CSU Extension: “Tough Ground Covers” by Horticulture Agent, Linda Langelo
Every year Plant Select choses new plants to introduce into the program because they are durable. They hold up under our Colorado extreme weather conditions. The Plant Select Program has a diversity of various plants such as trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, and ground covers.
In 2019 Plant Select introduced a hardy ground cover called Indigo Blue Dragonhead, Dracocephalum ruyschiana. This plant reaches a height of 14 to 16 inches when in flower. The flowers are a vivid blue. This plant seems to be a low-maintenance plant with its low to medium water requirement and its ability to tolerate a wide range of soil types. However, it can be planted in a dry meadow or rocky garden. If you have a perennial bed with other drought tolerant plants, place this in the front border.
Another hardy ground cover is Pink Cotton Lamb’s Ear, Stachys lavandulifolia. This plant will turn heads. It is not like the Lamb’s Ear that you are used to seeing. The foliage on the plant has narrow, glossy green leaves with flossy clusters of pink trumpets all over the flower stalk. Surprisingly, it is a slow creeping matted plant again unlike the Lamb’s Ear which is more prevalent in our gardens. When in flower it reaches ten inches in height and about a foot wide. It would make a wonderful addition to any garden for a spring blooming show which goes into early summer. As an added benefit it is found to be resistant rabbits and deer. According to Plant Select, this perennial is “a superior selection of a Turkish wildflower for the front of the garden border, or in a xeriscape garden.”
In 2020, Summer Frost Pink Candy, Stachys lavandulifolia ‘P020S’ is a sport of Pink Cotton Lamb’s Ear. However, this plant is a silver leaved form with more delicate looking leaves with more texture. This plant will grow to be ten inches in height when in flower in spring and spread to 18 inches wide. This plant likes sand or loam soil. Its water requirements are medium to low.
All these ground covers need full sun. Place them near plants that have similar or the same water requirements. They can be accents or borders, around steppingstones or even replace grass in challenging landscape areas.
Along with the traditional Lamb’s Ears, these introductions are great pollinator plants. Bees and hummingbirds go after the nectar. Honeybees are a frequent visitor to Lamb’s Ear. But now, another bee has moved in called the European wool carder bee. According to Oregon State University they have been recently detected in the western states. According to Kathy Keatley Garvey in her blog article “They’re not sheepish on the Lamb’s Ear” at UC Davis, “European wool carder bees (Anthidium manicatum). The females card the fuzz from the soft, silvery-gray leaves for their nests. Both the males and females sip nectar from the blossoms.”