Spotted deadnettle, Lamium maculatum

Several cultivars of spotted deadnettle in bloom.

Spotted deadnettle, Lamium maculatum, is one of about 50 species in the type genus for the mint family (Lamiaceae) native to Europe, temperate western Asia and North Africa. The common name of “deadnettle” refers to the resemblance of the leaves to stinging nettles, but without the sting (therefore “dead”). This prostrate, herbaceous perennial is hardy in zones 3-8.

This near-evergreen plant (at least in mild climates) is generally a low (6-9 inches tall), spreading plant, but sometimes becomes mounded. The plants branch only at the base with the square, hollow trailing stems rooting as they spread to form a dense mat. The opposite leaves are toothed, pointed oval to triangular to heart-shaped, and can grow to over 3” long on petioles up to 1½ inches long. The downy to softly hairy leaves, which are unpleasantly scented when bruised, are green with a white or silver stripe down the midvein, or other markings or variegation in various cultivars. Leaf size, shape, variegation and hairiness is quite variable.

The opposite leaves (L) vary in shape, size and markings (LC and RC) and the amount of hairs on the leaves (R).

Spotted deadnettle blooms prolifically in late spring to early summer.

A bumblebee pushes into a spotted deadnettle flower.

Spotted deadnettle blooms prolifically from late spring to early summer and continues sporadically into fall, attracting bees, especially bumblebees. The flowers occur in leafy heads (verticillasters) formed at nodes on the upper half to upper third of the stems and terminals, but not on all stems. Each inflorescence has 2-8 widely spaced pink to purple, or sometimes white, two-lipped flowers, up to ¾” long. The upper lips of the flowers are hood or helmet-shaped, like a roof over the stamens with their orange pollen, while the bisected lower lips are often whitish with purple dots (but vary by cultivar).

Whorls (L) of buds (LC) open along the stems (C), with individual flowers typical of the mint family with an upper “hood” and bisected lower lip (RC) with the hood covering the stamens (viewed from below, R).

Flowers are followed by small, inconspicuous fruits hidden by the leafy parts of the inflorescence that start out green and change to brown as they mature. Each fruit is comprised of four nutlets, or one-seeded sections.

The leafy whorls of inflorescences hide the inconspicuous dry fruits (L) which change from green (LC) to brown (RC). The individual nutlets or seeds (R).

Spotted deadnettle can cover large areas quickly as a groundcover.

This plant is typically used as a groundcover in shady areas, and can cover large areas quickly. Since it is adaptable to a variety of light regimes, it is an ideal plant to use in transition areas between shade and sun. It fills in nicely between other, larger or more upright perennials such as ostrich or cinnamon fern, bleeding heart, hellebore, goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), Brunnera macrophylla, Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra),

L. maculatum combines well with hostas.

or medium to large hostas, but is often too vigorous to site near shorter perennials which it tends to overrun (although it is easy to cut back or pull off wayward stems throughout the growing season to prevent this from happening, if desired). It works well to cover dying bulb foliage and smothers many weeds. Try growing several varieties with different leaf colors together or in combination with sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum, as a tapestry for an interesting underplanting beneath small trees or around roses.

Stems of this vigorous plant may need to be removed to prevent it from overruning smaller perennials.

Since it has a relatively fine texture, combine it with plants with large leaves for textural contrast, and dark-leaved plants such as coral bells (Heuchera, various cultivars) or black snakeroot (Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’) for color contrast. It can also be used as an edger, but will have to be cut back regularly to keep it in bounds. It can be used as a “spiller” in hanging baskets or containers.

Spotted deadnettle grows best in part shade — especially the silver types.

Lamium maculatum grows best in part shade (especially for silver types which often need more light to maintain their color) or shade in moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil, but in our climate will even grow in full sun. Although it does best in moist conditions it is drought tolerant and will grow in dry shade, but does not thrive in compacted or poorly drained soils, and many varieties suffer winter injury in wet soils. In hot and humid climates the foliage may decline in midsummer; plants may be cut back or sheared to stimulate new growth. It has few pest problems and is not favored by deer or rabbits. Crown or stem rot can occur when the soil remains too wet.

This plant is easy to propagate at any time during the growing season from cuttings of basal stems (not flowering stems) or by division. It roots where the stems touch the ground and once established these can be cut from the original plant and easily moved. It will also self-seed, although the cultivars will not come true from seed, and if volunteers are not removed (which can be challenging for the silver-striped varieties which can initially look very similar to the original plants) they may overtake the parents. Plants will spread indefinitely to fill a large area, so spacing is not that important, unless quick coverage is desired.

Spotted deadnettle roots at nodes (L) so is easy to divide and also self-seeds (R).

Some common cultivars include:

  • L. maculatum ‘Beedham’s White’

    ‘Album’ – has dark green leaves with a slight amount of silver in the center and white flowers. It was highly ranked in a Chicago Botanical Garden field trial of deadnettles.

