By Katherine L. Adam
NCAT Agriculture Specialist
Updated October 2018 by Thea Rittenhouse, NCAT Agriculture Specialist
|Photo: Florencia Viadana|
This publication is intended for a beginning lavender grower with some horticultural experience. The publication discusses geographic and climatic considerations for lavender, soil-preparation and cultivation techniques, lavender propagation, and field production. The publication also addresses marketing options for lavender, including essential oils, essential-oil distillation, direct marketing of a variety of lavender products, and information and resources about lavender agritourism and value-added lavender products. It also includes a list of additional resources about lavender production.
Lavender is a small, aromatic shrub used in the fragrance, specialty-food, and alternative-medicine industries. Although family farmers may find large-scale extraction of lavender's valuable oil too expensive and laborious, small-scale lavender production is feasible for some farmers using direct-marketing strategies. Agritourism, including lavender u-pick operations, farm tours, and lavender festivals, has been a very successful form of direct marketing for lavender. Additionally, small- and medium-scale lavender farmers now sell lavender bunches, or various value-added lavender products such as soaps, lotions, essential oils, and more at farmers markets and grocery stores. Many lavender farmers successfully combine multiple marketing channels in order to realize a profit from their lavender crop. Often, a combination of agritourism and direct-market sales of lavender flowers, plants, or essential oils can be the most profitable option for small and medium-scale lavender farms.
Like most herbs, lavender has very few insect pests. A few fungal diseases attack lavender, but because there are no known remedies for them, chemical applications are rarely used on the plant. Lavender ranks high as a sustainable crop because it does not rely on pesticides and fertilizers. It does not require much fertilization, although in hot climates irrigation may be necessary. The biggest challenge for lavender farms is finding viable marketing channels for the product.
|Related ATTRA publications|
|Entertainment Farming and Agri-Tourism|
|Herb Production in Organic Systems|
|Keys to Success in Value-Added Agriculture|
|Plug and Transplant Production for Organic Systems|
|Potting Mixes for Certified Organic Production|
|Sustainable Small-Scale Nursery Production|
Lavender originated around the Mediterranean in poor, rocky soils and mild coastal climates. Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender) is the most hardy, but high-camphor lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia) cultivars like Grosso may be grown successfully in most parts of the United States (to Zone 4) without winterkill, under certain circumstances. Bodies of water can greatly moderate otherwise inhospitable climates. For example, L. angustifolia can be successfully grown in the British Isles, due to the influence of the Gulf Stream; Ukraine can produce lavender around the Black Sea; Japan produces several metric tons a year; and Argentina, Brazil, and East Africa have some production. Each location has a climate moderated by a large body of water, which can create microclimates several zones different from those nearby. Some types of lavender have been grown successfully near Lake Champlain in upstate New York and in the "Banana Belt" south of Lake Ontario. Illinois, northern Nevada, Idaho, and even Minnesota produce lavender. Elevation, topography, and the severity of winters are other climatic factors that influence lavender farming. Elevation can significantly influence plant survival, with valleys being less desirable. Heavy mulching of plants is necessary to protect them through severe winters. Continuous snow cover could have much the same effect. Excellent drainage is crucial to the survival of lavender plantings.
Lavender (Lavandula) can be a long-lived perennial, with a typical productive life of about 10 years, although plants have been known to live for 20 years. English lavenders (L. angustifolia) have the finest fragrance. However, their oil production (see box) is much lower than the high-camphor lavandin. Oils from lavandin are commonly blended, either with L. angustifolia oil or with commercially available essential oils, to create a pleasing fragrance. Whole plants in flower can be used for essential oil production. Buds, flower spikes, and flowering tips—both fresh and dried—have a variety of culinary, fragrance, and decorative uses.
Lavender is best established on sandy loam soils of pH 6 to pH 8. Although lavender is a drought-tolerant plant, a regular irrigation schedule is necessary during establishment, as well as supplemental fertilization or adding compost annually in the spring (Sunshine Lavender Farm, 2018).
Lavender cannot survive simply being stuck into clay soil. Beds must be worked down 18 to 24 inches. It is best to raise the bed about six inches above ground level and mix in 1/3 sand, 1/3 loam, and 1/3 clay soil. Too much sand is better than too much clay. A good soil mix like ground cotton seed, mulched leaves, old potting soil, and compost—sweetened with a bit of lime or egg shell—would work for loam soil. The ATTRA publication Potting Mixes for Certified Organic Production offers more recipes for organic soil mixes.
Purchase healthy propagation materials (plants or plugs) from a reputable dealer. Make sure the lavender variety is appropriate for your climate zone.
