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Dead Nettle: The Pretty Plant With the Ugly Name

By Teo Spengler ; Updated June 13, 2019
Dead Nettle: The Pretty Plant With the Ugly Name

A plant with an ugly common name needs lots of great qualities to become popular. Fortunately, the creeper called dead nettle (Lamium spp.) is chock full of features that attract gardeners. These perennials offer gorgeous two-toned leaves, thrive in partial shade, grow in almost any soil and are edible to boot. What more can you ask of a plant?

The Incredible Dead Nettle Plant

You'll find some 50 species of dead nettle plants in the world, and several are extremely popular with gardeners for their lush foliage and easy-growing ways. Are these plants in the nettle family? They are not, but their soft, toothed leaves resemble stinging nettle without the stinging feature, which explains the common name.

Dead nettle plants are in the mint family. They are vigorous, carefree mat-forming creepers, rarely growing above 10 inches tall. They grow readily in shady areas (partial shade to total shade) without requiring much care from a gardener. Many species have silvery leaves that light up darker areas of the garden, and some produce lovely, snapdragon-like blooms. While most dead nettles flower in spring, some blossom for longer periods in April through October.

Dead Nettle in the Garden

Few plants are easier to introduce into a garden than dead nettle. Since they don't need full sun, you can plant dead nettle beneath trees or in areas that get only a few hours of sun a day.

Dead nettle plants are considered weeds in some areas, rapidly filling disturbed fields with their foliage and flowers. This gives you an indication of how easy they are to grow. The plants require soil that offers good drainage to thrive, but otherwise, they aren't very picky. You don't have to worry about providing rich soil or fertilizer for them.

Uses for Dead Nettle Plants

If you are thinking of dead nettle ground cover, don't hesitate. It's a great use for these plants since they spread fast, filling in bare areas. They thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 10, which means pretty much anywhere in the continental United States.

You can also use dead nettle plants in containers as the "filler" or "spiller" plants. The heart-shaped leaves, in shades of purple or blue-green with silver, grow in on long petioles, draping charmingly over the edges of a pot or hanging basket.

You might consider planting purple dead nettle in the veggie garden, too. The leaves of these plants are edible, although you shouldn't eat the rest of the plant, such as the stem or roots. Some gardeners harvest young dead nettle leaf shoots to toss in salads, and they can be blended into smoothies, too. Dead nettle is also said to have many medicinal properties.

Favorite Dead Nettle Plant Species

Not all dead nettle plants are created equal, so take a little care with your selection. Both purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) and spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) are garden favorites. They offer purple or rose-colored blossoms (or, very rarely, white flowers) but are largely grown for the foliage. Look for these cultivars of spotted nettle for extra-special features:

One downside of dead nettle is that, like mint, these robust plants root and propagate very readily. That means that they can invade areas of the garden beyond their beds. One cultivar you may wish to avoid: Lamium galeobdolon ‘Variegatum'. It has pretty foliage and lovely yellow flowers, but is known to be invasive and difficult to get rid of once established.


About the Author


Teo Spengler is a docent with the San Francisco Botanical Garden and a staff writer with Gardening Know How. She has written hundreds of gardening and plant articles for sites like eHow Gardening, Gardening Know How and Hunker. She holds a JD in law from U.C. Berkeley, an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing.