Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lamium

If you were offered a basket of dead nettle, you might be put off by the suggestion for nettles are well-known for their stinging hairs.  I dare say there isn't one of us who hasn't run across them as children or brushed against them with our bare limbs and felt the consequences.  Nettles are synonymous with stinging.  To be nettlesome is to be very irritating.  Dead or alive, you wouldn't want them.

But wait, the name unfairly invokes distrust of a very charming genus of perennial plants, Lamium, native mostly to Europe.  The botanical name, (pronounced LAY-mee-um), which means "dead nettle", refers to the hairy surfaces of the plant which do not sting.  Thus, they are "dead."  One of the most popular ornamental species is L. maculatum (pronounced mak-you-LAY-tum), meaning "spotted."  Lamium belongs to the Mint family, Lamiaceae.

It's easy to recognize Lamium's relationship to mints.  Leaves are ovate and toothed.  The most popular varieties are variegated.  The flowers are fairly large compared to mints, usually pink in color and having two lips, and are produced repeatedly throughout the growing season.  The fragrance is not as pleasing as its tasty cousins.  Lamium grows about 12" high and spreads by runners to about 12" across.  It attracts bees and butterflies.

Lamium is suitable as a ground cover and in container gardens.  It's beautiful planted at the base of stone walls and other such structures.  Plant plenty of it for the bees and butterflies, and in your herb garden.  You'll also love it for its seasonal color; the foliage is nearly evergreen and displays a nice plum shade in winter.

Lamium thrives in partial to full shade in USDA climate zones 3 to 9 or 10 in fertile, well-drained, slightly moist soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 8.5.  It's somewhat drought-tolerant when established.

Begin by taking a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The results will specify any soil amendments needed.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. This will help to promote good drainage. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 12" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Because it likes well-drained soil, plant Lamium with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

Lamium has no serious pests or diseases, and deer don't like it.  The greatest cause of failure is planting it in an environment that is not to its liking.

Lamium does not spread as rapidly or as far as its relative, Lamiastrum.  The plant is much more compact and as beautiful.  However, if you have to cover a large area, Lamiastrum may be the better choice.  Considering its beauty, adaptability to a wide range of climates and soil conditions, Lamium should be one of the top choices for your garden.

Return to Lamium at goGardenNow.com.

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