Lamb's ear is widely used in flower borders. They spread readily, making them effective ground covers for sunny areas if you do not mind them taking over. As drought-tolerant perennials, they are good candidates for rock gardens. Their silvery color is fun to play with when experimenting with color theory in your landscape design.
Lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina) is an herbaceous perennial plant that is far more tenacious and vigorous than the gentle, velvety leaves would suggest. Quickly forming low mats of leaves, these well-known ground cover plants are grown more for the texture and color of their leaves than for their flowers, although they do occasionally produce 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. When it blooms, the flower color is most typically light purple. Lamb's ear is typically planted in spring and is a fast grower. A few new plants or cuttings started early in the season can fill a large area by fall.
Indigenous to parts of the Middle East, lamb's ears are considered invasive plants 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.
|Botanical Name||Stachys byzantina|
|Common Name||Lamb's ears, lamb's ear|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||12 to 18 inches tall and 12 inches wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Well-draining, evenly moist to dry soil|
|Soil pH||6 to 6.5|
|Flower Color||Light purple|
|Hardiness Zones||4 to 7|
|Native Area||Middle East region|
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 to encourage the plants to spread with vigorous foliage. The flowers aren't very showy, and this plant is normally grow for its ground cover 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 soil 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
This plant can withstand a range of temperatures but as a ground cover, it dislikes humid conditions. The humidity makes lamb's ear susceptible to leaf diseases. Because it spreads so readily, you will usually have 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.
Varieties of Lamb's Ear
Lamb's ear, also called called "wooly betony," comes in a few different cultivars:
- 'Big Ears' is a popular cultivar 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 to 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. They 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.
Stachys is a large genus that includes more than 300 plants, several of which are cultivated for garden use. Silvery, fuzzy leaves are the signature of Stachys byzantina, but other species in the Stachys genus have green, smooth leaves and are valued more for their flowers. Counting the height of the flower stalks, these plants reach about 2 feet tall, so they are not as suitable for ground covers as is Stachys byzantina.
Some growers find the flower stalks gangly. If that is your opinion of them, then just prune them off. Deadheading the plant keeps it looking tidy and helps prevent sowbugs, which are attracted to diseased foliage; removing the dead leaves helps prevent the pests. Deadheading involves nothing more than pulling off lower leaves that are brown or ragged and typically is needed late in the growing season. New growth replaces the pruned foliage.