Spotted Dead Nettles Plant Profile

Attractive Choice for Shade

Spotted deadnettle with purple flower.
Purple Dragon is a cultivar of spotted dead nettle. David Beaulieu

Spotted dead nettles are valued as perennial ground covers for the shade that will spread and fill in a patch of ground that might otherwise remain bare (except for weeds). In warm regions and/or in sheltered areas of your yard, they may be evergreen. Elsewhere (and depending on growing conditions), they are more likely to be semi-evergreen, herbaceous plants. Both their flowers and their foliage make an impact in the landscape.

  • Botanical Name: Lamium maculatum
  • Common Name: Spotted dead nettles
  • Plant TypeHerbaceous in the North, but with a perennial life cycle
  • Mature Size: Depending on the cultivar, usually 3 to 12 inches tall, with a width two or three times that
  • Sun ExposureFull shade to partial shade
  • Soil Type: Well-drained, with average moisture and fertility needs
  • Soil pH: Acidic
  • Bloom Time: May to July
  • Flower Color: Mauve, pink, purple, or white, depending on cultivar
  • Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8
  • Native Area: Europe, North Africa, West Asia

More Plant Characteristics

Lamium is in the mint family (Lamiaceae), which provides a hint as to its toughness, examples of other members of the family being:

Lamium maculatum stays relatively short, with the typical cultivar standing less than a foot tall. But its attractive variegated foliage spreads out to two or three times its height. Spotted dead nettles are generally grown more for their silvery leaves than for their flowers, but the latter can be quite pretty, as well.

Uses for Spotted Dead Nettles

Uses for these plants include medicinal ones, as well as landscaping uses. They have been used as a vulnerary (an herb for staunching wounds), for example. Plants with a similar history of medicinal use include:

Being creepers and having a tendency to spread, these classic cottage-garden plants are popular flowering ground covers. They are especially valued for use in shady spots, which is a condition that many plants dislike. The silvery foliage of these shade plants makes them a good fit for landscape designs with creative color schemes

For companion plants, select other shade-lovers. The following could be some of the best choices, depending on your own unique landscaping needs:

Light

Grow spotted dead nettles in full to partial shade. They will not require much water when grown in full shade, a fact that (along with their resistance to deer pests) recommends them to homeowners seeking low-maintenance landscaping. In fact, they are one of the best perennials for shade.

Soil

Install the plants in an acidic, well-drained, loamy soil. Add compost if you have clayey soil to improve drainage.

Water

Spotted dead nettles do not need a lot of water once mature: They tolerate even shady areas that have dry soil. This ground cover requires very little care at all if planted in full shade. However, the more sunshine that you give these plants, the more water they will need, since they perform best in evenly moist soil.

Fertilizer

Compost should be sufficient, as the plants do not require a rich soil. Manure tea is a good substitute when it is too difficult to work more compost into the soil.

More on Growing, Caring for Spotted Dead Nettles

Their stems root where they touch the soil, allowing the plants to spread. Eventually, they will form a mat. This means that they can be invasive, depending on where you live (check with your local county extension for any warnings that they may issue for your own region).

In fact, spotted dead nettles will naturalize in some areas. This is great if you need to cover a problem area with an attractive ground cover, but not so good if you are trying to grow them in a place where you need a well-behaved plant. Thus you need to be careful in choosing the right spot to grow this plant.

Spotted dead nettles have few problems in the North; among other good features is the fact that they are deer-resistant plants. In the South, however, they may develop problems with leaf-spotting, due to the high humidity. Providing extra spacing between plants can lessen leaf-spotting, but this somewhat defeats the purpose of growing spotted dead nettles, since one of their best features is that they spread and fill in an area, thereby crowding out weeds.

Some leaves may revert back to an all-green color (instead of being variegated); be sure to prune these out, so that the green color does not eventually take over the plant.

A Relative, Cultivars

A relative of spotted dead nettles is yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon). It offers similar value and requires similar conditions. One difference, though, is that it is more aggressive.

There are several cultivars (all cold-hardy to at least zone 4, most 3 to 12 inches tall, and all wanting the sun/soil conditions of the species plant) of L. maculatum, including:

  • Purple Dragon: Purplish flowers and with silver in its foliage 
  • White Nancy: White flowers, silvery leaves
  • Beedham's White: White flowers, leaves chartreuse and white
  • Cannon's Gold: Pink flowers, chartreuse foliage
  • Orchid Frost: Pink-purple flowers; leaves silver in the center and green at the edge; known for its disease-resistance
  • Anne Greenway: Mauve flowers; green, chartreuse, and silver leaves
  • Aureum: Pink flowers; leaves golden on the edge, white in the center
  • Ghost: Light-purple flowers; leaves almost wholly silver; taller (up to 14 inches) than the typical L. maculatum, and even the individual leaves bigger than on most kinds

Difference From Stinging Nettles, Origin of the Name

You will also hear talk of "stinging nettles." While dead nettle plants are flowering perennialsstinging nettles, by contrast, are noxious weeds (but edible when properly prepared).

The unusual common name of "dead nettles" alludes to the fact that, while it resembles stinging nettles, the stingers are dead on L. maculatum, rendering it harmless.