Raised, sandy beds allow the drainage necessary to avoid root rot. Gravel can be added as well. Remember that lavender tolerates too little watering better than too much.
Mulching and landscape fabric can help with weed control. However, if the mulch is too heavily applied, it can increase susceptibility to root rot. A medium application of mulch around the base of the plants in the fall or spring months will help with weed control.
Before getting started with lavender production, it is important to know the average cost of production for a lavender operation. There are several good resources that explain start-up costs and questions to ask before starting a lavender farm. A few of these resources follow:
Lavender—a small, non-hardy, perennial, evergreen shrub—is best propagated from softwood cuttings of standard types. Seed may not come true to type, and lavandin seeds are sterile. Different cultivars are raised for different purposes. Most growers favor deep blue flowers, lush growth, and hardiness. Other types of lavender—such as 'Spike'—are not commonly grown in the United States, except as specimen plants. White and pink forms of L. angustifolia are curiosities sometimes seen in home gardens. Although some California growers favor 'Irene Doyle' for its fragrance, ability to flower bi-annually in Zone 7, and its "slightly darker lavender blue" flowers, the most commonly grown cultivars in all parts of this country are the lavandins 'Provence' and 'Grosso.' 'Grosso' attracts attention in tourist areas, creating a striking effect of large fields of "purple haze." It is very hardy and grows to three feet in height. Products of acceptable quality can be made by judiciously blending 'Grosso' distillate with imported sweet oils.
The most common species of lavender used in cultivation are the following, according to Stony Hollow Lavender (2018):
More complete information and pictures of the cultivars of lavender and lavandin are available from the following sources:
The English lavender (L. angustifolia) cultivar 'Munstead' is commonly grown in New England, as is the lavandin (L. x intermedia) cultivar 'Grosso.' 'Munstead' is reportedly the only English lavender that does well at high altitudes and was recently reported doing well in Nevada. Nurseries may market cultivars of L. angustifolia and L. x intermedia (lavandin) under deceptively similar names. For example, 'Hidcote' is L. angustifolia, while 'Giant Hidcote' is L. x intermedia.
The different cultivars of lavender vary slightly in specific gravity (s.g.) and have distinct chemical profiles. Because lavender oils are lighter than water (s.g. of less than 1.0), they rise to the top. The lower the s.g., the more easily the oil is volatized. More information on distillation parameters may be found in E. Guenther's The Essential Oils, four volumes (1948-52); Brian Lawrence's The Essential Oils, three volumes (1976- 78); the Journal of Essential Oils; and the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry. Chemical profile affects the olfactory properties of an essential oil and, hence, the quality.
Essential oils are used as flavors and fragrances in manufacturing, as well as in aromatherapy, an alternative health discipline. Now that alternative therapies receive such broad public support, and the food and fragrance industries are growing, the main question is, "Can the limited-resource farmer in the United States find a profitable niche growing and selling lavender?"
Some of the key players in the global lavender oil market include doTERRA International, LLC; Young Living Essential Oils; Takasago International Corporation; International Flavours & Fragrances Inc.; Aromaland Inc.; Symrise AG; Givaudan SA; Firmenich SA; Rocky Mountain Soap Co.; and China Flavors and Fragrances Company Limited. To strengthen their market position, many of these companies are going into strategic alliances and also concentrating on further technological advancements to improve product line.
|Photo: Happy Valley Lavender & Herbs|
Most essential oil production continues to take place outside the United States, due to infrastructure, transportation, and labor considerations (cost and availability). The majority of the essential oil produced in the United States is orange oil, which can be cheaply produced as a by-product of the citrus-juice industry. The next-largest volume produced is cedar oil, a by-product of the forestry industry. Worldwide, most essential oils (including most aromatherapy oils) are distilled from tropical plants not widely grown in the United States. The three main plants utilized for essential oil production in this country are mint, orange, and cedar. The U.S. mint industry is centered in the Pacific Northwest. Washington farmers produce the most spearmint oil and the second-most peppermint oil, with about 17,000 acres of spearmint and 16,000 acres of peppermint. Together, those produce about 3.5 million pounds of mint oil annually, valued at about $80 million (Pihl, 2012).
Australia and New Zealand have developed a lavender oil industry. Some of the smaller operations there received initial government support. However, similar support for essential oils distillation does not exist in this country for farmers, with the exception of the USDA Value Added Producer Grant.
There are four methods to derive essential oils from plants:
A video of the steam-distillation process is available from Tazeka Aromatherapy. As noted above, commercial-scale production of lavender essential oils relies on steam distillation. (A modest steam distillation unit costs $8,000 to $11,000.) Table-top units that sell for $2,000 to $2,500 online will usually produce only hydrosols; they cannot achieve and maintain the temperatures necessary to extract a high percentage of essential oils.
