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Lamium Might Solve Your Groundcover Dilemma

Updated on August 1, 2007

This easy care plant could be the right choice for your problem dry shade spot.

Lamium maculatum has long been my first recommendation as a groundcover for shady problem areas. I have several patches of the cultivar "Chequers" in my yard where it thrives and gives me just what I want from a groundcover. It ranks as a 10 in my book, so I was surprised to read some no-so-enthusiastic articles about Lamium recently. See if it's worth a try in your yard.

Lamium maculatum is the botanical name of the plant commonly known as dead nettle or spotted dead nettle. This unglamorous nickname originated from the plant's resemblance to stinging nettles, but, it lacks the nasty stinging qualities, hence the "dead" tag. Wild forms grow around the world as common weeds, but about 30 cultivated species with garden value are sold. As with most plants, some cultivars perform better than others, so take care in picking.

Groundcovers are often called upon to fill in difficult areas where more precious featured plants fear to tread. Lamium does just that in my zone 6 semi-shady garden dominated by a huge old oak tree. In the wild, Lamium grows in a wide range of conditions, on rocky, woody hillsides, in dry shade and where woods border open fields. This makes it a candidate for deep shade to light, open shade, but not so much in fiercely sunny spots.

While Lamium spreads rapidly in moist spots and laughs at dry shade, it might succumb to wet, poorly drained soil. One source slammed it as a plant that would rot easily in wet conditions, but turn that characteristic to the positive and use it under a big tree with a greedy root system where little else will thrive.

As a card carrying member of the mint family, Lamium is not bothered by deer. The pests don't cotton to stuff we regard as herbal.

Care amounts to very little. Officially hardy is zones 3 to 8, Lamium is semi-evergreen in cold regions. Here in Western Pennsylvania, that means it's still going strong in December most years, and simply draws itself up and disappears during January and February, no fall clean up required. By early March, there it is, poking back up through the last light snow, ready to put on a full flush of flowers. Flowers come in white, pink or yellow, depending on the cultivar.

Most types flower heavily in April, May and June, sporadically during the summer and then again a little more heavily in the fall. My favorite, "Chequers" seems to keep flowering consistently. "Chequers" has silver leaf markings and the deepest pink flowers of all the cultivars.

Lamium maculatum "White Nancy" is another popular plant, with frosted silvery leaves which provide a knock out contrast in a deeply shaded spot. The flowers are white and blooms occur primarily in spring. I find "White Nancy" to be a little less vigorous than "Chequers", but worth trying for a lovely effect.

The Chicago Botanic garden has an excellent article available on line with a comprehensive overview of Lamium and detailed rankings of their results with the different cultivars. "Pink Shell" rates as their favorite for Midwest gardens.

Stems grow to about 6" to 8" and form a neat mat. Where the stem nodes touch the ground, it roots and spreads easily, but not invasively. Lamium also spreads by seeds, but won't reproduce true from seeds, so you'll see plants with different leaf patterns and flower colors pop up in your garden occasionally. Think of them as love children.

Lamium maculatum "Chequers"
Lamium maculatum "Chequers"


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    • SEM Pro profile image

      SEM Pro 8 years ago from North America

      Wonderful article! I haven't yet figured out why grass is so ever popular as a ground cover. Appreciate your thoroughness!

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