Lamium in the shade garden

Dead Nettle received its name for its lack of the bite of its cousin, Stinging Nettle. The unattractive name probably causes most gardeners to call it by its botanical name Lamium. If you check the stems, you will find them square, a hallmark of plants from the huge Lamiaceae, or mint family. Some gardeners find the scent of the crushed leaves pleasant, lavender or sage-like. However, I find it unpleasant, slightly resinous, or what I call a ‘green’ smell, but that is the only objectionable feature.

Only one species of Lamium is used in the garden, Lamium maculatum. The white flowered cultivar ‘White Nancy’ and purplish-pink flowered ‘Beacon Silver’ make fine groundcover plants growing in eight inch tall mounds that slowly spread. Other cultivars include ‘Pink Pewter’ with shell-pink flowers, ‘Chequers’ with a large silver stripe down the mid-rib of the leaves, and ‘Cannon’s Gold’ which has chartreuse leaves. These flowers are larger and showier than most Laminaceae family flowers. The yellow-flowered Lamium called Archangel is actually Lamiastrum, a close relative that grows under the same conditions, although more rampant in nature.

Lamium flower prolifically in late spring and through mid-summer followed by sporadically bloom until fall. Each rounded-triangle shaped leaf bears a light silvery-green splotch edged with dark green. The leaf-veining pattern is very distinct. The leaves make this plant attractive all summer long, even when not in bloom making Lamium perfect for shady and semi-shady areas where the leaf variegation brings light to dark places.

They are hardy to zone three, so survive our hard winters and actually grow better in this area with our cool summer nights. In warmer areas they can become straggly and need to be cut back to keep them shapely. Their only demand is moisture during dry weather. If the conditions are too dry, large patches ‘melt-out,’ leaving unsightly bare spots in the bed. While moisture is essential, so is good drainage. They do not grow in boggy situations as they are subject to crown rot. When they do die back from heat or lack of moisture, they often rejuvenate in cooler weather. If they don’t come back, dividing an existing plant is an easy way to rejuvenate a bed.

While spreading in nature, Lamium is not so aggressive as to take over the garden like many other groundcovers. Lamium lacks the herbal and medicinal qualities of many plants from the mint family, but Dead Nettle’s beauty and lack of stinging Nettle’s hairy spines more than make up for that deficit.