How to Grow and Care for Bugleweed

bugleweed plant

The Spruce / K. Dave 

Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) is a fast-growing herbaceous perennial ground cover (the species name reptans means "creeping") that does a good job of choking out weeds. It produces shiny, dark green leaves and beautiful flower spikes, producing blue, violet, or purple flowers in mid- to late-spring that can reach 8 to 10 inches tall, although the flower spikes on some cultivars are shorter. Several cultivars offer variegated foliage colors and patterns. Plant it in the late spring or early summer, and it will grow and spread fast; Bugleweed is considered invasive.

Common Name Bugleweed, common bugleweed, ajuga, carpet bugle, blue bugle, carpetweed, carpenter's herb
Botanical Name Ajuga reptans
Family Lamiaceae
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Mature Size 6 to 9 in. tall and 6 to 12 in. 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 (USDA)
Native Area Europe, northern Africa, southwestern Asia
bugleweed
The Spruce / K. Dave  
bugleweed leaves
The Spruce / K. Dave  
bugleweed as a ground cover
The Spruce / K. Dave  
bugleweed growing in containers
The Spruce / K. Dave 

Bugleweed Care

Bugleweed can make quite a nuisance of itself through its aggressive spreading via underground runners (called stolons), but there are a few situations in which its good qualities will be enough reason for some gardeners to grow it.

The plant excels at 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 looks especially attractive within rock formations. Bugleweed is also used as erosion control in many areas because its extensive root system can prevent soil loss. It forms a dense mat that will displace weeds.

Bugleweed has an unusual character in that it is so tough that it can even grow under black walnut trees (Juglans nigra), which produces a chemical that discourages most plants.

However, avoid planting bugleweed near lawn areas because it can quickly spread into turf grass. Plant bugleweed in an area where air circulation is good, spacing the plants about one foot apart.

Warning

Bugleweed has been reported as an invasive plant in Maryland, West Virginia, and Oregon.

Light

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

Soil

Bugleweed prefers medium moisture, well-drained soils with a good amount of organic matter. It will tolerate moderately dry soil.

Water

Bugleweed can usually sustain itself with normal rainfall. But if you prefer, give bugleweed 1 inch of water once a week while plants are getting established. Then give plants 1 inch of water once every two to three weeks after 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.

Types 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 burgundy tri-colored variegated foliage (white, pink, and green).
  • A. reptans 'Dixie Chip' is another variety with tri-color variegated foliage (creamy-white, deep-rose, and green) and produces a mat that grows 2 to 4 inches tall.
  • A. reptans 'Black Scallop' has perhaps the darkest foliage of all the cultivars with almost-black, scalloped leaves, and deep blue flower spikes. It produces a mat that grows 3 to 6 inches tall. The darkest foliage color is achieved when plants are located in full sun.

Pruning

Pruning helps to keep the plant under control. Rigorously prune runners twice a year. Be sure to remove any runners escaping the desired planting area. In addition, cut off the flower spikes in late summer after the flowers have faded. To shear back a large area of bugleweed, use a lawnmower set to a high blade height.

If the planting area becomes crowded, thin out the plants in the fall by digging up the entire clump and replanting half of the roots. To control it in your planting beds, stay vigilant about pulling it out from where it doesn't belong or it will gain a toehold and become a pest. 

Propagating Bugleweed

Bugleweed is one of the easiest plants to propagate by division. It spreads by underground runners 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. This is best done in spring or fall when there is no chance of frost. Here are the easy steps to propagate bugleweed:

  1. Dig up the entire mother plant and surrounding clumps.
  2. Then separate them by hand or with a disinfected, sharp knife.
  3. Discard brown or withered clumps.
  4. Plant the individual plants in new locations.

Growing Bugleweed From Seed

Bugleweed seeds are easy to start. Use these simple steps to start bugleweed seed indoors in the early spring.

  1. Fill small pots with a seed-starter mix.
  2. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of compost and keep moist but not soggy; They will sprout within a month.
  3. When the seedlings are viable, pot them up into larger containers.
  4. Once robust, transplant the seedlings into the garden. 

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Mostly free of pests and diseases, the only insect that truly likes bugleweed is the aphid, which can be sprayed off the plant easily by a garden hose.

The other common problem bugleweed could encounter is crown rot, a soil-borne fungus that happens especially when there is poor air circulation because of entanglement and smothering of the plants. In the South, crown rot is also called "Southern blight," and it is caused by a fungus (Sclerotium rolfsii). This is more of a problem in humid areas or when it's growing in heavy soils. You can help prevent crown rot by assuring the soil drains well, but if they succumb to the fungus, they will quickly wilt and die.

FAQ
  • What companion plants can I grow with bugleweed?

    You'll find plenty of companion woodland plants for bugleweed that also does well in partial or full shade. For example, pair with coral bells, daffodils, violas, forget-me-nots, astilbe, and hardy geraniums. For extra greenery, plant hostas and ferns.

  • Does bugleweed have a scent?

    Although the blue flowers are prominent, they don't have any fragrance.

  • Is bugleweed deer-resistant?

    Bugleweed is deer-resistant. It also tastes very bitter and bad to most animals, except the muskrat, which likes to nibble on the roots.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Southern Blight. University of Wisconsin-Madison Horticulture Division of Extension