Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What kind of business or nursery is Barn Owl Nursery?
We operate a seasonal, retail herb nursery and specialize in lavender plants. We sell smaller quantities and take larger order for nearly 100 varieties of lavender and culinary herb plants that are grown in Oregon.
Why did you name your business Barn Owl Nursery?
Barn Owl Nursery got its name because we like owls! To follow an owl theme, we chose the 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 has received from her family and friends. Part of her owl collection does reside inside the gift shop.
(Scroll down further for Lavender Questions)
What are the best conditions for growing herbs successfully?
There are three basic requirements.
First, 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 or mounds, or in large pots for better drainage.
In the garden, mulching the soil surface after planting your herbs will maintain an even soil temperature and moisture content, it also discourages weed growth. You will save time watering and weeding, if you mulch.
If you are planting in the spring, wait until the soil warm up and the rains decrease before mulching. Don’t mulch around new plants until they are taller, otherwise the mulch might smother them.
If you are planting in the fall, apply mulch right after planting. Use a 3 to 5 inch layer of mulch to keep the weeds down. A winter mulch for new or tender plants may protect them in the winter months. Organic mulches can harbor snails and slugs and promote rot when it is too wet, so keep mulch away from the base and stems of the herbs.
Some suggestions for organic mulches that will decompose and add fiber and nutrients to the soil are: chopped straw, leaves, hay or bark or wood shavings, 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 and you will have less weeding to do.
A neutral soil, pH range of 6.5 to 7.5, is best for most herbs. Heavy, dense clay soils are often too acidic. Adding lime or dolomite to make a less acid soil and to 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. Ideally, you will want to make soil amendments around 6 months before you plant your herbs, especially if you are adding lime.
Second, an average soil with some fertilizer added. 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 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 some 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 late spring or summer 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 them in or leave them on the surface as a mulch. To feed perennial herbs, add organic materials to the soil surface as a mulch.
Third, at least 6-8 hours of full sunlight for most herbs. A southern exposure with a slight slope is an ideal location. Plant sun loving herbs in the garden or in pots to receive direct sunlight to achieve maximum oil production for the best flavor and fragrance in the leaves and flowers. There are some herbs, (not lavender), that will tolerate partial shade. If the herb foliage and flowers are leaning toward the light they need more direct sunlight.
Which herbs can be grown in pots or containers and what are the best conditions?
Container grown herbs require a little more care than herbs grown in the ground. In general, culinary 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. Herbs with tap roots like parsley, need pots that are deep enough for their full grown roots. Provide container grown herbs with as much direct sunlight as possible and turn the pots occasionally, if they are leaning for more light.
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. Plastic pots hold more moisture so you probably will not need to water them as often. If the herbs have good drainage and a hot location you might need to water them every day in the summer. 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.
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. This will 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 and flowers for you to use. Hardy perennial herbs that normally die back in the winter months usually benefit from a freezing period outdoors and can be kept in their pots outdoors during the winter months. In the early fall, get your last harvest of foliage and flowers and cut those herbs down. Do not fertilize them again until the next spring.
Container grown herbs, especially those that are highly scented, are more prone to having pests. Watch for white flies, aphids and red spider mites especially on the leaves of these 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 the bugs 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 in partial shade:
Bay, Burnet, Chives, Lemon Balm, Lovage, Mints, Nasturtium, Parsley, Society Garlic, Sorrel, Sweet Cicely, Sweet Woodruff, Tarragon, Violets.
What culinary herbs are 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 (Mentha), 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, most all Lavenders, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage and Thyme. There are no guarantees they will not touch your herbs if they have very little food.
What lavenders can be grown in containers and left outside all year, without protection, in the Pacific Northwest.
In general, the smallest and most compact growing (English) lavenders, (Lavandula angustifolia) cultivars, are hardy and can be grown outside all year long. Most small growing lavenders will survive outside in large containers over the winter months in Western Oregon and Washington.
The smallest dwarf and semi-dwarf cultivars and some of the most compact, shorter growing lavenders are the most suitable to grow in pots, larger containers and half wine barrels. Container grown lavenders need to receive full sun. They require more care than lavenders grown in the ground. First, the containers need to be filled with soil that drains well and the lavender plants need to be planted in containers that will allow them to grow to their full size. Container grown lavenders do need to be watered and fertilized more often than lavenders grown in the ground.
Recommended (English) lavender cultivars for containers:
Dwarf (12″- 15″): Backhouse Nana, Chelsea Pink, Eunice, Helen Batchelder, Lady Ann (pink), Lavenite Petite, White Dwarf, Wee One
Semi-Dwarf (15″- 18″): Arctic Snow (white), Felice, Karen Langan, Little Lady, Little Lottie (pink), Loddon Blue, Lullaby Blue, Nana, New Zealand Blue, Norfolk J-2, Pastor’s Pride, Peter Pan, Purity (white), Summerland Supreme, Thumbelina Leigh, Willow Pond Dwarf Blue
Most Compact (18″- 20″): Baby Blue, Betty’s Blue, Blue Cushion, Blue Mountain White, Brabant Blue, Cedar Blue, Fairie Pink, Fiona English, Hidcote, Hidcote Blue, Imperial Gem, Melissa Lilac, Miss Katherine (pink) Mitcham Grey, Munstead, Nana Atropurpurea, Opal Rain, Richard Grey
Which lavenders/lavandins are the most fragrant?
