day. The humidity should be around 50%, or as high as possible indoors, especially during the driest months. Set pots on a tray of pebbles with the water line below the bottom of the pots to provide more humidity indoors.
     It is best to use a sterile, commercial potting mix and amend it with pumice or perlite to achieve greater aeration and drainage. Clay pots also provide good drainage because they are porous. If you use a plastic pot you will need a very light potting soil with sand and perlite. You probably will not need to water them as often. Water the herbs when the top soil is dry. If the herbs have good drainage and a warm indoor location you might need to water them every other day.
     Water all herbs from the top, not the bottom. Do not let them sit directly in water. Avoid getting the foliage wet. Water the plants early in the day and avoid watering them at night. Herbs grown in containers outside, in full sun during hot weather, may need to be watered twice a day.               When you plant your herbs in the desired containers, fill the pots half way with a sterile soil mix.  Place the herbs in the pots and pack soil around them leaving about one inch head room.  Make sure not to bury the plant too deep in the new pot.  
      It helps to trim container herbs often, to keep them healthy and within bounds. By doing so you will encourage new growth and have more to harvest and use. You should remove old flower stems to encourage the herbs to produce more leaves. Keep the plants well groomed and dead leaves cleaned out of the pots. Weeds are easily kept to a minimum if you select weed-free potting soil. When plants have reached their maximum or desired size, they should be transplanted into larger pots that will accommodate their larger roots. Transplanting your herbs into larger pots and changing or adding new soil to those pots, will also allow your herbs to grow larger so they will produce more foliage for you to use.   
     It is easier to grow herbs in containers outdoors in the spring and summer. In the early fall, start to gradually acclimate the tender perennials to an indoor environment. Tender perennials,and some annual herbs, usually make the most cooperative indoor plants. Hardy perennial herbs that normally die back in the winter months, usually benefit from a freezing period outdoors and will not grow as well indoors.
     Container grown herbs, especially those that are highly scented, are more prone to pests.  Watch for white flies, aphids and red spider mites, particularly under the leaves, on the highly scented herbs.  If you find eggs or adult bugs, separate infected plants from the others, cut them back and use a mild soap spray on the leaves, or a commercial spray like Safer’s. You may have to apply the spray several times, over a period of a few weeks, to kill them at all stages in their cycle of development, from the eggs to the mature insects.

What culinary herbs grow in shade or partial shade?
Here are a few culinary herbs that will grow well in shade or partial shade:
Bay, Burnet, Chives, Lovage, Mints, Parsley, Society Garlic, Sorrel, Sweet Cicely, Sweet Woodruff, Tarragon, Violets.

What culinary herbs are very invasive in the garden?
Most herbs in the mint family are invasive.  The following herbs are probably the most notorious for being very invasive and can easily take over a garden:  Fennel, Lemon Balm, all Mints, Oregano, Sweet Woodruff and Violets.

What culinary herbs can I grow that the deer will not eat?
Usually, deer stay away from strong scented culinary herbs like:
Chives and most plants in the onion family, all Lavenders, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme

LAVENDER QUESTIONS:

What lavenders are the most fragrant?
Most lavender flowers are quite fragrant, but there are certain species and cultivars that are suppose to be more fragrant, and some cultivars that produce more essential oil. The fragrance, the quality and quantity of the essential oils these plants produce can vary each year.  There are some lavenders and lavandins that are grown commercially for the quality and quantity of the essential oil they produce.  The flowers from these plants are usually steam distilled to produce highly concentrated pure essential oil to use in a variety of products.  The fragrance from your lavender plants will depend on your growing conditions.  How much sun and water the plants receive, the type of soil that the plants are grown in, when the flowers are harvested from the plants and how quickly the fresh or dried flowers are processed and how they are stored, before they are used or distilled to extract their essential oil.