Note: These values are estimates only, of yield from one acre in the second production year. (Source: Swift, 2014)
| Wholesale Value of Oil|
Lavandin oil sells for $10.50/pound
Lavender oil sells for $22.50/pound
|Lavandin oil||35-180 pounds per acre||$367.50-$1,890.00|
|Lavender oil||5-25 pounds||$112.50-$562.50|
|Value of Buds|
Buds sell for $6-$10 per pound
Flower bundles sell for $6-$10 per bundle
|Buds||1,000-1,500 pounds per acre||$6,000-$15,000|
|Flower Bundles||15,000-25,000 per acre||$90,000-$250,000|
|Retail Value of Lavender Oil|
Lavender/lavandin oil sells for $12+ per 5-ml bottle
1 gallon = 756 bottles of 5 ml = $9,072.00
5-ml bottles empty cost ~ $0.55 = $415.80
|Lavandin oil||4-21 gallons per acre||$36,288-$190,512|
|Lavender oil||.75-3 gallons per acre||$6,804-$27,216|
|Value of Hydrosol|
(This is the distillate produced when distilling for essential oil)
16 ounces = $9
4-ounce spray bottle = $12
|Hydrosol||25 gallons per acre||$9,600|
Floragenics Distillation Systems, in Pescadero, California, offers several sizes of stills, including the large 50-gallon still. This is a turnkey system with all necessary parts, hoses, and fittings.
For those interested in a cottage fragrance industry, there is an older method of small-batch production called enfleurage. Fats, oils, or alcohol are used to extract the plant essence for scenting soaps, bath oil, lotions, homemade paper, etc. Once made, scented oils must be used quickly or stored in a tightly sealed bottle. Making perfumes at home requires a recipe, additional undenatured ethyl alcohol, and an appropriate fixative (such as storax oil, sandalwood oil, or orris root). More information on these methods and products, some of which may have potential as value-added farm enterprises, is provided in Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. There are examples of businesses dedicated entirely to this method of essential-oil extraction.
Lavender dijon mustard
Many farms are adding lavender into their cut-flower operations, bringing bunches of lavender to farmers markets to sell, or selling lavender products such as lotions, soaps, and tinctures. At the farmers market, lavender can sell for between $3 and $6 per bunch, depending on the area. There are also other lavender products farmers can sell at the market, including dried lavender bunches, lavender plants, lavender sachets, lavender soap, and other value-added lavender products. Dried lavender bunches can also be sold to florists, grocery stores, or other businesses. Methods for direct marketing of horticultural products are discussed in the ATTRA publication Direct Marketing. For more information about producing potted lavender plants (also direct-marketed), see the ATTRA publications Sustainable Small-Scale Nursery Production and Plug and Transplant Production for Organic Systems.
It is essential to have a marketing plan for a lavender farm first, before any plants are put in the ground. The market is competitive and it takes a marketing niche to grow a lavender farm into a profitable and sustainable business. ATTRA has great business-planning resources, such as the Getting Started in Farming online tutorial and marketing tipsheets to help you get started.
It is common for lavender farms to incorporate agritourism into the farm operation as a direct-marketing opportunity and to diversify revenue sources. Examples of agritourism include tours, u-pick operations, and lavender festivals. Some farms create event centers on the farm for weddings and other events, or build vacation rentals on the farm to attract tourists. If you are interested in an agritourism operation, it is important to consider the location of the farm and its accessibility to cities, or whether it is near other lavender farms or tourist destinations. It is worthwhile to note that land prices will be significantly higher in areas that are already popular for tourists.
For more information about agritourism, see the ATTRA publication Entertainment Farming and Agri-Tourism.
Sequim (pronounced skwim), in Washington's Dungeness Valley, has been proclaimed the "lavender capital" of the United States. Sequim has a favorable geographic location for lavender, with warm summers and cool, dry winters. Sequim (population 6,606) is in the "rain shadow" of the Olympic Mountains—protected by the mountains from rain sweeping in from both east and west. Its annual mid-July "Celebrate Lavender" festival draws thousands of visitors to view the purple haze of harvest- ready lavender fields. Sequim also has a thriving bedding-plants industry and sponsors an herb festival each May. In fact, Sequim is a growing tourist and retirement center, with festivals scheduled for almost every month in the year.
The lavender farms around Sequim provide a significant boost to the local economy and are an established part of the local tourist industry, promoted by both local and state governments. Tours of lavender farms and a Lavender Street Faire showcase lavender products and services from the Sequim-Dungeness Valley, as well as regional garden products and natural crafts. Other attractions include an open air market, lavender-crafting demonstrations, food, aromatherapy, dance, music, clowns, and face painting.
