Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Poor Little Lamb

This little lamb has lost its way...

Garden blogs are filled with beautiful photos, but it's not all sunshine and roses out there.

Here's a pic of lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina) looking terribly bedraggled by the end of winter. I wish I knew the best way to prune out the dead, disfigured foliage, which is intermixed with fresh, healthy leaves.

Should I just raze the whole thing to the ground? The foliage is so thick and deceptively tough that it's not easy to prune, even with a hedge clipper.

If I leave it alone, I know that eventually the new growth will camouflage the mess beneath, but then I worry that the mass of dead foliage will impede air circulation and water penetration.

UPDATE - I ended up removing lamb's ear from the garden. It looked beautiful from spring to autumn, but just awful in the winter. The dead foliage was persistent, so that after a while, even the fresh new foliage was growing on a mound of dead and decaying gunk underneath. In addition to the cultivar, I got the straight species, which spread much faster and had lovely flowers with a long bloom season that attracted lots of bumble bees. Unfortunately, the flowers led to a plethora of seedlings in the immediate vicinity of the mother plant. If the old foliage decayed completely over the winter and/or if the plant didn't spread so quickly, I might have kept it. It's rock solid in the heat and didn't seem to have too many problems with our humidity. But I just couldn't deal with the old foliage and its spreading ways. Plus it's a non-native. Plus I didn't like the scent of the crushed foliage when I did try to clean it up at the end of the winter. Yuck. So... I had to give it the heave-ho.
There are other evergreen or semi-evergreen perennials that don't look their best in Middle Tennessee by the end of winter. Ajuga reptans (bugleweed) comes to mind. But the damaged, dead and dying foliage of the low-growing bugleweed seems to disintegrate to the point where the build-up of rotting foliage doesn't cause the same aesthetic issues as with lamb's ear.
Meanwhile, Ajuga genevensis (Geneva bugleweed) may even put start putting out a few cheerful blue flowers at the beginning of March. A hint of things to come...