  • ‘Anne Greenaway’ – has tricolored leaves, dark green edged in chartreuse and a silver stripe down the center, and light purple-pink flowers.
  • ‘Aureum’ – has light centered, yellow-green leaves and pale pink flowers.
  • ‘Beacon Silver’ – has silvery gray leaves with thin green edges and dark lavender flowers. It was introduced by Beth Chatto in 1976 who received it from a customer.
  • ‘Beedham’s White’ – has bright yellow foliage with a white stripe and white flowers, but is less florific than many other varieties and can be susceptible to winter dieout in moist soils.
  • L. maculatum ‘Chequers’

    ‘Chequers’ – is a vigorous variety with green leaves that each have a prominent silver stripe down the center and dark pink flowers.

  • ‘Cosmopolitan’ – is a miniature sport of ‘Shell Pink’ introduced by Walters Gardens with very small, nearly all-silver leaves. Its compact habit makes it particularly useful in combination containers where it won’t overrun all the other plants in the container.
  • ‘Orchid Frost’ (Plant Patent #11,122) – has blue-green leaves with a silver midvein and orchid-pink flowers. It is supposedly more vigorous and resistant to foliar diseases than other varieties.
  • L. maculatum ‘Pink Nancy’

    ‘Pink Nancy’ – has silver leaves with thin green margins and pale pink flowers.

  • ‘Pink Pewter’ – has small, ruffled silver-gray leaves with narrow green margins and deep salmon-pink flowers.
  • Purple ChablisTM and Pink Chablis® – have silvery gray leaves edged with dark green and lavender-purple or light pink flowers.
  • ‘Purple Dragon’ – has larger pink-purple flowers than most other cultivars and small silver leaves with a wide green edge.
  • ‘Red Nancy’ – has silver leaves with thin green margins, red-tinged stems (although color intensity varies throughout the growing season), and deep purple-pink flowers held well above the foliage. It was the best performer in the group of cultivars with predominantly silver foliage in a Chicago Botanical Garden field trial of deadnettles.

L. maculatum ‘Pink Pewter’

L. maculatum ‘Red Nancy’

L. maculatum ‘Shell Pink’

L. maculatum ‘White Nancy’

  • ‘Roseum’ – has dark green leaves with a central silver stripe and rosy-pink flowers.
  • ‘Shell Pink’ – has clear pink blossoms. It was the best performer of the group of four cultivars with green leaves with a silver stripe in the midrib evaluated by the Chicago Botanic Garden, and the only plant in the dead nettle trial to receive a five-star excellent rating.
  • ‘White Nancy’ – has silvery-white leaves with thin greenish margins and white flowers. Some report it is not as vigorous as other cultivars, and the foliage can be scorched if grown in full sun.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison


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31 comments

  1. My neighbor shared her Pink Nancy with me. I hope to get it started in an area between lawn and iris bulbs where creeping Charlie has taken over.

  2. I had this plant in my garden when I bought a new home. I was unfamiliar with it, but really like it now. It provides an interesting and quick growing ground cover for my larger plants. Thanks for the detailed information!

  3. My mother has this in her yard. I learned a lot about it. It makes sense that it is part of the mint family as it is tenacious and grows everywhere.

  4. I grew Silver Beacon many years under a Sargent crab apple. The bed was ringed with Lady”s Mantle, and it was quite a fight to keep the two from over-running! I would try mixing it with larger hostas in the future, and cutting back seed heads with a shearing in midsummer, to prevent self seeding.

  5. I had no idea it was in the mint family. Love it for it’s colorfulness in the shade garden. Love that the deer don’t like it (they have been voracious this year) Love the way it fills in around all the plants.

  6. I am beginning to love this plant. I have 4 different varieties and got them from Master Gardener digs. I love it because it survives pretty much anywhere. I am looking forward to it blanketing the area so I don’t have to weed so much. The article reinforced my choice to have this. Never heard it called spotted deadnettle, I was just told it was lamium. Thank you for the article.

  7. I have learned that it roots as it spreads. I have tried a couple of varieties in my shade garden and have replanted in one area where it did not do well–too shady, too dry??? I did plant another variety in larger clumps in different areas if that shade garden and had much better luck. If I had not just moved from that house I would try a mass planting of several varieties as I really like that look. No shady spots at my new place!

  8. My garden club is responsible for a number of gardens in our community. One of the gardens has some large shady areas. As these plants are deer and rabbit resistant, they may be an ideal choice as we have plenty of both.

  9. I am always looking for more plants that will do well in my shady yard. I would like to plant several varieties of dead nettles among my hostas. I don’t think I will be able to use them in the areas of my yard that are near the water, because those areas will be too moist. I may try “Red Nancy” because it was the best performer of the silver leaved dead nettles.

  10. I’ve learned that deadnettle competes wonderfully with weeds if it doesn’t get too much light. Sunnier areas of my hillside allow a variety of weeds amongst the deadnettles.

  11. I have the Pink Pewter in my garden in a shady are and it grows beautiful every year. I had no ideal there were so many varieties. I plan to plant some more this year.

