An Elegant Groundcover
W hen there is an area of dry shade in the yard, that can be a challenge. I was first attracted to the Lamium maculatum plant due to its lovely cultivars with silver leaves, but have found it an unsung hero in dry shade conditions. It is one of the few plants that do well in the dry shady conditions found under mature trees.
At first, many years ago, I planted the ‘Beacons Silver’ variety, with the deep pinky lavender flowers in the mint-form spikes. Later, when "White Nancy" made her debut, I found myself smitten and gave her home in my side garden.
Now there are other varieties to chose from, including the golden chartreuse ‘Cannon’s Gold’ described by the OSU pocketgardener site as a plant which “will become a standard in the years ahead”. They most recommend it to be grown in “moist shady areas”, but I have found the lamiums to serve well in the drier parts of the garden, under trees and shrubs. Perhaps the silver leaved choices are more tolerant of drought.
Invite White Nancy To the Garden Party
My favorite is the White Nancy.
This L. maculatum variety is easy to transplant and the white flowers are quietly showy and more “blendable” than the mauvey-pink types. Simply take small starts and plant them in ordinary garden soil (although I try to add a small amount of compost or peat moss when I transplant…just to give a good start). Like any newly transplanted baby it needs consistent moisture to get going, but once it takes hold it is hardy and enduring. I like it as a groundcover, but Lamium maculatum is often included in container plantings, especially those for shade, with a mix of tender and annual companions. So if you purchase a container for summer with this plant included you could replant it in your garden at the end of the season. No sense in wasting a good perennial plant! Vice versa, if you have some groundcover lamium growing in your garden, you may want to borrow a bit for your containers.
General Appearance and Growth
This plant is considered hardy to zone 4, is low-growing at 6″ to 8″ in height, with a spread of 12″ to 24″ per plant. It takes sun or part shade. It is supposed to be rabbit and deer resistant, but I haven’t noticed that in personal observation, not having had severe problems with those nuisances. I wouldn’t use it, or most ground covers, where there is foot traffic, but wherever you do put it, the silver leaves reflect light in the soft way that gray-white leaved foliage often does.
While evergreen in some climate zones, in mine Lamium maculatum is simply an early leafed planting with the small leaves becoming fuller and larger as the season moves on into summer.
Key cultivation information for Lamium maculatum
- pH: somewhat neutral ( 6.-6.5 )
- hardiness: zones 4-8
- sun to part shade, but Martha Stewart says “part-shade-to-full-shade”
- moisture: moderate, but will take dryness when well established
- low grower and spreading- height: 8-12" space: 10-14"
- heat tolerant
- use well balanced fertilizer
- blooms: spring,summer
I like the silver leaved Lamiums in tandem with ferns, hostas, under roses, in tapestries with sweet woodruff. Hellebores are a recommended companion and I think they would look well together. It is very easy to lift small rooted sections of this plant, aka dead nettle ( although I don’t much care for that nickname), and plant new starts. In the beginning they need adequate moisture, just like all other new plants which haven’t developed their root systems, yet. At the feet of Clematis is a another fine use for this plant, as they both appreciate moist, yet well drained soil.
Another fine groundcover for shade is Sweet Woodruff, or Galium odoratum
Lamium can be underplanted with bulbs since they are smaller early in the season, but grow to disguise the dying bulb foliage. I have some of the “waterlily” Kaufmanniana tulips overplanted with Lamium maculatum. They are an excellent choice for the moon or white garden, and would be lovely in a serenity garden with the hostas and ferns that go so well together as companions.
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