Which Lavender Is Best For Oil?

Lavender Varieties Used For Oil Production

Lavandula angustifolia

L. angustifolia is one of the most common species of lavender grown. It doesn’t produce the largest amount of oil. That award goes to lavandin (L. x intermedia). However, L. angustifolia varieties produce a more flavorful variety.

L. angustifolia is also know as “high altitude” lavender. It produces a type of esters, linalyl acetate, that is highly favored by aromatherapists for it’s calming effect.

Here are a few of the common varieties grown for oil:

English Lavender variety – the most common variety grown. Produces both a strong lavender scented oil and can also be used for crafting and other purposes.

Royal Velvet variety – a sweeter scent, long stems (24-36″). A showy variety with long 3-4 inches flower spikes. Not only a great oil producer but also great for dark, dried flower buds.

Vera variety – another sweet variety with lower growing stalks. It’s compact size of 24-30 inches allows you to grow more in a small space. Grows in USDA hardines zones 5 – 10.

Mailette variety – the gold standard for lavender essential oils in France. Best of the best. The preferred choice for aromatherapy, perfumes, and skin care products. Barrel shaped flower heads rather than spiked. Blooms later than other L. angustifolias in June-August. Disease resistant and can handle english clay soils.

Hidcote superior variety – A far more compact oil producer that has a mature 18″ spread. You can really back these in together though as always, lavender likes it dry and airy so don’t get things too crowded. Mildly sweet with compact blooms.

Lavandula x intermedia

Lavandin, the high volume producer. Produces up to 5 times the oil as a similar English Lavender. A hybrid species originally created in France.

Great for volume but not great for some of the best scents. It actually contains a mix of what aromatherapists consider the calming esters from L. angustifolia as well as the stimulating compounds in L. latifolia discussed below.

Consider mixing lavandin oils with other more intense oils from lesser volume varieties for a better end product. Again, like L. angusitoflia there are many varieties grown within this species.

Super variety – a high oil volume producer with a stronger scent.

Grosso variety – the best oil producer of them all and most commonly grown for oil. Large variety that can get up to 48″ wide. Can also be used for dried flower products and in lavender cooking products. Lots of camphor scent to the final oil.

Gros blue variety – A smaller growing hybrid that tops out at 36″. Must grow in USDA hardiness zone 6 or warmer. Like many hybrids it doesn’t like cold USDA zone 5. Less intense camphor flavor and sweeter than the gross variety.

Phenomenal variety – Another midsize hybrid that grows to 32″ and can tolerate USDA hardiness zone 5 through 9. It can even handle the humidity of the south if given proper spacing.

Lavandula latifolia

Spike Lavender (L. latifolia) is not as commonly grown for oils. However, it is favored by some aromatherapists for it’s camphor content, low esters (found in English lavender), as well as eucaplyptol (1,8 cineole).

According to aromatherapists L. latifolia is a warming oil which acts in opposite the calming effect of English lavenders.

Lavandula stoechas

Often called French lavender or Spanish lavender, L. stoechas has a unique set of oils.

While this article may seem a bit technical it’s key to understand this if you plan to sell to the aromatherapy market. They know their esters!

L. stoechas has virtually none of the calming esters from English lavender. It’s got a lot of the “warming” compound eucalyptol (1,8 cineole). It also has a lot of ketones and monoterpenes. According to aromatherapists this makes it a very unique oil that isn’t so much soothing or warming but more antimicrobial.

How To Increase Lavender Oil Production

What do you do if you want to increase the amount of oil you produce every year? Spanish Lavender can be harvested up to three times per year (May, June, and Late Summer). English lavender is harvested once usually in June or July. Lavandin (Hybrid Lavender) is harvested a month after English one time in either July or August through late summer. If you grow all three species you can harvest lavender up to 5 times per year.

  1. 3 Harvests – Grow Spanish Lavender. Harvest in May then again in June. Wait for a later summer/early fall flowering then harvest again.
  2. 1 Harvest – Grow English lavender and harvest in July/August.
  3. 1-2 Harvests – Grow Hybrid lavender (lavandin) and harvest in August through Early Fall.

Max harvests – 5 and possibly 6 per year

Note that rain and temperature changes from year to year will affect when your plants will bloom.

Other tips to maximize your lavender harvest or to develop unique scents:

  1. Grow at Higher Elevations – Higher elevations inspire cold tolerant English Lavender to produce more esters.
  2. Don’t plant on contour – Lavender likes it dry. Drainage from the upper contours could overwater the lower contours killing those lavender plants.
  3. Plant on the south side of hills – Lavender likes full sun. The north side is the darkest in the continental US.
  4. Prune dead and spent blooms – This will inspire new ones later that year.
  5. Never fertilize – Lavender likes well-drained rocky soils. It’s not a fan of big fertilizer uses. Too much fertilizer just makes longer stems with less oil.
  6. Add peat or compost to clay soils – While there are a veew varieties that can handle clay it’s best to amend with slow release peat and compost. Do this in the fall after the harvest. That will give enough time for them to break down and release their initial surge of nitrogen without overwhelming them with too much fertilizer. What you want from the compost is a loosening of the soil.
  7. Prune annually – Do this to slow down the growth of woody stems. Keep the overall plant 3′ in diameter or less. If it gets too woody and stops producing pull it out and start a new one. Better to lose one season for a few woody plants than to lose the next 5-10 seasons of oil production trying to get an old woody lavender to be a big producer again.