If you are thinking of turning your love for gardening into an enterprise that can fetch you an income, then growing lavender is the most beneficial option for you.
Lavender is an acidic plant, therefore, insects do not snack on it. This reduces the expenditure on sprays and insecticide.
Lavender is an ancient herb with a rich history of healing properties. It symbolizes peace, reticence and spirituality. It is a flowering plant that typically belongs to the mint family. 39 known species of lavender, which slightly differ in their appearances and smells, are used for cultivation. A Latin word ‘lavare’, which means ‘to wash’, was used to derive the genus name ‘lavandula’. It was used in ancient Roman times as a bath scent or a bathing ritual herb. However, there is also an explanation that the word lavender is derived from a Latin word ‘livere’, meaning ‘bluish’.
Lavender is a native to the Mediterranean region and several regions of India and Africa. It is very useful on commercial grounds as well. Due to its enchanting aroma, it is the most preferred option for the preparation of perfumes, lotions, soaps, and potpourri. It is also experiencing a revival of demand due to the various medicinal and culinary properties it exhibits. Lavender oil, nicknamed as ‘first aid in a bottle’, also provides innumerable health benefits.
It is seen that not many people think about lavender as a medium for profit-making, but it is true that growing lavender to make a profit is possible, provided you do your homework right about the details of the lavender plant.
Types of Lavender
‘Lavandula angustifolia’ is also referred to as English lavender, as this type of lavender grows best in a climate that resembles England’s. It is the most common type of lavender ,and can be distinguished easily by its narrow leaves. ‘Hidcote’, a subspecies of lavandula angustifolia, is the most popular choice because of its strong scent and beautiful foliage. Many other angustifolia sub-species, like ‘Munstead’ and ‘Royal Purple’ are known for their fragrance, whereas ‘Purple Bouquet’ and ‘Buena Vista’ fall under the ornamental variety.
Lavandula dentate, sometimes known as French lavender, has toothed or serrated leaves. Its foliage has a furry appearance. The colors of the flowers are not so vivid, and the scent is also milder and delicate (more like camphor). This subspecies of lavender is usually grown for its ornamental value rather than culinary or commercial purposes.
Lavandula stoechas, also called Spanish lavender, has leafless stems that bear pink to purple colored flowers that are tufted. This subspecies is distinguished by the unusual flowers that grow out of spikes. The spikes are pineapple shaped, are 2 – 3 cm long and grow at the end of the stem. Even though it is the most fragile type of lavender, in higher doses L. stoechas can be toxic. It contains ketones, which when absorbed by the skin, can cause irritation. Therefore, it is recommended that L. stoechas should never be used in cosmetics.
When evaluating lavender types for your garden or farm, you should clearly decide whether you want to grow lavender for landscaping applications, fragrance, culinary or cosmetic purposes. Checking with the local nurseries or gardeners would also help you to understand which type of lavender would thrive best in your area.
First thing to notice is that lavender is not fully hardy, so it needs proper mulching during winter, when they are planted in the northern regions. This multi-faceted plant can grow well in USDA zones 8 – 11, but some varieties are known to survive in zone 4, but with protection. Here are some tips on lavender plant care.
Climate and Soil Requirements
Spring and early summer is the preferred blooming period for lavender. It requires sunny weather and well-drained soil. Sitting water would rot it. The pH of the soil should ideally be kept between 6.5 and 7.5. In case the soil contains clay, amending the soil by adding compost and sand should be done prior to planting. Acidic soil should not be used for growing lavender, because it is observed that alkaline soil helps in intensifying its fragrance.
Dampness due to any reason can destroy lavender. Keeping the plants well-spaced and planting them on raised beds, is more likely to keep them alive and avoid diseases. If the climate is hot and humid, lavender is bound to be affected by fungi and mildews. Weed growing between the lavender plants will compete for nutrients and moisture from the soil. Therefore, you need to add mulch.
