Saturday

How to Grow Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantina)

The woolly leaves of lambs ears
The leaves and stems of lamb's ears (or lambs ears) are soft and "woolly." They're covered in a downy layer of fine white hairs that give the plant a light greenish gray color (seafoam green, I think) and make it feel oh, sooo soft and cuddly. The leaves are a tactile delight. That and their shape are the reason this plant has such a unique and memorable name. I have to admit that I keep Lamb's ears year after year, even though other herbs are more useful.

Uses for Lamb's Ears


One upon a time, it had medicinal applications. In the literature, there is some mention of its use as a treatment for bee sting, but herbs like aloe vera are more effective for that type of first aid these days. It has antiseptic properties, too, and was used as a field dressing and a poultice during the 19th century. It made an effective bandage when clean fabric was unavailable. Today, a quick trip to the medicine cabinet will yield a wealth of Band-Aids and gauze (on a roll) for most of us, which leaves poor little lamb's ears out in the cold -- or does it?

A distant relative of the popular herb betony, lamb's ears can be effective in the landscape as a ground cover. Standard lamb's ears grows from 18 inches to 28 inches high, but cultivars like Silver Carpet are short creepers well suited to tree lawns and other areas that receive light foot traffic. This plant looks delicate, but it can take some punishment.
An established stand of blooming lamb's ears

The photos here don't really give you a good idea of how charming this little plant can be. It's a lighter green than sage and looks almost white at twilight or when the shadows are lengthening across a bed of lamb's ears in the late afternoon. If you opt for a stand of common lamb's ears, happy plants will send up fuzzy, soft spikes decorated with delicate pinkish/purple flowers that look like gems nestled in a lavish layer of fluffy leaf buds. The leaves and spikes make a nice presentation when included in a vase of fresh cut flowers, too, and can be a pretty accompaniment to a bouquet of rosebuds or a generous bunch of lavender.

I've used lamb's ears to make wreaths in the past, too. When we first moved to the Midwest, we lived in a rental house with stingy, narrow flowerbeds overrun with lamb's ears. There wasn't a marigold, begonia, petunia or rose bush in sight, but lamb's ears were everywhere. It was an embarrassment of riches -- of a sort, anyway. Over the holidays, I prepared and dried wreaths made from them to give away as gifts. The wreaths turn out very full and nice, but weren't as well received as wreaths made with culinary herbs (what relatives and friends were accustomed to). I have though since that a very large wreath of lamb's ears for an entry or front door would look quite lovely.

Lamb's ears is also edible. Some intrepid souls eat it steamed, or use the young, fresh leaves in salads. I've never developed the habit, and the woolly leaves just don't seem to say, "I'm delicious. Grab a fork." I could be wrong, so if you have a great recipe using lamb's ears, please share.

If I've convinced you that lamb's ears deserves a spot in your garden this year, here's what you need to know to make it feel at home:

Growing Conditions for Lamb's Ears


A native to the Middle East, it's hardy in zones 4 through 8 and prefers dappled light in the afternoon in hot climates and medium-rich soil that drains well. Plant seedlings about 15 inches apart in spring and they'll be blooming by mid to late June.

The flowering spike of woolly Lambs Ears
Somewhat drought tolerant, it's probably better to water lamb's ears too little than too much. Do let it dry out between waterings if possible. (It is somewhat sensitive to high humidity but will survive intermittent humid days.) Prefer watering plants in the morning to reduce problems with powdery mildew.

This little plant spreads quickly and fills in well. If you have a half-shady spot you don't want to fuss with -- say over by the shed or driveway -- lamb's ears will create visual appeal without requiring much effort on your part. The good news is that it isn't a high maintenance plant but looks like one. Once established, it is relatively self-sustaining . For the nicest looking bed or border, deadhead blooms to keep plants bushy and lush. Caution: Because it roots easily, it's a good idea to watch lamb's ears over the summer season. It isn't as invasive as mint, but will crowd out other, less robust plants if given the chance.

Propagate lamb's ears by seed or root division in spring. It self-seeds readily.

Growing Lambs Ears Indoors or on a Patio


Because of its unusual texture and color, lamb's ears makes a nice specimen plant on a deck or patio. Just make sure to provide it with a pot that drains well and give it partial shade on hot summer afternoons. It's also a good idea to deadhead flowers to keep plants from getting straggly.

You can maintain lamb's ears as a houseplant, but it will require quite a bit of light when kept indoors, so place it in southern facing window or supplement with grow lights. Eight hours of light a day should be enough. Avoid overwatering at all costs as root rot can be a problem. Let plants dry out between waterings.

Lamb's ears is also widely known as woolly betony.

References

Discover Life. " Stachys byzantina." Additional Photos

http://pick4.pick.uga.edu/20/q?search=Lamb%27s+ears

NC State University. "Ground Covers: Stachys byzantina."

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/groundcover/stachys_byzantina.html

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. "Lamb's ear, woolly hedgenettle."

http://www.unce.unr.edu/programs/sites/nemo/lid/plantlist/plantdetails.asp?ID=91

Photo1 - LambsEars1_Wiki.jpg By Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b7/Stachys_byzantina_02_ies.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AStachys_byzantina_02_ies.jpg

Photo2 - LambsEars2_PublicDomain.jpg By Karelj (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo3 - LambsEars3_Wiki.jpg By Stan Shebs http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stachys_byzantina_flowers.jpg GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:GNU_Free_Documentation_License_1.2

2 comments:

  1. Lamb's Ears' flower heads look so much like Betony flower heads but I never thought about them being related. Betony seems to take quite a bit more sun and spread by seed more easily than Lamb's Ears.
    It that your experience, too?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Today, I saw some lamb's ear growing from rocks near Lake El Dorado. These are tough critters.

    ReplyDelete

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