English lavenders (Lavandula anigustifolia and French lavenders (Lavandula staechas ), are two different species of the same plant. There are key differences in the growth, longevity, and flowering of these two species.
The difference between French and English lavender is that English lavender is cold hardy and lives much longer (up to 15 years) whereas French Lavender does not tolerate cold, only lives for 5 years but flowers for much longer.
The Similarities between English and French Lavender
While there are many differences between French and English lavender species, most of the care is the same.
Both French and English lavender need the following conditions.
- Well draining soil
- Medium to low fertility soil
- Full sun
- Infrequent watering
- Regular pruning
All varieties of lavenders thrive in sandy soil that drains well and has low to moderate fertility. Lavenders thrive in full sunlight.
Prune lavender once a year in Spring and Fall to avoid leggy growth. This will also prolong the life expectancy. You don’t need to fertilize lavenders. Fertilizer causes more foliage growth at the expense of the flowers.
Key differences between French and English Lavenders
The appearance and shape of flowers can vary between species.
In the photo, the English lavender flowers are to the left (Hidcote ) while the French lavender is to the right (Regal Splendor ).
French Lavenders are valued because of their longer blooming season that can last from Spring to early Fall.
Deadheading flowers after they have faded can encourage the plant to produce more flowers, instead of focusing its energy on the seed pods. You should also trim the lavender to a more rounded shape each year.
English lavenders produce an impressive display of flowers starting in June. They last for around four weeks, which is less than the French lavenders. English lavender leaves have a stronger scent and are more valuable.
The main difference between English lavenders and French lavenders lies in the fact that English lavenders can tolerate snow, ice, and frost in winter. They will live for many years and are cold hardy up until USDA zone 5.
Some English lavender varieties such as the compact Hidcote superior can reportedly within stand temperatures occasionally as low as -30 degC (-20 degF) .
French Lavender is more delicate than other varieties and doesn’t like snow or ice. (Cold hardy in USDA Zones 7-9). French lavenders can only survive winter in climates similar to their home in Southern Europe, such as France, Spain or Italy.
These countries typically experience mild winters where the temperature rarely drops below 10degC (50degF) and do not often experience frost.
English lavenders are best for outdoor planting in colder climates. You can also plant French lavenders indoors, in pots, and then move them indoors for winter protection. Learn more about caring French lavenders in winter .
The English lavenders are considered more resilient than the French lavenders overall, and can survive in mildly acidic soils.
All lavenders prefer alkaline soils above pH 8, but they can live in neutral soils (PH 7) and tolerate mild acids. However, English lavenders grow better than French lavenders in these soils.
If you have acidic soil or you don’t know how to measure your soils pH then read my article on lavender and acidic soils which explains the easiest way to find out.
English and French lavenders both produce their distinctive aroma from the leaves all year, although the scent is strongest in spring.
The difference is that English lavender is more charismatic and powerful than French lavender. French lavender is more subtle and reminiscent of rosemary.
Both lavender species still emit a pleasant scent in the home or garden, but English lavender is more valued for its delicate fragrance.
English lavender is grown commercially for its scent. Varieties like Hidcote Mundstead and Vera are most popular, but some English and French hybrid lavenders (Lavandula ) can also be grown commercially. The English lavender, Lavender Grosso, was grown for its hardiness and fragrant qualities. It also produces the flowers of a French lavender. Read my article, how to care for lavender Grosso).
The length of a lavender’s life is one of the most important distinctions between English and French lavenders, when it comes down to choosing which plant to purchase.
English lavenders are more likely to live longer than French lavenders, even though they are treated equally.
English lavenders can live and flower for up to 15 years in the perfect conditions. French lavenders live for around 4 to 5 years even though they are from the Mediterranean.
English lavenders are often more affordable than French lavenders when it comes to choosing plants for your garden. It is possible to use lavenders as decorative hedging, borders or ornaments. However, it would be expensive to replace each plant every four years.
The English lavender variety Hidcote is perfect for creating low boarder hedges, can withstand winters and produce flower and fragrance for up to 15 years.
The life expectancy of a lavender depends on how well it is cared for and, most importantly, how often it is pruned each year. Pruning stops leggy growth and slows woody growth at the base of the lavender. Pruning is vital for lavender’s longevity. It will encourage new shoots to develop, which will result in more flowers. (Read how to stop lavender for getting leggy for more information).
English lavenders are the best choice if you value longevity and cost.
English and French lavenders can be grown to a variety of sizes.
However, many of the most popular English lavenders (Hidcote or Munstead) are compact so they are great for decorative borders and hedging.
These varieties tend to reach their mature size after 3 or 4 years of 20 inches tall and 24 inches wide. Vera is the largest English variety and is believed to be the original lavender species that is still being grown for its oil.
The more popular French varieties such as ‘Regal Splendour‘ and ‘Ballerina‘ grow much larger then the most popular English varieties at up to 30 inches (76 cm) tall and 35 inches (89 cm) wide at maturity. These lavenders are a stunning sight in any garden, especially if they are located in a warm climate. They produce flowers for several months each spring and summer.
The mature size of any lavender is dependent on how well it has been treated, such as sun exposure and drainage.
- The key difference between French and English lavenders is that English lavenders are more cold hardy, produce a stronger fragrance and live longer however French lavenders can produce flowers for much longer.
- English lavenders have a more powerful aroma then French lavenders and tend to be grown more commercial as a result.
- English lavender can tolerate cold winters (hardy to USDA zone 5) and grow better in mild acidity then French lavenders. French lavenders are not able to tolerate cold temperatures, snow, or ice (hardy up to USDA zone 9), and can only be grown in mild winters.
(For more information, see my article Can French Lavender Survive Winter