Gentle as a Lamb

We’ve probably all heard the phrase “gentle as a lamb” used to describe the personality or actions of a person who is kind and gentle. Gardeners may be familiar with a plant called Stachys which is better known in many gardening circles as Lamb’s Ears. While its easy growing nature and texture of its leaves may suggest it is a tender plant believe me it is anything but tender! Lamb’s ears grow best in conditions that would cause most plants to “surrender” and the fact that it’s planted more for the beauty of its leaves than its flowers make it an attention getter in any garden.

There is no other way to say it; Lamb’s Ears is one tough plant! It grows in USDA Zones 4 through 10 and while it is a lover of full sun in most situations it will benefit from a little shade in zones 8 through 10. It favors well-drained soils that are not enriched. Frankly, the dryer and poorer the soil quality the better as too much moisture can cause the leaves to become diseased and it will also attract slugs which are one of the few pests that are attracted to this plant. Most varieties grow 12 to 15 inches high which make it an ideal candidate for the edge of a flower bed and in the right spot it can act as a ground cover as well.

As was mentioned previously it is grown primarily for the uniqueness of its leaves but Lamb’s Ears does produce flower spikes in late spring or early summer in most of the United States. These spikes are generally a shade of pink, purple or white and they are highly attractive to bees. Some gardeners’ treat these flowers like they do with hosta plants; they cut the flower spikes off to encourage more foliage growth. However, this is a matter of personal preference and no damage is done to the plant if you leave the flower spikes in place or cut them off.

Lamb’s Ears leaves are silver to grey in color with a fuzzy texture. Pink, blue, purple, white and yellow flowers make a nice contrasting color combination with Lamb’s Ears and some good companion plants include coreopsis, salvia, and irises just to name a few. To keep it looking its best Lamb’s Ears needs to be frequently dug up and divided as it grows out from its center and can leave a dead spot in the middle of the plant. The recommended frequency is usually every 2 to 4 years depending upon how vigorously it is growing and the good news is it tolerates this treatment well.

In closing, I do have one caution about this plant. If it finds a place that it finds particularly appealing Lamb’s Ears can become invasive and take over your flower bed. One way to combat this is to surround it with a barrier such as a metal or plastic landscaping edging which will help keep it contained. Finally, if you allow it to flower it can spread a lot of seeds so you may want to be sure to cut the flower spikes off as soon as the flowering has ceased.

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