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Desert lavender is a compact shrub found in the deserts of the American Southwest. This desert wildflower is very popular with bees and butterflies in its native range and can be used as a landscaping plant in regions with climates similar to that found in its home regions in Arizona, Mexico, and other areas of the Southwest. Nurseries and gardening catalogs may make seedlings available and it is also possible to propagate desert lavender from cuttings, for people who have access to mature plants.
Known formally as Hyptis emoryi, desert lavender is in the same family as true lavender. It produces gray-green, lightly serrated foliage and sprays of tiny purple flowers. When crushed, the foliage emits a scent similar to lavender or sage. Plants can grown as tall as 9 feet (3 meters) tall and tend not to spread more than 9 feet (1 meter), depending on the conditions where they are grown.
This plant can be grown in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones eight through 10. Like other desert plants, it has adapted for extreme heat and cold and can handle frost, although severe cold weather may cause the plant to die back to the ground. Although it appears dead, the root system and base are intact and the plant should return in the following year, often very robustly. Desert lavender is also very drought tolerant and is well suited to low-water gardens and xeriscaping schemes.
When planting desert lavender, a sunny area of the garden should be selected. The plants can grow in shade but will be more leggy, with less foliage. The plants prefer well-drained soil of medium quality. Watering needs are light through the spring and summer and should be tapered off in the fall. When watered, the plant tends to produce new foliage and will grow larger. Reducing watering in the fall reduces the risk of frost damage to new foliage, as the plant will go slightly dormant.
These plants can be grown in massed beds or used as specimen plantings. Planting them near paths or other areas frequented by people is recommended so people can enjoy the subtle scent. Desert lavender can be grown in containers as well as directly in the ground, and it does not need to be pruned, as it has a naturally compact growth habit. If the plant starts to sprawl or more shaping is desired, pruning should be done in the spring.