If you want to add some cottage-style charm to your garden, plant lady's mantle. Lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis) is a clumping, mounding perennial with large circular, scallop-edged leaves. It is often grouped in clusters as a ground cover for both sunny and shady areas, and besides being beautiful in gardens, it is also used in making lotions and soaps. The sparse chartreuse flowers that appear in clusters in late spring are not particularly showy, but the foliage looks good all season.
This plant is included on official lists of invasive plants in some areas. However, lady's mantle does self-seed very freely and it is known to spread beyond the garden unless you are careful.
|Common Name||Lady's mantle, bear's foot|
|Botanical Name||Alchemilla mollis|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||12–24 in. tall and wide (some varieties)|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Medium moisture, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic to neutral (6 to 6.5)|
|Bloom Time||June to September|
|Hardiness Zones||3b–8b (USDA)|
Lady's Mantle Care
Most commonly, lady's mantle is planted from potted nursery plants in groups spaced about 12 inches apart, then allowed to fill in to form a solid mass by spreading and self-seeding. It will do well in any ordinary medium-moisture garden soil. Lady's mantle adapts well to both shade and full sun locations, but in hot climates, it prefers some shade.
Care of this plant is fairly minimal, but you may find it necessary to deadhead regularly to control the rather rampant self-seeding. Without deadheading, you may need to pluck volunteer seedlings regularly to keep the plant from spreading past its garden boundaries.
Lady's mantle is uniquely free of serious pest or disease issues.
While the rhizomatous roots of a lady's mantle plant spread rather slowly, the flower heads self-seed so freely that the plant will quickly spread beyond its boundaries unless supervised. It is officially considered an invasive plant in parts of the Pacific Northwest (especially SE Alaska). Contact your local extension service office for a complete list of invasive plants in your area.
Lady's mantle grows extremely well in full sun to partial shade and will tolerate near-complete shade. In very hot climates, it will prefer some afternoon shade to avoid sunscald on the leaves.
Lady’s mantle isn’t particular about soil quality, but it does best in a soil that is slightly acidic to neutral, with a soil pH of 6 to 6.5.
These plants are drought-tolerant once established, and they don’t like to sit in wet soil. However, in high heat or full sun, regular watering is required to prevent the leaves from turning dry and brown. Mulch around the plant, but not up to the stem, to cool the soil and preserve soil moisture. Lady’s mantle tends to hug the ground, so keep the mulch from covering the plant.
Temperature and Humidity
Lady's Mantle plants can adapt to a variety of climates but often need plenty of shade in hot climates.
Areas with high humidity may experience some fungus problems, particularly if the crown is kept damp. Good air circulation and allowing the soil to dry slightly between waterings should help if fungal disease is a problem.
It's rarely necessary to fertilize lady's mantle plants unless you have poor soil. If so, a handful of slow-release organic fertilizer can be mixed in at planting time, then reapplied annually.
Types of Lady's Mantle
Several popular named cultivars of lady's mantle are available:
- Alchemilla mollis ‘Thriller': This cultivar has a more upright growth habit (up to 2 feet) and larger leaves than most other lady's mantles.
- Alchemilla mollis 'Auslese': This type features upright lime-green flowers and larger leaves.
- Alchemilla mollis 'Irish Silk': This cultivar grows up to 2 feet tall and blooms profusely.
- Alchemilla mollis 'Robusta': This variety has larger leaves and grows up to 2 feet tall and wide.
For gardeners wanting a more diminutive plant, try a related species, Alchemilla erythropoda (dwarf lady's mantle), which grows just 5 to 6 inches tall.
Given the opportunity, lady's mantle can easily grow out of control due to self-seeding. To prevent this, deadhead the flowers as soon as they begin to wither. If volunteer plants begin to grow in an undesired area, pull them up quickly. The entire plant can be cut back in late summer, if necessary; this will encourage new growth and, in some cases, a second bloom.