English Lavenders (Lavandula angustifolia cv.) 
Some of the most fragrant cultivars are suppose to be:  Avice Hill,  Backhouse Nana, Brabrant Lust, Buena Vista, Cynthia Johnson, Dark Supreme, De Lavande, Delphinensis, Egerton Blue, Eola, Fiona English, Folgate, French Fields, Karen Langan, Maillette, Middachten, Munstead, Norfolk J-2, Pacific Blue, Pastor’s Pride, Royal Velvet, Sharon Roberts, Super Bleu, Tucker’s Early Purple, Two Seasons, Victorian Amethyst, Violet Intrigue and Wyckoff.

French Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia cv.)  Some of the most fragrant cultivars are suppose to be:  Abrialis, Dutch, Fat Spike Grosso, Fragrant Memories, Grappenhall, Grosso, Old English, Riverina Thomas, Scottish Cottage, Sumian, Super and Sussex.

Which lavenders have the darkest blue flowers?
English lavender cultivars 
(Lavandula angustifolia cv.) have the darkest buds and flowers. Most of them dry very well on the stem when they are picked in the bud stage.  Among them, there are some cultivars that have especially dark blue/purple buds (calyxes) and flowers (corollas):  Avice Hill, Baby Blue, Betty’s Blue, Blue Mountain, Buena Vista, Cynthia Johnson, Egerton Blue, Elizabeth, French Fields, Hidcote, Imperial Gem, Karen Langan, Loddon Blue, Mitcham Grey, Peter Pan, Purple Bouquet, Rebecca Kay, Royal Purple, Royal Velvet, Sharon Roberts, Skylark, Summerland Supreme, Super Bleu, Thumbelina Leigh, Tucker’s Early Purple, Two Amys, Violet Intrigue and Willow Pond Dwarf.

French (Lavandin) cultivars  (Lavandula x intermedia cv.), most of these cultivars do not produce dark flowers, compared to the English lavender cultivars mentioned, but there are some darker flowering cultivars that produce darker blue flowers in this group: Bleu de Collines, Fat Spike Grosso, Gros Bleu, Grosso, Impress Purple, Riverina Alan, Riverina Thomas and Sumian.

How are English lavender plants different from lavandin plants?
English lavender plants, (Lavandula angustifolia),
produce seeds and are the largest group of lavenders.  They are the hardiest lavenders to grow in Oregon.  Most plants will survive colder temperatures and can be grown at higher elevations. We sell around 80-100 recognized cultivars
that are grown in the Pacific Northwest.   

The average size of a mature English lavender plant is between 18-24 inches.  However, there is quite a range in the size of cultivars that are available.  The smallest dwarf plants available, grow to 12-15 inches and are suitable to grow in pots and in small gardens.  There are many compact, semi-dwarf plants that range from 15-18 inches and they make nice, tidy low borders in the garden and can be grown in large barrels or containers. The largest cultivars grow to around 24-36 inches and can be grown as a tall border or hedge.

The English lavender foliage is generally a green/gray, with shorter leaves on the stems. The flower stems themselves are an average of 8-12 inches long.  The fragrance of the flowers has a sweet lavender scent. There is quite a large selection among the flower colors among the different English cultivars.  They range from light blue, to different shades of violet/blue, to dark blue/purple. There are several light pink and white flowering varieties, too. English lavenders make nice, low borders in the landscape, but they do require more pruning.  The different cultivars start blooming in Western Oregon, around the 2nd-3rd week in June, usually finishing around mid-July.  Some of these cultivars bloom again in the fall, especially if the first flowers are cut off the plants early in the season and the plants receive some water during the summer.

French Lavender, Lavandin, as they are called in France, (Lavandula x intermedia), is a hybrid cross of (Lavandula angustifolia) and (Lavandula latifolia).  This a smaller group of lavenders because they do not produce seeds.  They are propagated from cuttings and there are fewer cultivars to choose from in this group. Most of the lavandin cultivars that are available in Oregon are hardy, but some may not be as hardy to grow at higher elevations and in extreme weather and certain regional climates around the state.

