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How to Grow Lamb's Ear, a Drought-Tolerant Plant

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

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One of my favorite edging plants is lamb’s ears. The fuzzy silvery leaves add color and texture. But I have to admit that the main reason that I love it is because I love stroking the soft leaves.

What is Lamb's Ear?

Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) is a perennial flowering plant that is native to the Near East. It is a member of the mint family, but has no scent. It is popular in children’s gardens because they love to play with the soft, fuzzy leaves.

Lamb’s ear is also used as an edging in flower beds and along paths because the plants are short except when they are flowering.

Lamb’s ear is hardy in zones 4 – 8. The leaves grow close to the ground in rosettes that are only 6 – 8 inches tall and 12 inches wide. Individual leaves are 4 inches long and covered with gray or silver hairs. These plants are prone to fungal infestations because the leaves tend to funnel water directly into the densely packed rosettes.

The flowers are small and purple, growing on stalks that are up to 24 inches tall. The flowers alternate on the stalks with small leaves. Bloom time is late spring through early summer.

Many gardeners remove the flower stalks before they bloom because they are growing this plant solely for its interesting foliage.

I love the flowers, but a lot of gardeners remove them.

I love the flowers, but a lot of gardeners remove them.

How to Grow Lamb's Ear

Most gardeners purchase their lamb’s ear as plants from their local nursery. They should be spaced 18 inches apart. Plant them where they will get full sun. These plants will tolerate partial shade. In fact, in the warmer parts of its range, afternoon shade is recommended to prevent the leaves from scorching in the intense heat of the afternoon.

Lamb’s ear prefers slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.0 – 6.5. The soil should be well-draining. These are drought-tolerant plants that will rot if the soil does not drain and the roots remain wet.

You will not need to water your plants once they are established unless there is a period of drought. In that case, you can water every few days until the rain returns. Use a watering wand so that you are watering close to the roots. Watering overhead will encourage fungal infections because the leaves funnel the water down to the base of the plants.

Adding a 2 inch layer of mulch each spring is helpful. Mulch keeps the soil evenly moist and prevents weeds from growing which will compete with your plants for water and sunlight.

Lamb’s ear does not require fertilizing. In fact, if the soil it is growing in is too rich, the plants will start to aggressively spread, crowding out surrounding plants.

Lamb's ear spreads readily and can easily become overcrowded.

Lamb's ear spreads readily and can easily become overcrowded.

How to Divide Lamb's Ear

You will need to divide your lamb’s ear every 3 – 4 years. A good sign that your plants need to be divided is a big hole in the middle of each clump. Lamb’s ear spreads outwards leaving a bare spot in the middle.

The best time to divide your plants is in the spring when new growth appears. Dig up the plants using a garden fork. The plants around the center are older and tend to be woody. You can discard them along with any diseased plants. Using a sharp knife or a pair of pruners, cut away and discard the woody plants. Then cut the newer plants into small clumps and replant them 18 inches apart.

The leaves are covered with silver hairs.

The leaves are covered with silver hairs.

How to Grow Lamb's Ear From Seed

If you don’t remover its flowers and allow your lamb’s ear to bloom and go to seed, it will readily reseed itself in your garden. Alternatively, you can start new plants from seed indoors during the winter to plant in your garden in the spring.

Start your seeds 8 – 10 weeks before your last frost. Surface sow the seeds in a container filled with pre-moistened soil. I always water before I plant seeds because I’ve discovered that if I water afterwards, both the soil and the seeds can wash away.

Do not cover the seeds. They need light to germinate. Germination will occur in about a month. You can plant your seedlings outdoors in your garden after your last frost. Space them 18 inches apart. Like all perennials, they will flower in their second year.

© 2020 Caren White

Comments

Caren White (author) on December 22, 2020:

Abby, it's such a fun plant. Glad to hear that it may be finding a home in your garden.

Abby Slutsky from America on December 22, 2020:

Thanks for sharing this. So excited to be able to comment. This will definitely be something to consider planting when the weather breaks.

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