HARDINESS: Zones 4 to 10
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Neutral
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Average, well-drained
PREFERRED LIGHT: Sun to partial shade
ATTRIBUTES: Soft, fuzzy silver-gray leaves; for edging or ground cover
SEASON OF INTEREST: Spring and summer
FAVORITES: Non-flowering 'Silver Carpet'; 'Helene von Stein', 'Big Ears' for heat
QUIRKS: Plants may die back in hot, humid conditions
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Herbs, iris, roses, salvia, lavender
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Well-drained soil in sun to partial shade
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Crown rot in poorly drained soil
RENEWING PLANTS: Lives many years; divide crowded clumps
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Excellent
SOURCE: Bedding plants, division
DIMENSIONS: 12-24 in (30.5-61 cm) tall and equally wide
Lamb's Ears in the Landscape
Velvety to the touch, lamb's ears is a groundcover or edging plant that can be counted on to fill in wherever it is needed.The silvery gray leaves are a calming influence on hot-colored flowers, including everything from ruby red poppies to orange zinnias. Lamb's ears is one of the few plants that can keep company with hard-to-
match magenta flowers, such as those of rose campion or hot pink dianthus. Yet it casts a soft glow in the company of pastel flowers.
Maybe it's the soft texture of the leaves, or the plant's informal habit, but lamb's ears naturally make a garden look comfortable. Grown along a walkway or driveway, or skirting a line of shrubs or roses, this plant blurs hard lines. And because it establishes itself quickly, it makes a newly planted garden look less stiff and bare.
Before you rush out to buy a flat, however, bear in mind the plant's size and habit. Individual plants reach 12 in (30.5 cm) or more in height and width, and they do spread and sprawl, so allow some room for future expansion when planting. If you encourage lamb's ears to follow its natural growth patterns, a single plant will form a pool of luminous silvery leaves in only one season.
Look Out for Flowers
While lamb's ears is prized for its foliage, it does have flowers. In late spring, woolly stalks carrying small,
clumps of fast-growing lamb's ears can form a dense groundcover in a single year. Lavender blossoms emerge from the clump and shoot up to twice the plant's height. If you want an informal cottage-garden effect, or if nearby plants that bear clashing flowers are not yet in bloom, you may welcome these understated flowers, which attract bees in droves. However, some gardeners feel the flower stalks detract from the foliage and look unkempt, so they clip them off. To eliminate the chore of removing flower stalks, you can plant the non-flowering cultivar 'Silver Carpet'.
Growing Lamb's Ears
Lamb's ears grows best in average, well-drained soil. Full sun is preferable, but the plants also adapt to partial shade. In areas with long, hot summers, plant them where they'll receive afternoon shade. But even with shade, the foliage may decline after a long spate of humid nights. In hot climates, grow heat-tolerant cultivars, such as 'Helene von Stein' or 'Big Ears', which has leaves twice the size of the species. Avoid heavy watering and fertilizing, which can lead to lanky growth that is unattractive and vulnerable to rot. Also avoid getting the leaves wet when watering.
In early spring, you can dig new plantlets that pop up between older plants and move them to where you want them to grow. Use a sharp knife to cut out a small circle of soil and roots around the new plantlet, and lift it from beneath without pulling on the plant itself. When planting, set it at the same depth at which the parent plant grew, and keep the soil moist for several weeks to encourage fast rooting. Lamb's ears are remarkably pest free and are even unappealing to deer.