Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 to 8, depending on species
Appropriately named for its characteristic pubescent (fuzzy), gray-green leaves. Will form a silvery, wooly mat along the ground. The foliage is even fragrant. Some species are not necessarily valued for its blooms while others are. Flowers are spiky and pink or purple in color. Blooms in summer. There is one selection of S. byzantina that does not flower. Plant size ranges one to two feet tall and as wide, depending on species.
How to use it: Best used as a groundcover for a sunny area. Plant in mass for full effect. Use in the front of a mixed perennial border, as edging, in a children's garden or in a rock garden. The silver foliage and pink-purple flowers are excellent to combine with other pastel-colored plants, such as salvia or dianthus.
Culture: Requires a well-drained soil; doesn't require fertile soil. Plant in (ideal) full sun to partial afternoon shade (especially in hot and humid areas). If planted in too much shade, plants may have trouble with foliage problems. Avoid getting water on the leaves, especially in the afternoon, since that may cause rot problems. Because lamb's ear is not valued for its flowers, you may want to deadhead or remove flowers so that the foliage can be seen. Prune out brown leaves or sections as needed, and new growth will fill in. Primarily propagated through division or seed. No serious problems with pests or diseases, but might have foliar disease when exposed to hot and humid conditions.
Special notes: Children love this plant for its fuzzy leaves. A member of the mint family (Lamiaceae).
Selected species and cultivars
- Stachys byzantina. Perhaps the most well-known species of the lamb's ears. 'Countess Helene von Stein' (also called 'Big Ears') is a popular cultivar that offers leaves double the size (four inches across and up to 10 inches long!) of the species. Doesn't have a tendency to bloom but you may see one or two every now and then. Heat and humidity resistant; good for the Southeast U.S. Reaches eight to 10 inches tall. 'Silver Carpet' is an excellent selection that does not produce flowers yet has attractive silvery foliage that makes a vigorous groundcover; reaches only about six inches tall. Native to the Middle East. Zones 4 to 8.
- Big betony (S. macrantha). Valued for its profuse flowers and blooms in late spring. Does best in cooler climates; this species is not used quite extensively throughout the country as S. byzantina is. Tolerates light shade. Looks best planted in mass. 'Robusta' is known for its rose-pink flowers that make it a knock-out in the garden; reaches two feet tall. Native to the Middle East. Zones 2 to 8.