by Preston Brady III, Herbscapes.com, 2023
Almost every herb gardener is familiar with the perils of the beautifully aromatic lavender plant: under the wrong conditions part of the plant starts to turn ash gray. Of course this means the plant is dying. It’s up to you now to save it, which only takes a few minutes and perhaps a change of plan in caring for the plant. So, what happened to the plant? Very likely it contacted shab disease, (Phomopsis lavandula) a fugus that kills the roots of the plant. In other words the roots are infected by mold.
We all know what mold needs to sprout and survive: water. In the case of shab disease, too much water. Remember, this is a native Mediterranean herb where plants expect a lot of sun in a dry climate. This is one of those plants you allow the soil to get fairly dry before administering the next watering. The image featured in this post shows a plant I found in a small pot, with part of the lavender already dead. I clipped the dead gray and removed the live portion, gently shaking the roots to remove most of the soil clinging to them. It was time to put the plant in the ground so I dug a hole deep enough for the the roots to drop in and not be bunched up. I troweled the area around the hole to give the roots an easy place to grow. I left the sandy soil dry but added a scoop or two of plant soil. I sprayed the roots with mists of water to help remove the fungus, but did not saturate them. I placed the plant in it’s new home in a spot that receives a lot of sun, but some shade. So far so good. I will of course follow it’s course and update in future blog.
This brings me to the subject of watering herbs and the fact that many of our gardens hold a variety of herbs ( as we are encouraged to have.) If you use an automatic watering system or sprinklers, this could cause a problem for some plants. For example, if you have spearmint or peppermint planted in the same bed as the lavender, those two plants like lots of water. In fact, in the summer heat they can die within a few days of water neglect.
I recommend selective watering in the above scenario, or organizing herbs in individual garden sections based on sunlight and water needs. Thyme and Oregano grow well with lavender because they to are true Mediterranean plants that thrive in dry soil with occasional water. Rosemary is also a good companion: it can survive long periods without much water. However, as a caveat, in my zone 8b-9a my rosemary enjoy good baths of water likely due to the extreme humidity and heat here. Echinacea is another good companion for lavender.
While lavender is mainly cherished for it’s cosmetic uses, it also pairs well in cooking, especially desserts. But don’t shy away from adding just the right amount of lavender to main course dishes including chicken, beef, pork. By right amount I would tend to say less is best due to the strong scent and flavor of the herb. The idea is to add another dimension to the dish, not make lavender the star of the show because chances are she would turn out not to please you or guests in that starring role. By way of example I refer you back to my recipe for Vanilla Bourbon Chicken. The chicken was marinated for a few hours in a very, very light dousing of vanilla (pods juice)that had been cured in a Mason jar of bourbon for about a half a year. Four pieces of chicken fillet were marinated in about an eighth of a teaspoon of the sauce. Why so little some may ask? Because vanilla is a very strong taste. It doesn’t take much at all to pronounce itself wherever it is introduced. When preparing desserts you probably want the vanilla to be the predominate flavor. In the Vanilla Bourbon Chicken you want the taste to be very subtle, almost “hmmm…what is that flavor?” Well, the same goes for lavender. Remember, sometimes less is best. I hope if you have a lavender plant suffering from mold you will clip away the gray and keep the live portion thriving and growing.