Most lavender flowers and foliage are fragrant, but there are certain species and cultivars that are suppose to be more fragrant. The fragrance and 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 flowering spikes 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 the plants are grown in, when the flowers are harvested from the plants and how quickly the fresh or dried flowers are stored and processed before their are distilled into oil and used.
Lavender (English) Lavandula angustifolia cultivars:
Some of the most fragrant cultivars are suppose to be: Avice Hill, Brabant Lust, Buena Vista, Cynthia Johnson, De Lavande, Egerton Blue, Eola, Fiona English, Folgate, French Fields, Maillette, Middachten, Munstead, Pacific Blue, Pastor’s Pride, Royal Velvet, Sharon Roberts, Super Bleu, Tucker’s Early Purple, Victorian Amethyst and Violet Intrigue.
Lavandin (French) Lavandula x intermedia cultivars:
Some of the most fragrant cultivars are suppose to be: Abrialis, Dutch, Fat Spike Grosso, Fragrant Memories, Grappenhall, Grosso, Riverina Thomas, Scottish Cottage, Sumian, Super and Sussex.
Which lavenders have the darkest violet-blue/purple buds and flowers?
Many lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) cultivars, have dark buds and flowers. Most of the buds will hold their dark color when they are picked in the bud stage. Among them, there are some cultivars that have especially dark blue/violet buds (calyxes) and/or flowers (corollas):
Avice Hill, Baby Blue, Betty’s Blue, Big Time Blue, Blue Mountain, Bouquet, Buena Vista, Cynthia Johnson, Egerton Blue, Elizabeth, Forever Blue, Hidcote, Hidcote Blue, Imperial Gem, Loddon Blue, Mitcham Grey, Peter Pan, Purple Bouquet, Rebecca Kay, Royal Purple, Royal Velvet, Sharon Roberts, Super Bleu, Thumbelina Leigh, Tucker’s Early Purple, Violet Intrigue and Willow Pond Dwarf.
Lavandin cultivars, (Lavandula x intermedia), do not produce dark buds and flowers, compared to the (English) lavender cultivars mentioned above, but there are some cultivars that produce darker blue-violet buds and flowers in the lavandin group: Anniversary Bouquet, Bleu de Collines, Fat Spike Grosso, Gros Bleu (darkest), Grosso, Hidcote Giant, Impress Purple, Olympia, Riverina Alan, Riverina Thomas and Sumian.
How are lavender (English) plants different from lavandin (French) plants?
Lavender plants, (Lavandula angustifolia) cultivars, produce seeds and are the largest group of lavenders. They are the hardiest lavenders to grow in Oregon. Most plants will survive cold temperatures and can be grown at higher elevations. We sell around 80 recognized cultivars that are grown in the Pacific Northwest. Since seed grown lavenders vary, we sell only lavender plants that are grown from cuttings.
The average size of a mature 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 10-15 inches in height and are suitable to grow in larger pots and in small gardens. There are many compact, semi-dwarf plants that range from 15-20 inches. 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 foliage is generally green/gray, with short leaves on the stems. The flower stems themselves are an average of 8-12 inches long. The aroma of the flowers has a “sweet” lavender scent. There is quite a large selection of flower colors among the different lavender cultivars. The buds and flowers range from light blue to different shades of violet/blue, to dark violet/ blue. There are several light pink and white flowering varieties too.
Lavenders make nice, low borders in the landscape but they do require pruning. The early blooming cultivars start blooming in Western Oregon around the 2nd-3rd week in June, with the majority of cultivars blooming mid to late June, and a few that continue blooming into July, usually finishing by 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.
Lavandin, (Lavandula x intermedia) and its cultivars, are a hybrid cross of (Lavandula angustifolia) and (Lavandula latifolia). This is a smaller group in the genus Lavandula because these plants do not produce seeds and need to be propagated from cuttings. Most of the lavandin cultivars that are available in Oregon are hardy in Western Oregon and the Willamette Valley, but some may not be as hardy to grow at higher elevations or in extreme weather, or in other regions or states.
We sell about 30 recognized lavandin cultivars that are grown in the Pacific Northwest. These cultivars are larger, faster growing plants compared to lavenders. They do not need quite as much pruning to maintain their shape as the lavenders. The size of lavandin plants range from 20-24 inches, 24-30 inches, with the tallest reaching 30-36 inches. The leaves are wider, longer and grayer than (English) lavender plants. The lavandin cultivars start blooming 2-4 weeks later than most lavenders.
