How to Grow and Care for Bugleweed

bugleweed plant

The Spruce / K. Dave 

Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), also called common bugleweed, is a fast-growing herbaceous perennial ground cover (the species name reptans means "creeping"). Although it produces beautiful flower spikes and is available in several different cultivars that work well in landscaping, it can also make quite a nuisance of itself through its aggressive spreading via underground runners (called stolens). However, there are a few situations in which its good qualities will be enough reason for some gardeners to grow it.

Bugleweed 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 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. However, avoid planting bugleweed near lawn areas because it can quickly spread into turf grass.

Bugleweed has shiny, dark green leaves and produces blue, violet, or purple flower spikes 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.

Botanical Name Ajuga reptans
Common Name Bugleweed, common bugleweed, ajuga, carpet bugle, blue bugle, carpetweed, 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
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 

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 have faded. To shear back a large area of bugleweed, use a lawnmower set to a high blade height. To keep the plant under control, rigorously prune runners twice a year. Be sure to remove any runners escaping the desired planting area.

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. Water thoroughly after replanting.

Because bugleweed spreads aggressively via runners, that fact 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 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. In the South, watch out for crown rot, also called "Southern blight," which is caused by a fungus (Sclerotium rolfsii). You can help prevent crown rot by assuring the 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 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.

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 individual plants 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 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 2 to 4 inches tall.
  • A. reptans 'Black Scallop' has perhaps the darkest foliage of all cultivars with almost-black, scalloped leaves and deep blue flower spikes. It produces a mat 3 to 6 inches tall. The darkest foliage color is achieved when plants are located in full sun.

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, pot them up into larger containers. Once robust, transplant the seedlings into the garden.