How to Plant and Grow Lamb’s Ear
As its name suggests, this perennial has soft, fuzzy leaves that feel like you’re petting a baby sheep.
Viveka Neveln is the Garden Editor at BHG and a degreed horticulturist with broad gardening expertise earned over 3+ decades of practice and study. She has more than 20 years of experience writing and editing for both print and digital media.
Updated on February 9, 2023
In This Article
In This Article
The leaves and stems of lamb’s ear, also known as betony, are covered with a dense layer of tiny white hairs that make them feel silky to the touch and give them a silvery appearance. This plant is a must for sensory garden settings and is sure to delight children who are encouraged to stroke the soft leaves. While lamb’s ear is most commonly grown for its foliage, it does bloom; some varieties are grown specifically for their prolific blooms.
In addition to lamb’s ear plants providing tactile joy, the silvery foliage also serves as the perfect backdrop for many other plants. The flower stalks are usually 12-24 inches tall, with small purple, white, red, or pink blooms.
Lamb’s ear is a vigorous grower. It isn’t on the USDA invasive plant list, but unless it is carefully contained, it can become troublesome. Lamb’s ear produces creeping stems that root along the soil, creating dense mats of foliage. The roots aren’t thick, so the plants can be pulled up where you don’t want them. This spreading habit makes lamb’s ear a good choice for a groundcover in full sun or poor soil situations. Lamb’s ear also readily reseeds itself, so removing the flower stalks before they go to seed reduces spreading.
Lamb’s Ear Overview
|Common Name||Lamb’s Ear|
|Light||Part Sun, Sun|
|Height||6 to 24 inches|
|Width||1 to 3 feet|
|Flower Color||Pink, Purple, Red, White|
|Foliage Color||Blue/Green, Gray/Silver|
|Season Features||Fall Bloom, Spring Bloom, Summer Bloom|
|Special Features||Attracts Birds, Cut Flowers, Good for Containers, Low Maintenance|
|Zones||4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9|
|Problem Solvers||Deer Resistant, Drought Tolerant, Groundcover|
Where to Plant Lamb’s Ear
Plant lamb’s ear in dry-to-medium moisture soil that is not particularly rich. The plant quickly becomes aggressive when it is grown in rich soil. The soil must drain well; lamb’s ear won’t tolerate soggy soil. Choose a full-sun or part-sun location with some shade in the afternoon.
Because lamb’s ear is drought-resistant and tolerates the poorest soils, it can be planted almost anywhere as long as the soil drains. It is attractive in a border, bed, or container or as a groundcover.
How and When to Plant Lamb’s Ear
Although the best time to plant lamb’s ear is spring after the last frost, this perennial can be planted any time until fall. Unless the soil drains well, amend it with compost. Plant lamb’s ear at the same depth the plants are in the nursery container, spacing them at least 1 foot apart. Firm the soil around the roots with your hands. Water new plants until they are established; then, limit water to 1 inch per week.
Lamb’s Ear Care Tips
This plant performs best in full-sun conditions, but it can withstand shade. The plant looks greener in the shade because it produces fewer dense hairs.
Soil and Water
Lamb’s ear varieties withstand poor soil conditions and drought. One thing it does not tolerate, however, is soggy soil.
Give the plant about 1 inch of water weekly if the soil is dry. Don’t water from the top of the plant. Keep the plant as dry as possible by watering it from the bottom.
Temperature and Humidity
The soft hairs on the leaves and stems help prevent plant moisture loss, making it exceptionally drought-tolerant. Heat is not a problem for lamb’s ear. However, in desert locations, it is best to select a planting location with at least some partial shade. Low humidity is best for this plant. In locations with high humidity, the plant is susceptible to leaf rot.
Lamb’s ear doesn’t like rich soil. It is best to avoid giving the plant any fertilizer.
Because the prolific seeds spread quickly, deadhead the flower stalks or cut them back to the ground to prevent unintended spread. Prune any dead or damaged leaves as they occur. Repeat the process whenever you see more dead leaves or about twice a year. The plant can stand a harsh pruning if needed. It’s difficult to kill.
Potting and Repotting Lamb’s Ear
Lamb’s ear can be grown as a houseplant, but it requires a lot of sun, so position it in the sunniest place in the house, preferably a south-facing window. If it isn’t receiving at least eight hours of sun daily, add a grow light to the plant’s environment.
Don’t overwater! Let the plant dry out completely before watering.
Pests and Problems
Lamb’s ear is not susceptible to insect pests because of its hairy leaves, but it is susceptible to fungal disease because of its sensitivity to humidity and wet soil.
