Lamb's Ears - Growing These Soft, Fuzzy Garden Favorites

Lamb's Ears Starting to Flower
Patrick Standish/Creative Commons/Flickr

Overview and Description:

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, although the species does have flower spikes early in the season. Lamb's Ears are often recommended for children's gardens because of their soft feel, which is how they got the name "Lamb' Ears".

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.

A Word of Caution: Lamb's Ear can be invasive in warmer climates and very hard to eradicate. Check with your local DEC or Cooperative Extension before planting.

Latin Name:

Stachys byzantina

Common Name

Lamb's Ears

Hardiness Zones:

These are quit adaptable plants and can be grown in USDA hardiness zones. When summers are extremely hot and dry, Lamb's Ears will require more shade.

Mature Size:

There is a bit of height difference between varieties, but these are not tall plants. In general, they grow:

  • Height: 6 - 8" (12 -18" in flower)
  • Width: 12"

Exposure:

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 without water for too long.

Bloom Period:

The flowers appear in late spring, into early summer. However, as I mentioned, many gardeners remove the flower stalks before the flowers bloom.

Design Tips:

Don't try to use Lamb's Ears 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, 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:

  • S. byzantina 'Silver Carpet' Does not bloom.
  • S. byzantina 'Helen von Stein' Does not bloom and is a slightly larger plant (Height: 10" and Width: 18-24"). Also call 'Big Lamb's Ears'.

Growing Tips:

Soil: Lamb's ears prefer a slightly acidic soil pH, somewhere in the range of 6.0 - 6.5. Although they are not terribly fussy about pH, they do need a well-draining soil. If your soil tend to retain water, add a good amount of organic matter before planting.

Planting: You can start Lamb's Ears 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 - 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 - 3 ft. apart, but I usually plant them closer and move them about, if the bed gets too full in future years.

Maintenance:

Aside from deadheading the flowers and flower stalks, Lamb's Ears require very little maintenance. The lower foliage can become brown and tattered looking later in the season and will look better with some cleanup.

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 Ears 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 - 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 Ears are extremely easy to grow. Their only caveat is their need for well-drained soil. Otherwise, they are very difficult to kill.