Lavender Cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus) is native to Western and Central Mediterranean. It is also known as Gray Santolina, Holy Herb, Ground Cypress, or Petite Cypress. It is a bushy, aromatic, evergreen shrub. Lavender cotton leaves are crowded, narrow, and indented with comb-like teeth. The leaves are grey-green or silvery. The flower heads are globular, long-staked, yellow, and about one half inch across. The shrub grows to one to two feet tall and spreads from two to three feet wide. It grows in zones six to nine.
Lavender cotton is most often planted for its aromatic foliage. Lavender cotton is also used for sunny banks, borders, flowerbeds, and to make short hedges. It blooms from mid-summer to early autumn. Lavender cotton is often used as an insecticide and moth repellent in its native range. It can also be used in potpourris.
This shrub needs to be watered the first year it is grown so the roots can develop. After that, it is very drought resistant. Lavender cotton does not like much moisture. It needs to be planted in rocky or sandy soil that drains quickly or it will get root rot. In humid weather, it gets fungal diseases and the center tends to open up.
To plant lavender cotton, simply dig a hole in rocky or sandy soil that is a little larger in diameter than the root ball. Place the shrub in to the hole, making sure the roots are spread out. Fill in the hole, making sure that the trunk of the shrub is even with the level it had been planted at in the nursery. Fill in the hole and water well.
Because it is an evergreen shrub, it provides winter interest. In colder climates, it can be grown as an annual. In warmer climates, it can be sheared back to the ground in early spring. Lavender cotton will grow back the next spring. It may not produce flowers if sheared back every year. Deadhead flowers as soon as they fade.
This plant is deer resistant. It is often used as a short hedge around herb gardens. It used to be brewed in a tonic that was drunk to eliminate intestinal worms.
Lavender cotton is propagated by rooting semi-ripe cuttings. These should be dipped in rooting hormone and planted in a well drained pot. Provide bottom heat to help them root. Water weekly until the shrubs are ready to be planted. Once the shrubs are planted, water one inch a week for the first year, until the roots are well established. The shrub will only need to be watered during a drought after that.
This shrub is not long lived and may need to be replaced after five years or so. However, since it is so easy to care for, replanting should not be a problem. Seeds can be spread in a cold frame in late winter and then transferred to the landscape after the frosts have stopped, or you can plant the shrubs.