A rugged Mediterranean herb, lavender cotton is grown for its attractive silver foliage. The name is deceiving, though, because the plant is neither lavender nor cotton. It's often found growing in rock gardens and formal knot gardens because it stands up well to frequent trimming. Although flowers are not its main feature, lavender cotton does bloom in midsummer with small, fuzzy, yellow blossoms.
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The silver foliage of lavender cotton makes an excellent backdrop for other flowers. The delicate toothed leaves of this plant have a pungent aroma that can be likened to a strong oregano or woody camphor scent. The pungent aroma repels rabbits and deer.
In midsummer, this shrubby plant can be topped with button-like yellow blossoms that some gardeners think detracts from the overall appeal. Lavender cotton may not even bloom in areas where it is borderline hardy.
Lavender Cotton Care Must-Knows
When planting lavender cotton, consider its native Mediterranean climate where it prefers well-drained and gritty soil. It will not tolerate excessive moisture. This is especially important during wintertime because this plant does not like wet winters and is likely to die from root rot. It also tends to prefer soil that is nutrient poor; too rich of soil will make plants floppy and weak-wooded. Like many other Mediterranean plants, lavender cotton prefers alkaline versus acidic soil.
Lavender cotton grows best in full sun, which encourages the best color foliage and most compact habit. Although it can tolerate part shade, plants will require more maintenance as part shade encourages floppiness and a more open, sprawling habit. Be sure to give lavender cotton as much sun as possible, as it flourishes in hot and dry summer weather. Areas with cool and humid weather can cause fungal problems.
One of the many reasons gardeners grow lavender cotton is its tolerance for repeated shearing, which makes it a great option for topiaries and hedges. Even when not growing in a formal garden, this plant benefits from occasional trims to keep looking neat and healthy. It can be a fairly short-lived plant, so plan on replacing it about every 3-5 years. Luckily, it is easy to start from cuttings or by layering. Layering can be done by simply pulling down a low branch and slightly burying it with both ends exposed. After a few weeks, roots will develop; at this time you can remove this part from the main plant and plant the rooted cutting in a new area.
More Varieties of Lavender Cotton
Santolina chaemacyparissus, also known as lavender cotton, is named for its soft, silvery-gray foliage that forms a mound up to 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The plant can be sheared to keep it more compact. It bears buttonlike yellow blooms in early summer. These can be sheared back after bloom to keep the plant tidy. Zones 6-11
This variety is also called green lavender cotton and formerly was classified as Santolina virens. The plant has fine-texture, fragrant medium-green foliage. In spring it bears buttonlike yellow flowers. It is a good choice for rock gardens and herbal knot gardens. Avoid overwatering it to prevent the stems from flopping open in midsummer. Zones 7-9
Lavender Cotton Companion Plants
Purple coneflower is so easy to grow and attractive and draws so many birds and butterflies that you simply must grow it, if you have the room. Valued for its large sturdy daisylike flowers with dropping petals, this prairie native will spread easily in good soil and full sun. It is bothered by few pests or diseases. It's a great cut flower—bring in armloads of it to brighten the house. And birds and butterflies love it. Allow it to spread so that you have at least a small stand of it. Let the flowers go to seed and the goldfinches will love you, coming to feast on the seeds daily. Butterflies and helpful bees also love purple coneflower. It used to be that rosy purple or white were the only choices in flower color. Recent hybrids have introduced yellow, orange, burgundy, cream, and shades in between.
Blanket flowers are wonderfully cheerful, long-blooming plants for hot, sunny gardens. They produce single or double daisy flowers through most of the summer and well into fall. The light brick red ray flowers are tipped with yellow -- the colors of Mexican blankets. Blanket flowers tolerate light frost and are seldom eaten by deer. Deadhead the flowers to keep them blooming consistently through the summer and into fall. Some species tend to be short-lived, especially if the soil is not well-drained.
Sedums are nearly the perfect plants. They look good from the moment they emerge from the soil in spring and continue to look fresh and fabulous all growing season long. Many are attractive even in winter when their foliage dies and is left standing. They're also drought-tolerant and need very little if any care. They're favorites of butterflies and useful bees. The tall types are outstanding for cutting and drying. Does it get better than that? Only in the fact that there are many different types of this wonderful plant, from tall types that will top 2 feet to low-growing groundcovers that form mats. All thrive in full sun with good drainage. Ground cover types do a good job of suppressing weeds, but seldom tolerate foot traffic. Some of the smaller ones are best grown in pots or treated as houseplants.