No one can resist rubbing the velvety soft, gray-green leaves of lambs' ears. Its neat rosettes of fuzzy leaves form a dense, ground-covering mat that can spread several feet in diameter. Lambs' ears develops woolly upright stems bearing small lavender-pink flowers, but many gardeners cut them off because they detract from the foliage. (In fact, several cultivars have been bred for their lack of flower stems.)
Lambs' ears must have good soil drainage, especially during the winter, so they're a good choice for sandy or gravelly soils and rock gardens.
Common name: Lambs' ears
Botanical name: Stachys byzantina
Plant type: Herbaceous perennial; ground cover
Zones: 4 to 8
Height: Foliage: 4 to 6 inches; flower stalks: 10 to 18 inches
Family: Lamiaceae, mint family
- Sun: Full sun.
- Soil: Well-drained. Wet soils, especially over winter, cause the plant to die.
- Moisture: Water only during dry spells. Avoid wetting the foliage and crowns.
- Mulch: None.
- Pruning: Cut flowering stems as they develop, if desired. Cut back foliage in late fall or early spring.
- Fertilizer: None, or a light application of balanced fertilizer once per year. Avoid excessive nitrogen.
- Divide and replant sections in the spring as new growth starts.
- Pests and diseases
- High humidity encourages leaf diseases.
- Root and crown rots occur in poorly drained soils.
- Use lambs' ear as a low edging plant or small-area ground cover.
- The silvery, gray-green foliage combines beautifully with various colors. For a subtle look, use annuals and perennials with white, pale pink, or blue flowers. For a bold look, select plants with red, hot pink, or bright purple flowers.
- Lambs' ears is a great choice for a children's garden or sensory garden featuring plants that are fun to touch.
- ‘Big Ears' (also listed as ‘Countess Helen von Stein'): Large gray-green leaves; rarely flowers
- ‘Primrose Heron': New foliage has a golden cast
- ‘Silver Carpet': Uniform, vigorous grower that makes an excellent nonflowering ground cover.
All in the family
- Though lambs' ears is prized for its foliage and not its flowers, there are several Stachys species that do have showy flowers. Big betony (S. macrantha) produces upright stems densely packed with bright, pinkish purple flowers. The cultivar ‘Superba' (also listed as var. superba) has darker flowers. Wood betony (S. officinalis) looks similar to big betony. There's also a white-flowered form of this species (var. alba).
- Other popular members of the mint family include Salvia, rosemary, lavender, mint, and Ajuga.
(Text by Nancy Rose, photo by Amy Sumner)