Remember going to the petting zoo with your kids and touching baby lambs? This the feeling of the leaves of Stachys byzantina, also known as Lamb’s Ear. If you love growing perennials, you need to give this hardy plant a try. It is easy to grow, has a lovely texture and the prettiest flowers on tall graceful stems.
Stachys byzantina is a native to Turkey, Armenia and Iran and is also known as hedge nettle. It is actually a form of perennial herb. In Brazil it is grown and used for its medicinal properties. The name lamb’s ears comes from the shape of the leaves and the fuzziness of the coating on them, which resembles the ears of baby lambs. There are many varieties of lamb’s ear.
Tips for Growing Lamb’s Ear
I have tried lamb’s ear in several areas of my garden and have finally found the perfect spot for it. I have it located in my test garden that gets sunlight most of the day but is shaded from neighboring trees from about 4 pm onward. Here are some tips for growing this pretty perennial.
Lamb’s ears does best in full sun where it will get hours and hours of sunlight daily. My test garden gets about 10 hours of sunlight with some full sun over head for about four hours and my lamb’s ears loves the spot I have it planted it. It is a tough summer bloomer that comes into glory in the heat of summer.
As long as the plant gets the right amount of sunlight, and not too much water it will grow easily and spread quickly.
Stachys byzantina likes well draining soil. Too much water will result in root rot. I originally had two clumps of the plant, one on either side of a pathway. The left side got much more standing water and shade than the right side, and the difference in the plants is astounding.
If possible avoid getting too much water on the leaves, especially if you water in the afternoon. Once established, lamb’s ears requires little in the way of maintenance. Outdoors, it only needs extra watering when the temperatures are very high for days on end. The plant is quite drought tolerant because of its native Middle Eastern origins.
The plant flowers in late spring and throughout the summer months. Cut back any flowering stems close to ground level after they flower to encourage new stems and leaves. The flowers start out with pale green blooms on the ends of long stems and gradually open to purple flowers.
The stems of the flowers are tall and erect and often branched. They can grow to 1 1/2 to 3 feet tall and make quite a show when the plant is totally in bloom.
Children will love the texture of the leaves of Stachys byzantina. They are velvety soft with a wooly texture and are silver gray to pale green in color. The shape resembles a lamb’s ear which is where the common name comes from. The plant tends to be evergreen but can die back and get ragged looking in the dormant months and will do well with a clean up in the spring.
When to plant
Plant lamb’s ear in the early spring and space the plants about 2-3 feet apart so that it will have room to spread.
Lamb’s ears grows readily from divisions. Every 3 or 4 years divide the plant in early spring, just as the new growth begins. The plant will benefit from a good pruning close to the crown in spring to remove dead leaves. This will help the plant to bush out and remain more compact. Un-pruned plants can get seedy looking and thin easily as this photo shows.
After division, add some organic matter to the soil and mulch around the plant to retain moisture and help with weed control. Stachys byzantina also grows easily from seed and is also self seeding.
Lamb’s ears is cold hardy in zones 4-8. Intense heat in the warmer zones can make growing it a challenge unless you have a lot of afternoon shade in your garden.
Stachys byzantina makes a wonderful ground cover. It is a dense, low growing plant that spreads in a garden bed if it gets the right conditions, so it works well to fill in areas of your borders to keep the weeds at bay.
This photo shows it in use in borders in a shady area at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. It was lush and gorgeous!
The purple pink flowers make great cut flowers. The color is great against the darker green colors in most borders to give nice contrasting shades.
Lamb’s ears is best planted at the front of a garden border because of its low growing habit. This large clump of lamb’s ears started early in the year with just a few divisions and filled in the area nicely by the end of the summer.
It can be grown as an indoor plant, but will require quite a bit of light, so a south facing window is best. Be careful not to over water it if you grow Lamb’s ears indoors.
Lamb’s ear is attractive to garden visitors. Bees, and other insects such as butterflies, and hummingbirds love it. It is not popular with deer, rabbits or squirrels.
Plant lamb’s ears in a sunny location and prune flowers when they are done and you will have lovely clumps of low spreading plants for years to come.