There are other regions of the United States where lavender agritourism is growing.
Successful lavender producers invest considerable time (at least a year) just doing research, traveling to conferences, and talking with established farmers before setting up operations. Because there are many methods to market lavender and lavender products, research is important to determine which is the best fit for your farm. Before starting a lavender farm, it is important to have a good sense of the costs of production, as well as familiarity with agritourism and essential-oils production, and ready access to capital. The United States Lavender Growers Association has a conference every two years, information about local events and workshops, and a virtual-farm-tour Web page.
Before starting a lavender farm, it is important to conduct research and talk to as many farms in different regions as possible, in order to understand the details of this particular crop and the demand for it in different areas. If agritourism is part of the business plan, doing careful research on land opportunities, location, and proximity to tourism destinations, as well as zoning regulations/policies for agritourism-related events, will be very important before purchasing or leasing property for a lavender operation.
In summary, lavender production can be a rewarding and economically profitable farm enterprise, but this type of operation requires careful research and a solid understanding of the market for lavender products. There are still many opportunities to start a lavender farm, and there are many resources available to help new and beginning farmers become successful lavender farmers.
Ernst, M. 2017. Lavender. CCD-CP-127. Lexington, KY: Center for Crop Diversification, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
Gemmell, Virginia. 2014. Traveling Around the World, Seeking Lavender Essential Oil.
Lehmann, Tracy Hobson. 2002. Hill Country growers open their fields to the public. San Antonio Express-News. June 15. p. 1E ff.
Lopes, Paul. 2002. Lavender Production in Massachusetts. UMass Extension.
Pihl, Kristi. 2012. Washington is No. 1 mint oil producer in U.S. Tri-City Herald. September 24.
PR Newswire. 2017. Lavender Oil Market to Surpass US$ 124 Mn by 2024-End - Persistence Market Research. April 24.
Stony Hollow Lavender. No date.
Swift, Curtis. 2014. Lavender in Colorado. 2nd Annual Western Colorado Food and Farm Forum.
Fifty States of Lavandula
State-by-state listing of lavender farms compiled by Susan L. Harrington.
Strictly Medicinal Seeds
Bulk herbs, distillation equipment, and essential oils.
Lavender. By Douglas Green.
E-book for sale online.
Lavender Guide: Lavender: Choosing a Distiller
A YouTube video on lavender distillation equipment, with California lavender farmer Lila Avery-Fuson.
Listserv for lavender growers and others interested in learning more about events, publications, and agritourism events. Also useful for those starting lavender farms because it is an easy way to communicate and ask questions of others in the field.
Q&A section has large amount of material on lavender.
Celebrate Lavender Festival
The website for the annual festival in Sequim, Washington.
United States Lavender Growers Association
Aromatherapy Workbook. 1990. By Marcel Lavabre. Healing Arts Publishing, Burlington, VT.
The Big Book of Herbs. 2000. By A.O. Tucker and Thomas DeBaggio. Interweave Press, Loveland, CO. p. 314-338.
The Cultivars of Lavender and Lavandin (Labiatae). 1985. By A.O. Tucker and K.J.W. Hensen. Baileya. Vol. 22, No. 4. p. 168-77.
Growing 101 Herbs That Heal. 2000. By Tammi Hartung. Storey Books, Pownal, VT.
Hardy Lavenders. 1989. By T. DeBaggio. The Herb Companion. April-May. p. 10-15.
In Vitro Propagation of Lavender [Lavandula latifolia]. 1989. By Maria Carmen Calvo and J. Segura. HortScience. Vol. 24, No. 2. p. 375-376.
Lavender: The Grower's Guide. 2000. By Virginia McNaughton. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Lavender, Spike, and Lavandin. 1985. By A.O. Tucker. The Herbarist. No. 51. p. 44-50.
Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. 1987. By Claire Kowalchik and William H. Hylton (eds.). Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA. p. 460-467.
Steam Distillation of Herbs. 1998. p. 3-15. By Robert Seidel. In: Berzins, Snell, and Richter (eds.). Transcripts: Richters Third Commercial Herb Growing Conference, October 24, 1998. Richters, Goodwood, Ontario, Canada.
Lavender Production, Markets, and Agritourism
By Katherine L. Adam, NCAT Agriculture Specialist
Updated by Thea Rittenhouse, NCAT Agriculture Specialist, 2018
Tracy Mumma, Editor
Amy Smith, Production
Abigail Larson, HTML Production
This page was last updated on: March 8, 2019