Fundamental Facts

HARDINESS: Zones 3 to 9
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Neutral to slightly acidic or alkaline
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Moist, fertile, well-drained
PREFERRED LIGHT: Partial shade
ATTRIBUTES: Blue, pink, or white flowers; colorful foliage; for groundcover, pots
SEASON OF INTEREST: Spring to early winter
FAVORITES: 'Burgundy Glow' for variegated leaves; pink-flowered 'Pink Surprise'
QUIRKS: Spreads fast; benefits from division
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Shrubs and trees, especially azaleas and rhododendrons
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Fertile, well-drained soil in partial shade
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Aphids, root rot; can be invasive if neglected
RENEWING PLANTS: Benefits from division every 2-3 years in the fall
SOURCE: Division
DIMENSIONS: Plant 2 in (5.1 cm) tall, 3 in (7.6 cm) wide; flowers 6 in (15.2 cm) tall

Bugleweed in the Landscape

When you need something to cover the ground quickly, try bugleweed, which will form a thick, tidy carpet in the most challenging places. Also called ajuga, the plant produces a fiat little soil-hugging rosette of nearly evergreen oval leaves, adorned in spring by 6 in (15.2 cm) spires densely packed with small blue bugle-shaped blossoms. Standing only 2 in (5.1 cm) tall when not in flower, bugleweed has the heart of a mountain goat and is fully capable of scaling slopes and hopscotching between paved areas or stepping-stones. For knock-'em-dead impact in spring, underplant rose-colored azaleas with blue-flowering bugleweed, or try these very hardy plants in containers.

Bugleweed blossoms last only a few weeks but form a haze of faintly fragrant flowers that attract honeybees. Most strains bloom purplish blue, though 'Alba' blooms white and 'Pink Surprise' and 'Pink Elf' produce pink blossoms. Leaf colors also vary widely, and include the rich shiny green of the most vigorous spreaders, the deep burgundy of 'Atropupurea', the silver frosting of 'Silver Carpet', and the mix of rose, white, and green found in 'Burgundy Glow'.

Keep Bugleweed Moving

Colonies march speedily on, with plants multiplying by forming a ring of a dozen or so new plants each summer, all connected to the parent by stemlike structures, or stolons. To keep beds full and fresh, dig out the new plants and reset them at 3 in (7.6 cm) intervals where needed to fill in gaps or expand the planting. Use a garden trowel to sever the little plant-lets and lift them, because they will have a sturdy tuft of fibrous roots attached. For the best show of spring flowers, transplant in fall and keep the plants very well watered until they are established. In addition, bugleweed self-sows when happy, so you often find volunteers in the lawn that can also be rescued for garden or container use.

Growing Bugleweed

To start a new planting, dig the soil well and add a generous amount of organic matter to improve drainage, along with a little balanced fertilizer for strong growth. Preferring shade but tolerant of sun, bugleweed competes well with tree or shrub roots as long as you water generously while the bugleweed is becoming established its first season in the ground. For neatness, cut off flower spikes after the blooms fade. You can easily do this by setting your mower blade high and running over the bed.

Sap-sucking insect aphids may cluster on leaves, but they can be rinsed off with water from a hose, or controlled with insecticidal soap, applied per label directions. A serious problem entails plants suddenly collapsing from fatal fungal root rot. The soil-borne fungi flourish in warm, damp weather. There is no cure other than starting over in a new place.

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