A vote in favor of Lambís Ears

Barbara Mrgich
Adams County Master Gardener

(4/7) Looking for an easy-to-grow, bright silvery green ground cover that is one of the first plants to green up in early March and is still looking good at Christmas? Wanting something that stays close to the ground and looks great at the feet of your containers or garden edge? Try Lambís Ears.

Lambís Ears is actually an herb which is edible and has antibacterial qualities.

A quick look at its botanical name, Stachys byzantine, tells us right away it is not a U.S. native. Byzantina refers to that part of the Middle East that was once known as the Byzantine Empire. During that era, it was used as a wound dressing that actually helped prevent infection.

I keep a large ornamental garden and make use of a variety of ground covers for their attractiveness and also to limit the amount of commercial mulch needed each year. Lambís Ears is one of my favorites because it is tough. Attractive, and doesnít demand watering during dry weather.

Lambís Ears gets a bum rap from many gardeners I know. They claim it is invasive and ugly. I beg to differ. There is a big difference between plants that are invasive and those that are merely prolific. The DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) lists invasive plants of Pennsylvania and explains why they should be eradicated from the landscape. Check out http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/plants/invasiveplants/index.htm. (or simply google: invasive plants of pa). You wonít find Lambís Ears on the list.

Ugly? Not in my garden. The trick to keeping Lambís Ears nice is not to let it bloom or, at least, to only allow a few blooms. The plant puts out a very long and heavy flower stem. It may look attractive at first, but then the flower flops over the top of the foliage and declines into an unattractive mass. I just grab that big stem and cut it off right back at the base of the plant. This keeps the foliage itself looking fresh and attractive.

I love the look of the foliage. The leaves are almost the exact shape of a lambís ear, and they are very soft and fuzzy. They feel just wonderful. The leaves stay very close to the ground, and I especially love them as a garden border or as a surround at the feet of my planters.

Lambís Ears is prolific. That means it spreads quickly, sending out long stems that can take root wherever they touch the ground. In this way they fill in an area. Isnít that what you want a ground cover to do? Removing flower stems before they bloom prevents the seeds from blowing around your garden and popping up where they are not welcome. Because they are not deeply rooted, I find them extremely easy to remove or transplant when they begin to overstep their bounds.

Lambís Ears likes full sun but will tolerate partial shade very nicely. It handles drought and dry soil very well, and it actually prefers lean soil. Deer and rabbits donít like Lambís Ears because of its fuzzy leaves. It is hardy in Zones 4 - 8. (We are Zone 6). Do not plant Lambís Ears where the soil is soggy. It may rot and mildew, especially when combined with high humidity.

If I have interested you in using Lambís Ears as a border or ground cover, but you donít like the idea of the deadheading, you may want to try one of the following cultivars.

Stachys byzantina 'Helen von Stein', also known as 'Big Ears' has attractive and fragrant foliage and rarely sends up flower spikes.

Stachys byzantina 'Silver Carpet' is most known for its strikingly attractive silvery-green leaves, but rarely blooms.

Itís always fun when writing about herbs to go back to the time before modern medicine and other product inventions to see how these plants were used. In the case of Lambís Ears, think toilet tissue, band aids, and feminine hygiene products. The leaves are not only very soft and soothing to the skin, they are absorbent. They also have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. In olden times, they were used on battlefields and wherever first aid was needed. Obviously, in todayís world, all these qualities of the plant are no longer used. But you never knowÖ. Someday, you may find yourself stranded in your garden when you cut your finger on a thorn or experience an urgent call of nature, and a little lambís ear may just come to your rescue!

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