Lamb's-ear is a low growing, spreading 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 how they got 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 and 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.
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.
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.
There is a bit of height difference between varieties, but lamb's-ear are not tall plants. In general, they grow:
- Height: 6 to 8 inches (12 to 18 inches in flower)
- Width: 12 inches
Lamb's-ear prefers full sun to partial shade. They'll need more shade in hot climates and during hot, dry summers. The leaves can fry to a crisp if they are left in the hot sun without water for too long.
The flowers appear in late spring, into early summer. However, as mentioned, many gardeners remove the flower stalks before the flowers bloom.
Garden Design Tips for Lamb's-Ear
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. As an edger, they will need to be kept within bounds. Besides spreading by roots, flowering Lamb's ears can self-seed profusely although you can control that by deadheading. The silvery foliage makes an especially nice complement to purple flowering plants.
Suggested Varieties of Lamb's-Ear Plants
- Stachys byzantina "Silver Carpet:" Does not bloom. Grown for its attractive leaves.
- Stachys byzantina "Helen von Stein:" Does not bloom and is a slightly larger plant (10 inches tall by 18 to 24 inches wide). Also called "Big Lamb's Ears."
Lamb's-Ear Growing Tips
Soil: Lamb's-ear prefer a slightly acidic soil pH, somewhere in the range of 6.0 to 6.5. 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.
Planting: You can start lamb's-ear from seed, but if you want one of the hybrids, like "Helen von Stein," you will need to start with 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 the cool, moist 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.
Caring for Your Lamb's-Ear Plants
Aside from deadheading the flowers and flower stalks, lamb's-ear require 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.
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. Other water-related problems include powdery mildew and slug damage.
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. However, 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.
Lamb's-ear are extremely easy to grow. Their only caveat is their need for well-drained soil. Otherwise, they are very difficult to kill.