HARDINESS: Zones 4 to 8
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Neutral to slightly acid
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Average
PREFERRED LIGHT: Partial to full shade
ATTRIBUTES: Variegated leaves; white or pink flowers; for groundcover
SEASON OF INTEREST: Spring through summer; evergreen in mild-winter climates
FAVORITES: White-flowered 'White Nancy'; pink 'Beacon Silver', 'Chequers'; yellow 'Herman's Pride'
QUIRKS: Spreads quickly in moist soil
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Spring-flowering bulbs, shade-loving perennials
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Under the shelter of tall trees in partial shade
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Some species are invasive; wet winter soil causes root rot
RENEWING PLANTS: Colonies persist for many years; divide crowded clumps
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Good except for slugs when plants are grown in damp soil
SOURCE: Bedding plants, division
DIMENSIONS: 12 in (30.5 cm) tall and equally wide
Dead Nettle in the Landscape
If you want to brighten a shady spot with delicate light-reflecting foliage plants that also produce spring flowers, dead nettle is the happy wanderer for the job. The mint green leaves of this groundcover are streaked with white or silver and are nearly evergreen, disappearing only when snow blankets the garden. Although famed for its foliage, dead nettle throws flowers into the deal as well, with small clusters appearing in late spring or early summer. The white flowers of silver-leaved cultivars, notably 'White Nancy', are spectacular against the variegated leaves. 'Beacon Silver', 'Pink Pewter', and 'Chequers' have pink flowers, which furnish a striking contrast to the foliage. If you like yellow blossoms, try Lamium galeobdolon 'Herman's Pride' or 'Silver Spangled'. Both tolerate dry soil and are very hardy.
Springing into action when most spring bulbs are beginning to flag, dead nettle carpets an area as quickly as bulbs vacate it. It can't always hide fading bulb foliage from view -- dead nettle stands only 12 in (30.5 cm) high -- but it diverts attention with its sparkling demeanor. Bright clumps of dead nettle foliage also work well as a living mulch among more imposing shade plants, such as hostas. A fast spreader, dead nettle will eagerly move into any available open space.
Dead nettle isn't always polite about conquering turf. Should the plant move into areas where it isn't wanted, simply stop its progress by digging out any invaders. It's easier to correct the march while the plants are young and roots are shallow, so make adjustments in early summer.
Keeping Dead Nettle Tidy
By the middle of the summer, you might want to tidy up the scene if the leaves become tattered. To make the foliage fill in, cut plants back by snipping off about half of the foliage. The plants will respond by producing a thick covering of foliage for the rest of the summer, creating a weed-excluding mat.
Growing Dead Nettle
Aside from a preference for partial shade, dead nettle is an easygoing plant that wants little more than well-drained soil. In cool-summer climates dead nettle will endure full sun gracefully as long as you keep the soil moist. Transplanting is usually best done in the spring so that the plant will have an entire season to recover, but dead nettle really doesn't mind being moved at any time during the growing season. Have a weed-free spot ready. For a dense carpet, space plants about 10 in (25 cm) apart. Plant them as deep as they grew previously, whether in a nursery pot or in the garden before dividing. Water the transplants well and mulch around them to keep the ground damp until they are established. If you're growing dead nettle under the shelter of high trees, the fallen leaves may be sufficient for the job. Dead nettle is relatively pest free, but do watch out for slugs in moist soil. If you should notice ragged holes in the leaves, handpick and dispose of slugs at twilight, or set shallow saucers of beer on the soil to lure and drown them.