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Gardening 101: Lamb’s Ear

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Gardening 101: Lamb’s Ear

June 9, 2017

Lamb’s Ear, Stachys byzantina: “Velvet Leaves”

One plant that children (and most gardeners) absolutely love after they are introduced is lamb’s ear. Not only does the common name give you a good indication of the irresistible fuzziness, but a person is captivated when they touch the silvery velvet leaves cloaked in soft hairs.

Numerous other desirable traits, besides the touchable effect, contribute to the plant’s wide popularity. Lamb’s ear is an undeniably strong-growing perennial ground cover that stays low and dense, is easy to care for, and collaborates with a wide variety of different garden styles and color palettes.

Read on for everything you need to know about lamb’s ears:

Photograph by Andrey Zharkikh via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Andrey Zharkikh via Flickr.

Native to a wide range from Turkey to Iran where it grows in scrub areas and on rocky hills, lamb’s ear is a tough plant.  Interestingly, the first part of the name Stachys byzantina was derived from the Latin word ‘stakhys’ meaning “spike” as in reference to its flower stalks, and the latter refers to the natural habitat, which was once part of the Byzantine Empire.

While some may argue that lamb’s ears can be weedy and invasive, I honestly appreciate itss carefree, opportunistic quality. This is not a terribly hard plant to remove if it gets out of bounds, so I don’t consider it a real trouble maker. As a landscaper, I rely on lamb’s ear to soften walkways, and I mass it when I need a reliable ground cover with a casual formality.

Photograph by Tanya Impeartrice via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Tanya Impeartrice via Flickr.

Cheat Sheet

  • Works well filling in the gaps and bare spaces of a planting bed, looks tidy performing in the front row, and acts well as the under-story companion to unsightly bare bottomed shrub roses.
  • The silvery leaves of lamb’s ear provide a calming cohesion and harmony in a garden with too many flower colors or a hodgepodge garden bed. Also the evergreen leaves help keep a garden visually intact during sparse winters.
  • Partners perfectly with other low-water plants like yarrow, nepeta, and salvia. Because of lamb’s ear’s notably hairy leaves, deer are not fans and politely leave it alone.
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    Above: Lamb’s ears with coneflowers. Photograph by Wht Wolf9653 via Flickr.

Keep It Alive

  • Plant lamb’s ear in a spot with moderately generous sunlight, otherwise mildew can tarnish the leaves (especially if humidity is too high).  If planted in part sun, make sure water is not plentiful. Tip: Not a good choice for planting beside a lawn. In general, irrigate sparingly.
  • Magenta spikes (about one foot tall) bloom in the summer, attract pollinators, and are lovely unexpected additions to floral arrangements. When blooming ceases, cut faded stalks to the base. This is also a good time to trim away any tattered and tired leaves.
  • Good drainage in the summer and winter is essential for longevity and health.

N.B.: For more of our favorite ground covers, our Garden Design 101 field guides can help. See:

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for lamb’s ear with our Lamb’s Ear: A Field Guide.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various perennial plants with our Perennials: A Field Guide.

Additionally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various ground cover plants with our Ground Covers: A Field Guide.

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