How to Propagate Lamb’s Ear
The quickest way to propagate lamb’s ear is to divide the plant. In the spring, lift the entire plant and root ball from the ground. Using your hands or a sharp knife, pull the plant into sections. Plant the divisions immediately and water them. Keep the soil moist for a couple of weeks, and then water sparingly when it doesn’t rain.
Lamb’s ear can also be grown from seed (with the caveat that hybrid varieties shouldn’t be grown from seed). A couple of months before the last frost date in spring, fill pots with potting soil and press the seeds into the soil—but don’t cover them. Keep them in a warm place or on a heating mat until they germinate, which takes up to four weeks. Harden off the seedlings before moving them outside.
Types of Lamb’s Ear
Stachys byzantina has silvery, felted, 6-inch-long leaves that make a soft mat. In early summer, upright stems bloom bearing cerise-magenta flowers. It grows 18 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 4-8.
‘Big Ears’ Lamb’s Ear
Stachys officinalis ‘Big Ears’, also sold as ‘Helene von Stein’, is a variety of lamb’s ear named for its extra-large, fuzzy silver leaves. It seldom blooms, so it requires little deadheading. Mature plants grow 8-10 inches tall. Zones 4-9
Also called bishop’s wort, wood betony (Stachys officinalis) was used by ancient healers for nearly everything from curing coughs to deworming. Today it’s mainly grown to draw pollinators to the garden. The plant’s attractive flowers are reddish purple and lure bees. Mature plants grow to about 2 feet tall. Zones 4-8
‘Rosea’ Wood Betony
Stachys officinalis ‘Rosea’ is a lighter pink version of wood betony. It has the same pollinator-attracting qualities, providing a summer-long display of spires of small pink flowers above compact clumped foliage. Mature plants grow to about 2 feet tall. Zones 4-8
Stachys macrantha bears purple flowers from early summer to fall on 2-foot stems. Zones 5-7
‘Saharan Pink’ Betony
Stachys monieri ‘Saharan Pink’ is a petite version of ‘Hummelo’ betony with two-tone pink flowers. It grows just 1 foot tall in bloom, with a spread of about 8 inches. Deadhead spent flowers to prevent the plant from self-seeding. Zones 4-8
Lamb’s Ear Companion Plants
Add a pool of sunshine to the garden with a mass planting of black-eyed Susan. From midsummer, these tough native plants bloom their golden heads off in sun or light shade and mix well with other perennials, annuals, and shrubs. Tall varieties look especially appropriate among shrubs. Add black-eyed Susan to wildflower meadows or native plant gardens for a naturalized look. Average soil is sufficient, but it should hold moisture fairly well.
Daylilies are so easy to grow you’ll often find them in ditches and fields, escapees from gardens, yet they look so delicate, producing glorious trumpet-shaped blooms in numerous colors. There are some 50,000 named hybrid cultivars in a range of flower sizes (the minis are very popular), forms, and plant heights. Some are fragrant. The flowers are borne on leafless stems. Although each bloom lasts only a single day, superior cultivars carry several buds on each scape, so bloom time is long—especially if you deadhead daily. The strappy foliage may be evergreen or deciduous.
Garden Plans for Lamb’s Ear
Design for a Moon Garden
Nighttime is the right time to enjoy a garden of bright whites, fragrant blooms, and a comfortable seat.
Summer Cottage Garden Plan
Stately delphiniums are the backbone of this colorful cottage garden plan.
Garden Plan to Soften a Fence
The exciting plants in this design will provide long-lasting color, fragrance, and texture that will leave you saying, "What fence?"
Summer-Blooming Front-Yard Cottage Garden Plan
Create charm and curb appeal in your front yard with this lush, beautiful cottage garden plan.
Long-Blooming Rock Garden Plan
This colorful rock garden is designed around a couple of very large boulders but could easily be adapted to any rock garden setting.
Fabulous Fall-Garden Plan
Create a burst of fall color in your landscape with this easy-care garden plan.
Low-Water Garden Plan
No matter where you live, it’s inevitable that plants will take defeats in the middle of July. Count on this easy-care garden to stay looking good through dry spells.
Frequently Asked Questions
What type of wildlife snacks on lamb’s ear?
Deer and rabbits leave them alone. The hairs on the leaves are credited with preventing damage from common garden wildlife on the assumption that the animals don’t like the furry texture of the leaves.
How long does lamb’s ear live?
In the garden, a single plant may live four or five years, but the plant’s ability to spread vigorously has led some gardeners to claim the plant never dies. Containing lamb’s ear in a garden bed is an ongoing job.
When grown as a houseplant, lamb’s ear may live only two years unless it has the full-sun, dry-ish soil conditions it prefers.