Lamb's ear is a sun-loving perennial plant grown for the thick, fuzzy foliage that creates a soft-textured mat in the garden. The plants spread readily, making them effective ground covers for sunny areas if you do not mind them taking over. As drought-tolerant perennials, lamb's ear is also a good candidate for rock gardens.
Quickly forming low mats of leaves, these well-known plants are grown more for the texture and color of the leaves than for the flowers, although they do occasionally produce light purple flowers on tall spikes. The flower spikes reach 12 to 18 inches in height, but the rest of the plant stays much closer to the ground and has a spread of about 1 foot. The silvery foliage color is useful when experimenting with color theory in your landscape design.
Indigenous to parts of the Middle East, lamb's ear is considered an invasive plant in parts of North America. They spread both by self-seeding and through creeping stems that root wherever they make contact with the soil. If you wish to control them, deadheading will address the former, but not the latter, which you will have to control with some type of edging. The plants are also deer-resistant and rabbit-proof.
Lamb's ear is typically planted in the spring and is a fast grower. A few new plants or cuttings started early in the spring can fill a large area by fall.
|Botanical Name||Stachys byzantina|
|Common Name||Lamb's ears|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||12–18 inches tall, up to 12 inches wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Well-draining, evenly moist to dry soil|
|Soil pH||6.0–6.5 (slightly acidic)|
|Flower Color||Light purple|
|Hardiness Zones||4–7 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Middle East|
Lamb's Ear Care
Stachys byzantina is extremely easy to grow in dry to medium-moisture soil in a sunny location, but they can be excessively aggressive in soil that is too rich. Because they spread quickly, plant them about 18 inches apart. Avoid overwatering them, and if the leaves decline in the heat of summer, pick them off.
If flowering stems appear, you may want to pick them off; this sacrifice will encourage the plants to spread with vigorous foliage. The flowers aren't very showy, and this plant is normally grown for its foliage.
Grow lamb's ears in full sun in cooler climates. In desert areas and high-heat locations, it can profit from part shade. Heat and a lack of water will scorch the leaves.
This perennial flower thrives in poor soil that is well-drained and has a slightly acidic pH. Treat it as you would any plant associated with a Mediterranean climate (many herbs fall into this category). Amend poor soil with organic matter to improve drainage before planting.
Lamb's ears are drought-tolerant in the North. You will lose some of the older leaves during dry spells (they brown up and look quite unsightly, so remove them), but the plant itself will survive. Avoid watering the plants overhead, as the leaves will rot or develop fungal leaf spot or powdery mildew if they get too wet. Leaves that are close to the ground are particularly susceptible to rot. Help keep the foliage dry by mulching underneath the leaves.
Temperature and Humidity
Lamb's ear grows well throughout its hardiness range, zones 4 to 8. This plant can withstand a range of temperatures but as a ground cover, it dislikes humid conditions, which can make lamb's ear susceptible to leaf diseases. Because it spreads so readily, you will usually have plenty of new plants with which to replace the old, rotted plants.
You can skip feeding your lamb's ear in most situations since it prefers soil that is not rich. However, adding a thin layer of compost every spring will help with growth.
Lamb's Ear Varieties
Lamb's ear comes in several different cultivars:
- 'Big Ears' is a popular variety partly because it has just that: bigger ears than the standard type. Those who grow lamb's ears only for the foliage will be glad to know that this cultivar sometimes goes years without blooming. It also has relatively good disease-resistance. This cultivar may also be sold as 'Helen von Stein'.
- 'Silver Carpet' is another cultivar that does not flower often. Staying short at 4 to 6 inches high with a spread of 9 to 18 inches, its dimensions suit it for use as a ground cover.
- 'Cotton Boll' gets its name from the fuzzy formations on its flower stalks where flowers should emerge but often do not, instead leaving gardeners with much more interesting-looking cotton bolls.
Propagating Lamb's Ear
If you wish to start a new patch of lamb's ear, either dig new plants created through self-seeding or divide patches in the spring. These plants divide readily and benefit from a division every two or three years. One sign that you should divide is a widely spreading plant (they grow outward from the center) with a dead center. You can also simply remove the dead centers if you prefer to maintain the clumps. Flowering varieties may need to be divided more often than non-flowering forms.
Some growers find the flower stalks of lamb's ear gangly in appearance. If that is your opinion, then just prune off the flower stalks. Deadheading the plant keeps it looking tidy and helps prevent sowbugs, which are attracted to diseased foliage; removing the dead leaves helps prevent these pests.
Common Pests/ Diseases
Lamb's ear has no notable pest enemies, but it is prone to a variety of fungal diseases due to its sensitivity to humid conditions, especially in poorly draining soil. In the humid months of summer, it can develop rot and leaf spots, even if the soil is well-draining. Remove and discard affected plants.