How to Grow and Care for Bugleweed

Ajuga ground cover in bloom with dark foliage.
David Beaulieu

Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), also called common bugleweed, is a fast-growing ground cover, an herbaceous perennial that usually creeps within just a few inches of the ground (the species name reptans means "creeping"). It presents gardeners with a tough decision in plant selection. Although it has pretty flowers and is available in several different cultivars that work well in landscaping, it can also make quite a nuisance of itself through its rampant spread. But there are a few situations in which its good qualities will be enough for some gardeners to grow it.

Bugleweed is excellent for filling in large, shady areas where lawns are difficult to grow, and it can work well on banks or slopes, or planted around trees and shrubs. It forms a dense mat that will choke out weeds, and it is known to be fairly deer-resistant. It is so tough that it can even grow under black walnut trees (Juglans nigra), which produces a chemical that discourages most plants. But avoid planting bugleweed near lawn areas, since it can quickly spread into turf grass.

Bugleweed is a dense, mat-forming ground cover with shiny, dark green leaves. Tiny, blue-violet flowers bloom in mid- to late-spring on spikes that can rise 8 to 10 inches. Several cultivars are available that offer different foliage colors and patterns.

Botanical Name Ajuga reptans
Common Name Bugleweed, common bugleweed, ajuga, carpet bugle, blue bugle, carpetweed, gugle, carpenter's herb
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Mature Size 6 to 9 inches tall and 6 to 12 inches wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Medium-moisture, well-drained
Soil pH 3.7 to 6.5
Bloom Time May to June
Flower Color Blue, violet
Hardiness Zones 3 to 10
Native Area Europe, northern Africa, southwestern Asia

How to Grow Bugleweed

Plant bugleweed in an area where air circulation is good, spacing the plants about 1 foot apart. Cut off the flower spikes in late summer after the flowers turn brown. A large planting area can be sheared with a lawnmower set to a high blade height. To keep the plant under control, rigorously prune down the stems of bugleweed twice a year. Make sure to cut off any runners escaping the desired planting area.

If the planting area becomes crowded, thin it out in the fall by digging up the entire clump and replanting half of the roots. Water thoroughly after replanting.

Bugleweed spreads aggressively via runners, a fact that should alert you to its potential to be invasive. To control it in your planting beds, you'll have to be faithful about pulling it out from where it doesn't belong. If you're not vigilant about controlling it, it will soon gain a toehold and become a pest. 

Light

Bugleweed does well in full sun to part shade locations. Foliage color is best when the plant receives at least three to four hours of sunlight daily.

Soil

The plant prefers medium moisture, well-drained soils with a good amount of organic matter. It will tolerate moderately dry soil. In the South, watch out for crown rot, also called "Southern blight," which is caused by a fungus (Sclerotium rolfsii). You can help prevent it by assuring that your soil drains well.

Water

Water bugleweed weekly while plants are getting established, then once every two to three weeks when they're established. Water whenever the top 1 to 2 inches of soil become dry.

Temperature and Humidity

Bugleweed does well in a wide range of temperatures, but in very hot, humid areas, it requires good air circulation to prevent crown rot. 

Fertilizer

Feeding is rarely necessary unless the plant is growing in poor soil. When it is needed, apply an all-purpose granular fertilizer. Or, use a water-soluble fertilizer at a rate of 1 tablespoon per 1 gallon of water. Morning feeding is best, and make sure to rinse off any fertilizer granules from the leaves.

Propagating Bugleweed

Ajuga is one of the easiest plants to propagate. It spreads by underground runners, called stolons, that form clumps surrounding the parent plant. At the point where these clumps begin to get crowded, you can dig them up and transplant them wherever you want. This is best done in early spring or fall.

Dig up the entire mother plant and surrounding clumps, then separate them by hand or with a knife. Discard brown or withered clumps, and plant the others in new locations.

Varieties of Bugleweed

  • A. reptans 'Atropurpureum' has bronze-purple foliage.
  • A. reptans 'Chocolate Chip' has darker leaves than the species plant, including a hint of chocolate brown.
  • A. reptans 'Burgundy Glow' has variegated foliage that's tricolored (white, pink, and green).
  • A. reptans 'Dixie Chip' is another variegated variety with three colors (creamy-white, deep-rose, and green).
  • A. reptans 'Black Scallop' has perhaps the darkest leaves of all of the cultivars.

Growing From Seed

Start bugleweed seed indoors, in pots filled with a seed-starter mix. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of compost; they will sprout within a month. When the seedlings are viable, they can be potted up into larger containers. Once robust, the new plants can be transplanted into the garden.