Lamb's ear is a low-growing, spreading perennial plant with velvety, pale, silvery gray-green foliage. The growth rate is medium but steady. Gardeners plant it primarily for the color and texture of its elliptical leaves and often recommend it for children's gardens because of its soft feel, which is the source of the plant's name.
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 many do with hosta. Bees are not so fussy and love the slightly fragrant flowers.
|Common Name||Lamb's ear|
|Botanical Name||Stachys byzantina|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||9-18 in. tall, 12-18 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil pH||Acidic, alkaline, neutral|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer|
|Flower Color||Purple, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||4-8 (USDA)|
Lamb's Ear Care
Lamb's ear is extremely easy to grow. The only caveat is its 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).
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 shallow 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 or slightly alkaline 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 western 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.
Types 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 12 to 18 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide. It is also known as 'Big Ears'.
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.
Propagating Lamb's Ear
Lamb's ear's spreading nature and the tendency to grow from the center out, leaving a dead spot in the middle, makes the plant a candidate for frequent division, every 2 to 4 years. Division is the easiest way to propagate lamb's ear. The newer varieties on the market that do not flower tend to be slower to grow and won't need division quite so frequently.
Lamb's ear divisions transplant very easily:
- In the spring, dig out the entire plant and its roots with a shovel.
- Separate it into fist-sized divisions either by gently pulling it apart, or cutting it with a soil knife.
- Plant the divisions in a prepared garden bed and water them in well. Keep the soil moist but not soggy for the next week or two, until it has overcome its transplant shock. Continue watering in the absence of rain until you see some new growth.
How to Grow Lamb's Ear From Seed
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. In trays or pots filled with a moistened seed starting mix, press lamb's ear seeds into the soil but do not cover. Warm soil temperature aids germination, so place the seeded tray or pots on a heating mat or a warm space such as the top of the refrigerator or a table above a heat vent. Harden off the seedlings before planting them outside. Spring is the best time to set out plants, so they can become established during cooler weather. The recommended spacing is two to three feet apart, but you can plant them closer for a lusher effect and move them about if the bed gets too full in future years.
Once lamb's ear is established, it can handle the winter quite well. It might even stay green during milder winters. In the spring, gently rake through the lamb's ear to remove winter debris from the garden.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Lamb's ear is prone to fungal diseases, perhaps mostly because it sits so low to the ground. The regular use of a fungicide and good watering techniques can go a long way toward preventing them. Nematodes will sometimes attack lamb's ear, stunting its growth. The most reliable way to get rid of them is through preventive care rather than treatments after they infest the plants.
Common Problems for Lamb's Ear
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. When watering the plant, make sure to aim the water at the ground rather than the plant itself, to help avoid fungal spots.
Can lamb's ear grow indoors?
Though it might grow indoors as an immature plant, lamb's ear needs room to spread out, which makes it more suitable for the garden.
What are alternatives to lamb's ear?
What is a fun fact about lamb's ear?
The softness of the wide leaves has led lamb's ear to rank high on the list of plants that can be used for a natural version of toilet paper.
Lambs Ear. Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation.
Stachys byzantina. North Carolina State University Extension Gardener.
Stachys byzantina. Missouri Botanical Garden.
Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina) - Powdery Mildew, Pacific Northwest Pest Management Handbooks.
Nascimento Daniel Dalvan et al. First Report of Meloidogyne incognita Infecting Stachys byzantina in Brazil. Plant Dis., 2020. doi:10.1094/PDIS-07-20-1628-PDN