Lavender Cotton is a fun little sub-shrub to grow, getting to around 2.5 foot high and about 3 foot in spread. We kind of love it and propagate it with ease, so thought we could share our tips with you.
Santolina chamaecyparissus also known as Lavender Cotton or Cotton Lavender is from the Asteraceae family. Native to the Mediterranean Lavender Cotton likes a well drained position in full sun and will reward you with silver grey foliage and bright yellow pom pom like flowers.
How To Propagate Cotton Lavender
Lavender cotton is one of those more unusual herbs, however a real keeper for most gardeners! In order to propagate it you will need an original plant. You can buy Santolina chamaecyparissus ‘Incana’ Cotton Lavender in 9cm pots here. They make great little box hedges and look equally as great in traditional knot gardens.
- Take your lavender cotton cuttings in warmer months. The temptation is to take them during the pre- winter prune, but it is a lot to expect the cuttings to take root when they are entering into their dormant phase. Also they will be prone to getting water logged in the rainy months.
- Remember that your cotton lavender plant is quite compact, so cuttings should be no more than 7cm or just shy of three inches. Go for fresh looking sections and make sure not to over prune the original plant. It can be quite stressful being pruned in the Summer, so just a few sprigs from younger plants and more from mature shrubs. Your cutting will be straight and without too many side shoots. They will most likely be removed before potting on.
- Holding the cotton lavender cutting in one hand use the thumb and forefinger of the other hand to run down and remove the bottom 2/3 of the foliage. Leaving the top third still on the stem.
- Mix around 70:30 perlite to potting compost. You are going to have to watch for rot, so the perlite helps to prevent this whilst encouraging root growth from your cotton lavender cuttings. Water this mixture once it is in the seed tray.
- The next step I believe is integral to the success of any cutting, that is to use a rooting hormone. You will dip your cotton lavender cutting into the gel and then with another twig make a hole ready in the compost mix. You can buy organic rooting gel here, and it is useful for anyone who wishes to prevent roots from rotting. Ultimately sitting the cuttings in soggy soil all Summer long will always kill the cutting, but your rooting hormone isn’t just to promote growth.
- Once the lavender cottons cuttings are in you can water the pots well.
- Then cover them with a clear plastic bag or use a designated electric propagator.
- Around 2-3 months and the cotton lavender cuttings will have taken root. They can then be transferred into individual pots. Mix an organic matter rich soil together and plant up for around a month or until the roots have taken.
- Once the potted on cuttings have had some time in a more sheltered spot, transfer them to a bright area outside where they are to grow.
- Some climates outside of USDA zones 5-9 may need acclimatizing and hardening off. As long as you have adequate drainage and hours of sunlight each day your herbs should be fine and cotton lavender is no exception.
How To Care For Lavender Cotton
Plant in full sunshine to prevent the lavender cotton from becoming too leggy as it stretches to reach the sunlight. It will thank you for a spot with good drainage and a gentle breeze, too much hot winds can dry out the foliage.
In the first few years you may not need to prune it at all, however you should still prepare your cotton lavender for Winter. We do this by providing a good quality mulch. Our little shrub tends to prefer a slightly more alkaline soil, so go careful with the high acidic mulches, something like borage or comfrey would be great and provide some nitrogen rich feed as well.
How do you prune cotton lavender?
After the flowers have had their full bloom, dead head as you may do normally. This will encourage further flowering, once that has occurred a good prune is needed. Roughly speaking we don’t want to be too harsh before the Winter frost, so between 2-3 inches needs to be taken off each year. This will keep the compact shape of the sub-shrub and prevent woodiness.
You may like to grow it as a companion plant and think about the perennial nature of the foliage. An evergreen that is never green, cotton lavender has a lot to offer the cottage garden border all year round.
How To Grow Lavender Cotton From Seed
This is nice and straight forward, you can even use harvested seeds from the previous year, or buy cotton lavender seeds via amazon here.
- Use a seed tray to get the seeds started and water the compost well. Just your usual seedling mix as the cotton lavender seeds are not too fussy at all. You will need a heated propagator though, dependent on which zone you live in.
- Start the cotton lavender seeds off at least 8 weeks before the fear of frost has passed. Scatter over the top of the prepared soil and then sprinkle a handful of vermiculite to cover. Using a mister, moisten the surface and cover.
- Keep an eye on them for around 4 weeks, they can be a bit temperamental and take a little longer. Basically half of the lavender cotton seeds will germinate in 1 week and then the other half will be sprouting as and when they feel like it! So don’t loose faith. They will need sunlight to germinate so make sure you have the propagator on a bright windowsill. 65oF is the coldest you want the seeds to ever get.
- Once they are big enough to handle you can start to harden them off. This means that the cotton lavender have true leaves and not just the first ones they put out to catch the most amount of daylight possible. To get them acclimatized to the weather bring them out in pots during the day and then return to the greenhouse for night time.
- After a few more weeks of this gentle introduction you can then plant out in well prepared pots or into the ground directly.
- To sow direct you can wait until all fear of frost has passed and then rake the soil over and scatter the cotton lavender seeds. Then cover with vermiculite and we use a cloche to stop our free range chickens from destroying all trace of them!
- Water well and make sure to monitor from around a week onwards. Keep the area weed free as your cotton lavender seedlings will not need to compete.
- Thin the seedlings out once they are large enough to handle and then you can pretty much leave them to it. Cotton lavender is a very simple herb to grow, unlike so many other herbs from the Mediterranean!
How To Use Santolina Plants
Cotton lavender has been used in traditional medicines to treat illnesses ranging from jaundice to stomach upsets and it can be applied directly to the skin or in tinctures. Sadly there is little in the way of scientific research to back up these claims. This is often the case with traditional herbal remedies so this should not deter the avid herbalist from prescribing. As with all traditional treatments they should be used when in conjunction with modern medicines and consulting a specialist medical professional will always be the first course of action.
So, is cotton lavender edible? Yes it is and the foliage goes well in stews, or rice dishes when cooked in with the grain. In all honesty though, you may prefer to add something with a bit more kick as lavender cotton does not actually taste like lavender. Traditionally it would be stewed up to make a tea to prevent intestinal worms, so as I have said it is really not the flavor that we grow it for!
Uses range from drying the leaves and foliage to add to moth balls and hang in your closet.
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