In Western Oregon, some lavandins might start blooming by the end of June, but most lavandin cultivars start blooming by the second week of July and bloom throughout July. Depending the region and weather, some cultivars will bloom into August. Their flowers are a lighter, violet/blue color. There are several white flowering varieties too. The white flowering cultivars, and Riverina Alan and Riverina Thomas, have very sturdy long stems, some reaching nearly 3 feet in length!
Compared to lavender cultivars, lavandin plants produce more flower spikes, have longer straighter stems with more buds and flowers on each flower spike. They need to be planted further apart, (at least 4 feet) to have more space to grow well in the garden. These plants hold their shape, have longer leaves, and retain more of their leaves in the winter months. The aroma of the flowers is more pungent than lavender cultivars because there is more camphor in the oil produced by lavandin plants.
When is the best time to prune lavender/lavandin plants?
In my experience, I have found that pruning lavender plants in the spring and summer, and lightly in September/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 small 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 to make a more compact shrub that would be less woody looking with 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 when 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 they lose their color in the summer and early fall.
In late June and throughout July, I am harvesting my lavender flowers for fresh and dried bouquets and buds to use in my culinary products and for sachets and crafts. 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 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 be done in the spring, after danger of heavy frosts, and may 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 be 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 cultivars, have a life span of 3-10 years depending on how they have been cared for and how severe the winter is each year. Some cultivars do not survive a hard winter in Western Oregon. The larger cultivars are prone to splitting open and they will need to be replaced if they are not pruned well. If pruned hard once a year in the spring or summer, they can be prevented from splitting. Hard pruning may prolong the life of the plants. You can cut back as much as half of the foliage on a larger plant. This is usually best done in late spring or early summer. Spanish lavenders usually start blooming at the end of April and into May. Pruning in the early spring may prevent early spring flowers and promote late spring/early summer blooms. Plants pruned in the spring will need to be pruned again in the summer, since they will be top-heavy with the fast growing, heavy flowering stems. If pruned then, they may bloom again later in the summer into fall. 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 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/harvest lavender and lavandin for dried bouquets and buds?
Lavender (L. angustifolia) cultivars and lavandin plants (L. x intermedia) cultivars, are the best species of Lavandula for drying on the stem. There are certain cultivars that dry better than others, which means that more of the buds will stay on the stem when dried. On mature plants, it is hard to cut all the flowering stems at the perfect bud stage without sacrificing some that are not ready, or cutting others that are fully bloomed. But it is easier to cut all the flowering stems on each plant 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, when the buds are full and stems are strong . A few of the little flowers (corollas) will start to open on the spikes, on most of the plant. A good indication that they are ready to cut is when the bees begin to work the open flowers on each spike. The color will be bright, most of the spikes will be in the bud stage, but a few of the little flowers will be open on each spike. For the best color, fragrance and dried product, you will want to pick most of the lavender buds for culinary use and the lavender and lavandin plants in the bud stage for longer lasting dried bouquets.
In Western Oregon, sometimes it is hard to find the right days to harvest your flowers. Different cultivars will be ready at different times in June and July depending on 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. If it has rained hard, you should wait at least one day before picking the lavender. To hasten the drying process, you may need to strip the leaves off the stems so the buds and flowers will dry quickly. Make small bundles, secure them with rubber bands and hang them upside down. 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 bundles should be dried quickly within 3 to 7 days. Once they are totally dried, remove them from the drying room and store the bundles loosely in a covered cardboard box in a cool area, until you are ready to use them.
You can also dry a small bunch loose, upright in a large vase without water. Do not pack too many stems in a vase at a time or they might mold! If you dry a few bouquets upright in containers you will notice that the flowering spikes and stems will have a more natural appearance. They will droop a little and will not be as straight when they are dried.
No matter how you dry your lavender, you can expect that a small amount of the buds will fall off the stems. Be careful when you are moving the dried bunches and when you are making them into dried bouquets. Once the bundles are totally dried, you may choose to wrap them with tissue or clear cellophane sleeves to protect them. Collect the clean, dried buds that have fallen off. Store the whole dried buds in glass jars with lids, in a cool dark place to preserve their scent, until you are ready to use them.
If you are using the lavender buds for culinary products, you will need to remove the buds from the stems and clean them to remove any debris and dust before packaging the buds and using them in food. Lavandin buds can be used to add color and scent on their own, or they can be mixed with other dried herbs and flowers to make a potpourri. Dried lavender and lavandin buds may be used to fill a variety of sachet bags and in other lavender products and crafts.
When do I need to replace my lavender and lavandin plants?
If you are willing to prune and care for your lavender plants, then you can expect the lavender and lavandin plants to last up to 15 or 20+ years. They will be woody, but as long as the foliage and the shape of the plants still look attractive to you and they are producing enough flowers, they are worth keeping in your garden for at least 10-15 years. Spanish lavenders will probably need to be replaced before 10 years.