We sell about 30 recognized lavandin cultivars that are grown in Oregon. The cultivars that are propagated, are a cross between an English lavender cultivar and a lavandin cultivar.  These cultivars, are larger, rounder, faster growing plants.  They need less pruning to maintain their shape, than the English cultivars.  The size of the plants average from 18-20 inches to 36-48 inches. The leaves are wider, longer and grayer. The different cultivars start blooming 2-4 weeks later than most English lavenders. In Western Oregon, they can start blooming at the end of June, but most lavandin cultivars bloom throughout July, and some cultivars bloom in August. Their flowers are a lighter, lavender/blue color.  There are several white flowering varieties, too.  The white flowering cultivars and Riverina Alan and Riverina Thomas, have very sturdy longer stems, some reaching 3 feet in length!  Compared to English lavender cultivars,  lavandin plants produce more flower spikes, have longer straighter stems with more flowers on each stem. They need to be planted further apart and have more space to grow well in the garden. These plants hold their shape and retain more leaves in the winter months. The scent of the flowers is more pungent than English lavender cultivars because there is more camphor in the oil produced by lavandin plants.

When is the best time to prune lavender plants?
In my experience, I have found that pruning lavender plants in the spring and summer, and lightly in September and October, helps them to look and grow better over a longer period of time.  This has worked well for me in my location, but not everyone growing lavender in different states, or in different regions and climates in Oregon, will prune their lavender plants that often.

Pruning should begin early, when lavender plants are still young.  Younger lavender starts or plugs, and lavenders grown in smaller, 3-4″ pots, would have a better start if they were not allowed to flower the first year!  Then all the new growth would go into the foliage, not the flower spikes, to produce less woody looking shrubs that have more foliage at the base of the plants.

The English lavender cultivars, (L. angustifolia cv.), usually require more pruning to hold their shape than the French lavandin cultivars, (L. x intermedia cv.), while the Spanish lavender cultivars, (L. stoechas cv.), require even more pruning.  Tender species of lavender usually do not survive a winter outside in Oregon, so they do not need to be pruned as often since they are usually only growing outside for less than a year.  Generally, they grow faster and produce more flowers through out the summer, especially if the long flowering stems are cut off at the base, as they fade.

Lavender and lavandin plants will live for many years if they are pruned well.  In a home garden, most lavenders will hold their shape at least 10 years, if you start pruning them when they are young plants and you prune them hard at least once a year.  I have found that all the cultivars I grow will look nicer if all the old flowering stems are cut off, after flowering in the summer and early in the fall.

In late June and throughout July, I am harvesting my lavender flowers for fresh and dried bouquets.  I cut the flowers with as long a stem as possible so the stems have a few sets of leaves on them.  At this time, I am lightly pruning the plants to encourage new growth.  Some of the English lavenders will bloom again later in the summer and into the fall.  I am rewarded by having more flowers to cut and to enjoy fresh, later in the season, when I prune my plants this often.

Lavender hedges need pruning twice a year. The first trim is best in the spring. Only the sides should be cut to allow for the top to flower. The second pruning should be in the early fall, before danger of any frost. Both the sides and the top should be cut back hard to maintain the shape of the hedge.  Established plants may be pruned back by 1/3 to 1/2 their size.  If necessary, they can be cut back to three sets of leaves from the base. This drastic pruning can help revive some old, woody lavender bushes.  They may look healthier for a longer period of time if you can force new growth on the woody base and stems of the plants.

Lavender plants that have not been pruned become woody looking sooner. If you already have old woody plants, it may too late to revive them. If they have reached three years of age or older ,and have never been pruned, then pruning at this stage may not help.  You are probably better off replacing the plants.  If you can see new, green growth just above the woody part, the plant may be pruned back to within 2 inches of the new growth. But if you cut them back too far, they might die. There are some lavender cultivars that look woody faster than others, so this approach may not work with some of your lavender plants.