Mulch is nothing but a layer of material spread out on the surface of the soil. But, make sure you do not over-mulch as it can result in too much water retention, which is not good for lavender. Spreading white gravel, pebbles, rock or sand in between the rows and between plants, will help to reflect sunlight and will keep the base heated. This, in turn, would help to keep the plants dry and prevent fungal infection.
Cultivation and Production
Make sure you plant the lavender in an elevated area with fast drainage of water and minimum 8 hours of sunlight. Valley and other such ‘deep’ areas are not suited for a healthy growth of lavender. It requires 2 – 3 years for lavender to bloom with flower and foliage.
Growing lavender from seeds is not so popular as compared to growing lavender from cuttings. The seeds take minimum of 10 to 28 days to germinate from seeds, but it is gradual and erratic. When growing lavender for profit, it is best to use the latter process, i.e., growing lavenders from cuttings.
One year old plant cuttings are taken in the spring season, and they are propagated and cultivated in shady areas for a year. Growing lavender in containers in shades is the best way of cultivating them. You can put some compost and keep the roots well-watered, in the first phase of their growth.
Afterwards, lavender plants are transferred to areas that have bright sunlight. Water irrigation is also one factor that matters a lot in growing lavender. It is always advised that water should be irrigated by the trickle or drip method. It should never be sprayed on top of the plants by overhead sprinklers, as it may split open the bush. It also wets the entire plant that may lead to fungal diseases.
Pruning is very important for a flourishing lavender bush. It should ideally be done when the plant is young and tender. Pinching out the new growth to boost sideward branching and cutting the flower buds would ensure a thicker bush and a bountiful spike in the following season.
Ensure that the leaves are intact while pruning; if they are cut too low then chances are that the plant won’t survive. If you miss out on this important aspect, the resulting lavender bush may break open.
It can also become woody as well as difficult to manage or harvest. Pruning should be done in fall and in areas where harsh winters are experienced, it should be done before fall.
Harvesting this beautiful, aromatic crop has an excitement of its own. You should harvest the crop depending on the end-product. If you are aiming at the fresh-flower market, then the ideal time to harvest would be when the first one or two flowers on the stem bloom. If you allow all the flowers to bloom and then harvest, there is a probability that the stem will drop most of the flowers by the time it reaches the market.
If your end-product is essential oil, then you should harvest when at least half of the flowers on the stem have dried up. This will ensure maximum oil accumulation. Also, enough part of the stem (approx. 4 inches) should be cut along with the flowers, as the stem also contains some oil.
Post-harvesting, it is very essential to dry the lavender stems as soon as possible. This will prevent mold growth and also will yield lavender of the highest quality and color. Drying should be done by tying the stems in small bundles with a rubber band, and hanging them upside down in a room that has low humidity. Use of rubber bands is recommended because it keeps the bundle tight. After drying, the stems shrink and if they are tied with a piece of string, chances are that some stems may start falling off.
If the intended end use of dried lavender is for buds, they should be plucked immediately after drying and placed in airtight containers to ensure the aroma remains intact. Typically, productive lavenders are likely to have a life span of about ten years. When growing lavender, make sure you grow the best fragrant species of the plant. English lavender is the most fragrant, but its oil production is pretty low, as compared to the other species. To overcome this problem, Lavandin (a hybrid developed by crossing L. angustifolia and L. latifolia) was developed.
Its essential oil is mostly mixed with the essential lavender oil and are made available for sale in the market. The whole plant can be used for oil production. The buds, flowering tips and flower spikes, both in dried as well as in fresh form, are very useful for culinary and decorative purposes.
An acre of L. angustifolia (true lavender) field produces about 300 to 1,800 lbs of dried flowers, that makes 12 to 15 lbs of essential oil, which means about 2 gallons of lavender oil. While one acre of lavender cultivars produce approximately 3500 to 4500 lbs of dried flowers, that makes 53 to 67 lbs of essential lavender oil. Make sure you choose the best species to get the maximum profit. There are more than 30 species of lavender available that can be used for making lavender oil for commercial purposes.