  12. I learned there are so many more varieties of dead nettle that I can add to my garden. It looks beautiful spilling over a rock edged garden

  13. I just moved into a new house, and am planning out the beds for next year’s planting season. I had no idea there were so many varieties of dead nettle -definitely going to give a few a try. I like the idea of mixing a few varieties, especially the ones that did well in the Chicago trials (Album, Shell Pink and Red Nancy). Great article!

  14. A neighbor was digging this out of her yard one day and I asked if I could have a plant to try. She warned me that it can get invasive and that is why she was removing them. I planted it between my hosta’s and it looks great. I did not realize there are so many varieties. I think I have the Beacon Silver. I would like to try several others, maybe white and red Nancy. I think it would look good near my coral bells. I learned they have inconpicuous fruit and four nutlets and a seeded section. So far the deer ignore mine.

  15. I learned that the expensive little pots of Lamium I’ve been buying for window box planting every summer are actually perennials, and I’ve been composting them with the annuals at the end of the season! I am excited about trying them out in gardens with hostas and other partial shade areas. (Yes, I feel kind of dumb!)

  16. I ripped a considerable amount of this out of my garden as it spreads quickly and later regretted doing so. It was one of the few plants growing successfully near a number of Black Walnut trees. After reading the article, I learned that another area where it was scarce was perhaps too wet.

  17. this looks like a great addition to the natural areas of my yard which have a combination of trees, wild flowers and shrubs. At the edges these areas have enough sunlight, good soil and medium moisture. It could provide a transition from the natural to the lawn. How nice to find a plant that spreads easily but can be managed so it doesn’t become invasive. Also there is a nice selection of foliage and flower colors.

  18. I like the idea of using it along with spring bulbs to cover up the dying off spring flowers.
    It has grown well in poor soil conditions, which I have observed at various gardens.

  19. Have also had this, though tends to ‘die’ out over few years. Had not realized perhaps have it in too much sun. Now have better place to move some of it to. Thank you for the great article.
    Ann

  20. I learned there are indeed, many more types of Dead Nettle than the four that I currently have. They are so easy and I have a woodland garden with many hostas, and ferns, goatsbeard, and ligularia. The deadnettle expands to fill in between beautifully. It is now going strong under our 75 year old lilacs which edge that garden. If it spreads over my path , it is easy to pull out what is in the way, and the plant just keeps on. I have White Nancy, Purple Dragon, Anne Greenaway and Beacon Silver.. and now looking for Red Nancy!

  21. Dead nettle is grown by my neighbor and is not my favorite as it spreads everywhere in my garden. I have used “goldilocks” as a filler in pots before but never considered deadnettle. It will be an interesting addition next year. I had no idea that there were so many varieties. I have a new appreciation for it.

  22. I have some of this but I never knew what it was. I am amazed at how many varieties there are. Now I am going to have to find out which one I have.

  23. Very informative! I had received some of this from a friend to plant in my hosta bed to use as weed control- and it works very well- but didn’t really know any information about it. I did know that it spread prolifically and obviously “liked” the spot I chose for it. Now I know why! The soil conditions are really quite perfect for my variation of deadnettle (which I believe to be the “White Nancy” variety). The hints for containing the plant and maintaining them are very helpful, as I was having a little trouble keeping it in the boundaries I wanted.

  24. Interesting to realize that there are so many varieties and with different shape, color and flowers. No room in my garden but wil remember when asked for a plant of this type.

  25. I have seen dead nettle ground cover but did not know it by name. I have a shady spot with cinnamon ferns and this will b a bright spot in early spring and summer.

  26. I was looking for a low-maintenance durable ground cover for my ill older brother’s landscape.. I think this will work well…The bloom time from late spring to early summer will be a good start to the growing season. The fact that the flowers are a good early nectar source for pollinators is a great bonus. I learned that I should avoid the White Nancy cultivar since my focus area is more sunny than shady. After learning about all the cultivar colors, I think I will find those that contrast, to provide more interest for my brother–who is in no way interested in taking care of his yard– that falls to me! Cultivars Album with dark green leaves, Chequers and Pink Nancy sound like a nice grouping of contrast and color. The leaf shapes are different, too.
    I also learned a new use for it in my own yard, filling in between other taller perennials, such as my hosta and bleeding heart, and astillbe.. It’s good that it doesn’t attract deer and rabbits, too.
    Good article!
    –Jean Burgess, La Crosse County, Bluff County Master Gardeners.

  27. I have been growing this for many years, using it as a filler along with “candy tuft” under a magnolia. Tree leaves are dark green. The contrast under the tree with the almost silver leaves, light pink blooms from “Pink Nancy’, the white flowers of the sweet woodruff with the yellow/green leaves is great. Returns every season without effort. I do rake the dead growth of the sweet woodruff. But the “Pink Nancy” fills in rapidly voids in the cover. In the early spring this area is punctuated with the blue flower of the Scintilla arriving seasonally courtesy of the squirrels. All the magic of gardening with the assistance of Mother Nature.

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