Lamb's-ear is a low growing, spreading perennial plant with very fuzzy, pale, silvery gray-green foliage. They are grown primarily for the color and texture of their foliage and are often recommended for children's gardens because of their soft feel, which is the source of the name "lamb's-ear."
Because of their suede-like texture, lamb's ears are favored for their foliage rather than their flowers. However, some varieties do flower on tall spikes in the late spring or early summer, in shades of pinkish-purple or white. Some gardeners find the flower spikes charming, while others cut them off to encourage the foliage, as so many of us do with hosta. Bees are not so fussy and love the slightly fragrant flowers.
|Botanical Name||Stachys byzantina|
|Common Name||Lamb's ear|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||6 to 8 inches tall, 12-inch spread|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil|
|Soil pH||6.0 to 6.5 (slightly acidic)|
|Bloom Time||Late spring to early summer|
|Flower Color||Purplish-pink (flowers are unremarkable)|
|Hardiness Zones||4 to 8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Turkey, Armenia, Iran|
How to Grow Lamb's Ear
Lamb's-ear is extremely easy to grow. The only caveat is their need for well-drained soil. Otherwise, they are very difficult to kill. Lamb's ear prefers soil that is on the dry side and thrives best in full sun (although some afternoon shade is helpful in very warm climates).
You can start lamb's ear from seed, but if you want one of the hybrids, such as 'Helen von Stein', you will need to start with nursery plants. Start seeds indoors, 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date—they can take up to a month to germinate.
Spring is the best time to set out plants, so they can become established during cooler weather. The recommended spacing is 2 to 3 feet apart, but you can plant them closer for a more lush effect, and move them about if the bed gets too full in future years.
Aside from deadheading the flowers and flower stalks, lamb's-ear requires very little maintenance. The lower foliage can become brown and tattered looking later in the season and will look better with some cleanup. New leaves will quickly fill in. Many gardeners remove the flower stalks before the flowers bloom since this is a plant grown mostly for its foliage.
Don't try to use lamb's ear as a specimen plant. They look best either as a rambling ground cover or as soft edging. The silvery foliage makes an especially nice complement to purple flowering plants. As an edger, they will need to be kept within bounds. Besides spreading by roots, flowering lamb's ear plants can self-seed profusely, although you can control that by deadheading.
Lamb's-ear can be invasive in warmer climates and very hard to eradicate. Check with your local Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) or Cooperative Extension before planting.
Lamb's-ear prefers full sun to part shade. They'll need more shade in hot climates and during hot, dry summers, as the leaves can fry to a crisp if they are left in the hot sun without water for too long.
Lamb's-ear prefers a dry to medium-moisture, slightly acidic soil. Although they are not terribly fussy about pH, they do need well-draining soil. If your soil tends to retain water, add a good amount of organic matter before planting.
Lamb's ear is native to dry regions of south-central Asia, and it does best in relatively dry to medium-moisture conditions. Rot and fungal leaf spot may result if they receive too much water.
Temperature and Humidity
These are quite adaptable plants and can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8. When summers are extremely hot and dry, lamb's ear will require more shade. This plant is not well-suited for very humid locations, where fungal leaf spots are frequently a problem.
Lamb's ear does not like rich soil, and it is generally best to forego all feeding.
Propagating Lamb's Ear
Lamb's-ear's spreading nature and their tendency to grow from the center out, leaving a dead spot in the middle, makes them candidates for frequent division, every 2 to 4 years. They divide and transplant very easily. The newer varieties on the market that do not flower tend to be slower to grow and won't need division quite so frequently.
Varieties of Lamb's Ear
Recommended cultivars of lamb's ear include:
- Stachys byzantina 'Silver Carpet': This cultivar does not bloom at all and is grown only for its attractive leaves.
- Stachys byzantina 'Helen von Stein': This is another non-bloomer. It is a slightly larger plant, at 10 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide. It is also known as 'Big Lamb Ear'.
Common Pests / Diseases
Because the leaves sit so close to the ground, rotting can be a problem. Mulching under the plants helps to keep the leaves dry and be sure to give them well-drained soil.