Majority of lavender grown across the globe is mainly for its oil. Growing plants is not the only thing that must be in mind. Several other things like capital investment, availability, cost of the labor and transportation of the field production to the desired market are also a few things that one must seriously consider.
The US mint industry is set in the Pacific Northwest region, where lavender oil is not so much in demand, for it largely depends upon the production of orange oil, cedar oil and the other essential oils that are not grown in the US.
Australia and New Zealand, on the other hand, are the greatest markets of lavender oil industry, where people also get some governmental funds at the initial level. At present, southern France is the best-known lavender producing area. It produces 1,000 – 1,500 tons of L.x intermedia oil and 50 – 70 tons of L. angustifolia oil annually. In US, the main aim now is to produce high-quality end products rather than bulk quantity.
There are various ways of oil extraction that can also decide the benefits, when it comes to growing lavender. These processes are hydro distillation, steam distillation, supercritical extraction and solvent extraction. Lavender oil gained from steam distillation gets highly ranked. As a matter of fact, buying a medium steam distillation unit is always handy (cost can be $8000 to $1000).
Marketing and Agro-tourism
Lavender products are also sold in the farmer’s market. This is called ‘Direct Marketing’. Things like lavender wands, sachets of dried lavender flowers that are used for their fragrance are on high demand in the farmers’ markets. Fresh or dried lavender bundles can be sold at the farm. Dried lavender buds can be mixed with other attractive dried leaves, petals, etc., to make exclusive potpourris.
Products like lotions, creams, scented candles, soaps, shampoos can be made and sold. Aromatherapy is the latest buzz, and if your blend of lavender oil is unique, then it can prove as the best way to market your lavender. Medicinal, culinary lavender sells like hot cake nowadays. Pet and veterinary products containing lavender is an emerging market that can be easily tapped by the lavender producers.
Small scale or cottage fragrance industry always works best on a small batch production, which is also called ‘enfleurage’. The products that are made using fats, alcohol and oils must be utilized as soon as they are made. So, one can think about and work out a direct marketing strategy to find the nearest market and face-to-face (direct) marketing of the products that one is aiming to sell.
It can be noted that the target customers for lavender products would be women because they buy more lavender based products than men. Also, the upper classes who have adequate amount of income to spare on ‘luxury’ products can be considered as potential customers.
Successful marketing of lavender can also be done through Internet marketing. It is suggested that you get a website made through a professional website developer because it has to be eye-catching, easy to navigate and user-friendly. Make sure that the website is visible when the relevant keywords are typed; for this you need to consult a specialist.
Lastly, revert to the orders or inquiries as promptly as possible, and never promise more than your capacity to deliver. Doing this will build trust and credibility. Many farmers can join hands and share the cost. It will also enable to stretch the array of products that you can offer.
‘Agritourism’ is catching up fast, however, it requires considerable amount of planning and investment. Converting your farm into a tourism spot will require you to give up on a certain amount of privacy and dealing with chaotic tourists. You need to chalk out a plan about the days your farm will be open for tourists. Finally, if you decide to take the plunge, then you need to make your farm a tranquil place that is also safe, well-maintained and beautiful.
There are several schemes and events that are organized by the regional governments, to stimulate or initiate the regional agricultural tourism. Sometimes, lavender tours and lavender luncheons are organized in the fields. This can be a great opportunity for the producers to provide services and market their goods. There are more than 60 lavender farms that are present in the California that have created a network to grow individually with the help of each other and a distillery of their own as well.
Give yourself enough time to do the correct market study, research, talk with the lavender farmers on personal grounds, check various books and websites that are there about growing lavender, and attend conferences. These are a few things that must be on your to-do list before growing lavender for profit. A detailed consideration about the above mentioned points will surely make your business of growing lavender, a big hit. All the best!