Spanish lavender, (Lavandula stoechas cv.), cultivars have a life span of 3-10 years depending on how they have been cared for and how severe the winter has been.  Some cultivar do not survive a hard winter Western Oregon. The larger cultivars are prone to splitting open and they will need to be replaced if they are not pruned well.  If they are pruned hard once a year, you can prevent the splitting and prolong the life of the plant. You can cut back as much as half of a larger plant.  This is usually best done in the spring or early fall, before the chance of frost. Spanish lavenders usually start blooming at the end of April and into May. Pruning in the early spring may prevent an early spring flowering and promote late spring/early summer blooms.  Plants pruned in the spring will need to be pruned again before fall, since they will be top-heavy with the fast growing, heavy flowering stems.  If pruned, they may bloom again later in the summer.  It is also beneficial to lightly prune the plants that have bloomed a second time, in the early fall, to keep them compact for the winter months.

In general, all lavenders and lavandins should be pruned had at least once a year for the whole life of the plant.  If you start early and prune regularly you should have nicer looking plants for a longer period of time in your garden.

When is best time to pick lavender flowers to dry them?
The English lavenders, (L. angustifolia), and the French lavandins, (L. x intermedia), are the best lavenders for drying on the stem. There are certain cultivars that dry better than others, which means that more of the buds (calyxes) will stay on the stem when dried. On mature plants, it is hard to cut all the flowering stems at the perfect stage without sacrificing some that are not ready, and others that are too far gone.  However, it is easier to cut all the flowers on a plant all at once, instead of individually, unless you have a lot of time.  You will have to watch closely as the plants begin to show more color.  A few of the little flowers (corollas) will start to open the flower stems on most of the plant.  Usually, they are ready to pick at this stage.  A good indication is when the bees begin to start working the plants.  The colors are dark or bright and most of the flowering stems are in the bud stage, the buds are plump, and just a few of the flowers have opened on each stem.  For the best color, fragrance and dried product, you will want to pick most of the lavender and lavandin spikes at this stage to use for culinary use, for dried bouquets and for buds to use in sachets.

In Western Oregon, sometimes it is hard to find the right days to harvest lavender flowers. Different cultivars will be ready at different times in June and July depending on the weather conditions.  It is best to harvest the flowers after the dew has dried, but before noon.  Sometimes that is difficult when we have fog or rain at bloom time. You will want to pick the lavender flowers at least one day after it has rained, if possible.  To hasten the drying process, you may need to strip the leaves off the stems so the flowers will dry quickly.  Hang them upside down in small bunches held together with rubber bands. Choose a drying area that is warm, with good air circulation and low humidity.  Find an area where they will not receive direct sunlight.  The lavender flower bunches should be dried quickly within 3 to 7 days. Remove them from the drying room and store the small bundles loosely in a covered cardboard box, in a cooler area, until you are ready to use them. You can also dry a small bunch upright and loose, in a large vase without water.  (Caution: Do not pack too many stems in a vase at a time or they might mold!)  If you dry a few bouquets upright, you will notice that the flowering stems will have a more natural appearance.  They will droop a little and the stems will not be perfectly straight when dried in this manner.

No matter how you dry your lavender, you can expect that a certain amount of the buds will fall off.  Be careful when you are moving the dried bunches and when you are making them into dried bouquets.  Collect the clean, dried buds that have fallen off.  Store the whole dried buds in glass jars with lids, in a cool, dark place until you are ready to use them. If you are using the buds for culinary products, you will need to clean the whole buds to remove the debris and dust.  Other buds can be dried buds can be used for crafts, potpourris and to fill a variety of sachet bags for gifts. Place dried lavender buds in small bowls to scent a room in your home.

When do I need to replace my lavender plants?
If you are willing to prune and care for your lavender plants, then you can expect the lavenders and the lavandins to last up to 10 years or longer in your garden. They will be woody, but as long as the foliage and the shape of the plants still look attractive to you, and the plants are producing enough flowers, they are worth keeping in your garden. Spanish lavenders will probably need to be replaced before 10 years.