Propagating Lady's Mantle
Few plants propagate more easily than lady's mantle. Many gardeners find it easiest to carefully dig up some of the many tiny volunteer plants and move them to the desired location. But it is also possible to dig up and divide the mother plant, then plant the divisions. To do it:
- Use a shovel to dig up the entire plant (spring to late summer is the ideal time).
- With a sharp knife or spade, separate the root clump into three equal-size pieces. Each piece should have plenty of vegetation attached.
- Immediately plant the pieces in new garden locations, and water thoroughly. Continue watering every day until the new plants are well-established.
How to Grow Lady's Mantle From Seed
If you’d like to try growing seed, direct sow outdoors after all danger of frost. Barely cover the seeds and keep them well-watered. You can also start seeds indoors a couple of months before your transplant date. It takes about three to four weeks for the seeds to germinate, so be patient. When the plants reach 4 inches in height, plant them outdoors. Keep the transplants 12 inches apart; they will quickly fill in the empty spaces.
These easy-care plants generally don't need any winter protection, but ground debris should be kept raked up to prevent moisture from fostering fungal diseases and crown rot.
How to Get Lady's Mantle to Bloom
Generally speaking, some people may prefer that lady's mantle not bloom, since the tiny yellow-green blossoms are not very showy, and the resulting seeds create so many volunteer plants that rampant spread is a problem. Should you want the plant to bloom more profusely for some reason (such as if you have a large area you want to cover with plants), give the plants extra doses of water.
Common Problems with Lady's Mantle
Lady's mantle is a very sturdy, durable plant but a few problems are sometimes noticed.
Too much harsh sun, especially in hot climates, can cause the leaves on lady's mantle to scorch around the edges. If providing shade is not possible in such climates, you may need to remove the plants altogether in favor of a more sun-tolerant species. Providing extra water (perhaps even daily) may help sun-drenched plants survive very hot weather. Sun scorch is usually not a problem in cooler climates.
By far the most common issue with lady's mantle is its habit of spreading too vigorously, This can be curtailed by patiently removing the flower stalks before they go to seed. Withholding water can also reduce the overall rate of blooming.
Plants Become Shabby in Late Summer
If your lady's mantle plants become sparse and unkempt as the summer progresses, shear them back severely (you can even mow them down with a lawnmower). This will prompt a new flush of growth, making for a very lush look in the fall. Don't worry about this harsh treatment, as these plants are not easy to kill.
How is lady's mantle used in the landscape?
Lady's mantle is most commonly used as a mounding ground cover planted in mass under trees or other difficult areas of the landscape. A mass planting of lady’s mantle is very eye-catching when in bloom but largely loses its impact after flowering. Lady’s mantle makes a nice contrast for bright daylilies and roses that bloom at about the same time. It's especially attractive when contrasted with pink and purple foliage. Remember that it can take two years for new plants to bloom.
How long does lady's mantle live?
Lady's mantle will live almost indefinitely, with the mother plant spreading through rhizomatous roots very gradually. In addition, self-seeding volunteers will constantly spring up unless you are very careful about deadheading.
Are there related Alchemilla species to consider?
Yes, there are several other species in the Alchemilla genus that are often used in the garden:
- Alchemilla sericata ‘Gold Strike’ has smaller, deeply lobed leaves on 9- to 12-inch plants.
- A. faroensis is a dwarf species growing just a few inches tall. A popular cultivar is ‘Pumila’, just 2 to 3 inches tall.
- A. alpina (mountain lady’s mantle) is a mat-forming species, 3 to 8 inches tall, with deeply loves leaves with silvery edges.
How do I get rid of lady's mantle?
If you've grown weary of the way lady's mantle spreads and want to get rid of it, it's generally not a difficult task. Lady's mantle does not have the tenacious spreading roots that make some plants so hard to eradicate. Simply pulling the plants from the ground is usually sufficient, which is best done when the ground is nice and moist. But you may have to keep an eye out for volunteer plants that spring up from residual seeds that have fallen in the soil. These can continue to sprout up for several years after you think you've pulled all of the plants. A non-selective herbicide, such as glyphosate, will also kill lady's mantle.