With the popular interest in Lavender and the pandemic many people are buying up land and are wanting to grow lavender in Georgia. The problem with growing lavender in Georgia is that all our conditions are all wrong for lavender. Growing a few lavender in landscaping gardens is so much easier to adapt for lavender than growing lavender on a large scale. Georgia has so much rain, which lavender hates, high humidity, intense sun in summer, longer growing season, and acidic clay soil. I had to remedy all this to make conditions favorable for growing lavender, which took a lot of trial and error. Yes, we have done this but it's not so easy to start from scratch without having some knowledge of growing lavender and starting in virgin soil.
*Photo I took in the Provence are of France, which is perfect for growing lavender. Dry, arid, alkaline soil with higher latitude so not so long growing season of intense heat, as well as very little rain.
Growing lavender at 2.5 acres was a spark started from seeing a French lavender field in a magazine and we had pasture not being used for anything. When I started to ask and research about growing lavender on a large scale in Georgia there was noting, except one farm in Eatonton, Georgia that noted on her webpage that their lavender had died. I contacted UGA and my Extension Office, even had him come to the farm, but both said there was no one growing lavender in the ground on a large scale and could not help me. So it was back to the drawing board. My funds were vey limited and I could not fail.
*Photo - my back pasture after bush hogged. Was previously used for cattle.
It took a whole year of reading books, taking a class online, visiting a lavender farm in NC. and Saute Nacoochee, GA. By visiting the other lavender farms I knew lavender could be grown hopefully at my farm.I knew I had to start off small with growing lavender, since I had never done this, except for the few lavender I had growing up my walkway. I also knew that Georgia did not have the conditions to grow lavender and all that I read and researched was for growing lavender in the best conditions, such as Provence, France or Sequim, Washington that gets very little rain and alkaline soil. Very different from my farm. I had to learn to adapt to my conditions. I took all this knowledge and passion to start my first field of 500 lavender plants of various varieties (lavandin and lavender), since I liked each one for their color and use and had to figure out which varieties would grow at my location. I learned by ordering that shipping plants cost was high. The shipping cost was the same as the plant cost.
Photos: Lavender Farm in NC
Photo below: Lavender in Sautee Nacoochee Shop
I learned so much this first year of growing lavender in North Georgia. My first field was 90 feet by 100 feet, which I tilled and worked hard to prepare it for planting. I thought since it was on a slight hill, I had found the best spot to begin growing my lavender. Once I got the plants I had to quickly get them in the ground, all (500) babies into the ground before they died from the heat. Then once planted I started see my very expensive plants begin to die and had to make quick changes. This was not supposed to happen to these drought tolerant plant. I followed every step to planting lavender that I learned from all my research. But what I missed was that no one had really grown lavender in the South, not in 2014. The baby plants were so thirsty, so here I was watering by hand all 500 plants daily. I then learned about irrigation, drip lines, water pipes, and even had a plumber come to the house. After many trips to the hardware store and a lot of digging we got this problem solved.
Then in the fall while I worked a full-time job teaching I had to continue to maintain the plants. Weeds quickly grew, even up through the holes in the weed cloth and up next to the edges. Ants were another problem killing the lavender and adding soil on the weed cloth which helped the grass grow even more. When the autumn leaves fell upon our lavender plants and holding moisture we started to see more plants die, so another tasks of removing leaves from the rows and in between the stems of the lavender. We had hoped when the weather cooled we would get a break, but we learned that was not going to be the case. Over the years my husband learned how to remedy this problem too and was such an easy task and by doing a walk about the rows every few days helped.
June is the best time at the farm where everone enjoys visiting the farm then to take in the amazing relaxing scent of the lavender fields in bloom, take photos, and make memories with family and fields. We added plenty of picnic tables for people to bring a picnic lunch and added the two gazebos.
This year we bought the next door property adding 3 more acres to our farm, making a little more than 5 acres now. We will be working over late autumn and early Spring to clear out an area for more picnic tables under the canopy of our tall oaks and near our new pond (which needs to be refurbished) for our visitors to relax and enjoy. We will also be planting more lavender, an estimated 3,000, making our farm growing 7,000 lavender plants. If you had told me 8 years ago our farm would be growing that much lavender I would not have believed you.
Harvest time is taking at just the right moment depending on weather and blooms. I learned if you miss the right moment all the buds will fall off their stems while drying. So timing is so important for harvesting. Even the moon phases can effect your harvest with the oil in the buds. All in all harvesting is my favorite time of the year. We have grown now so big now with 4,000 lavender plants that it takes us eight people, including my husband and I, working in the fields harvesting by hand eight hours a day for seven days. Sometimes, rains will interfere with our harvest, but the break is nice. My husband created now and easier way to harvest by hand compared to my sickle and scissors. We are very thankful to him. I use to get large blisters and now I don't.
Over the nine years we have learned so much about growing lavender in Georgia on a large scale can be done here in Georgia. Yes, it is possible to grow this amazing wonderful herb called lavender. My journey had a lot of hard work and going back to square one many times, since growing lavender here was not in any book or website. I learned so much information that I can't put in one Blog. I believe that each person's journey to having a lavender farm is unique, since their knowledge base and their own property can be so different than the next person.
My suggestion to anyone wanting to start a lavender farm in Georgia or anywhere in the South is to start small, don't quit your day job, and research all you can. Be even smarter and buy an established lavender farm where they have done all the work, trial and error lessons learned, and spent to cost learning, do it! The cost and time they have done alone with save you so many heart aches and problems.