Lamb's ears is the common name for a perennial plant, also sometimes called woolly lamb's ears. The red to violet flowers of lamb's ears are not the focal point of this charming drought resistant plant, although they are pretty to look at. Most gardeners actually grow it for the silvery green silky foliage, which really does feel like the ear of a lamb, complete with fine white down. The plant makes an excellent ground cover, and contrasts beautifully with other flowering plants, especially purple and violet flowers.
The scientific name for the plant is Stachys lanata, and they are classified in the mint family, Lamiaceae. Lamb's ears are native to Turkey, where they grow like weeds in rugged soil, low water conditions and fierce sun. The plants were adopted for gardens because of their amazing suede-like leaves, although some gardeners have been known to regret the decision later, since lamb's ears can turn invasive.
The plants prefer low water conditions, and also enjoy sub-standard soil. Full to partial sun is ideal for growing lamb's ears, which are hardy in USZA Zones four through 10, although more shade may be needed in higher zones. When planted, lamb's ears should be mulched, to reduce the risk of rot underneath the plants. The plants will attract birds and butterflies, so they are excellent choices for a butterfly garden. Lamb's ears are also deer resistant, unless gardeners are dealing with very hungry deer.
Many garden supply stores sell lamb's ears in starter pots. Gardeners should think carefully about where they want to grow the plants, since they will sprawl and take over. Lamb's ears do not work as standalone plants or splashes of color, and they can cover an entire bed in very short order. When used as border plants, lamb's ears should be regularly trimmed to prevent sprawl, or the plants can be established in patches of ground cover around the garden.
Non-blooming varieties of lamb's ears tend to grow lower to the ground, and more slowly. Blooming lamb's ears will develop elongated stalks in the spring, producing small flowers. These plants tend to be more upright, and will achieve more height in the end than non-blooming versions. Both will readily re-seed themselves, and they can also be cultivated by dividing the root ball. The root ball can generally be split every two to three years. Splitting the root ball also prevents the plants from getting weedy, as does trimming back dead growth.