Dead nettle is a valuable shade-loving, perennial ground cover that will quickly spread out and fill in an area of ground that may stay bare except for weed growth. In sheltered areas of your yard or warm regions, dead nettle can be an evergreen. In other places, depending on the environment, it’s very likely you’ll get herbaceous, semi-evergreen plants. Both the foliage and flowers will make a welcome impact on the landscape, and Lamium is part of the mint family. This gives you a welcome hint to how tough it is.
However, we’re going to be honest with you. Dead nettle is one garden plant that is an amazing addition to your yard, until it isn’t. The promise with this plant is that it’s a very fast-growing ground cover or pretty container plant that will brighten up any shaded spots in your yard and produce stunning flowers. However, this plant is also an opportunist. So, if you leave it unchecked, it can become invasive and unsightly.
We’ll outline all of this for you below.
Dead nettle is a pretty ground cover that does require regular pruning to control the growth and ensure that it doesn’t take over your space.
Dead Nettle Caution
In the mint family, there are 50 Lamium species, and they’re commonly called dead nettles because the leaves look like stinging nettles without the ability to sting. In mild climates, this virtually evergreen plant is a very low creeper, and some cultivars can mound. Since it’s a member of the mint family, it has square stems, an aggressively spreading habit, and toothy-edges leaves.
Most people grow dead nettle for the two-toned foliage, and it can be marked with splashes or frosted. During late spring or early summer, this plant can surprise you with small flowers that look like snapdragons, and they come in colors ranging from pink or white to purple.
Now for the cautionary tale. There is one aggressive variety of dead nettle called Lamium galeobdolon ‘Variegatum’ that you have to be careful with. If you don’t keep it in check, this plant will take over every unoccupied space in your garden or yard and be a nightmare to take back out. The only way to get rid of it is to dig out the rhizomes. You don’t want to be fooled by the pretty yellow flowers or the silver-streaked foliage, this plant embodies the mint family’s reputation as an invasive plant.
Overview of Dead Nettle
|May to June
|Dead nettle or spotted dead nettle
|Purple, mauve, white, or pink, depending on the cultivar
|Four to eight
|Between 3 and 12 inches tall, and the width is two to three times this
|West Asia, North Africa, and Europe
|Perennial life cycle but herbaceous in cooler climates
|Well-drained with average fertility and moisture needs
|Partial to full shade
Popular Types of Dead Nettle
There are several popular types of dead nettle that you can plant in your yard and enjoy year after year, and they include but are not limited to:
- Album – This plant has dark green leaves with slightly silver coloring in the center with pretty white flowers. The Chicago Botanical Garden field trial of these plants ranked it highly.
- Anne Greenaway – You’ll get tricolored leaves that are dark green on the edges with a chartreuse hint. The leaves have a light silver streak down the center with light purple flowers.
- Beacon Silver – The silver gray leaves on this plant have thin green edging, and it’ll produce dark purple flowers. It was first introduced in 1976 by Beth Chatto.
- Beedham’s White – The bright yellow foliage on this plant has white flowers and white stripes, but it’s not as hardy as other cultivars. It can have an issue with winter die out in most soil conditions.
- Chequers – This vigorous dead nettle variety has green leaves with a thicker silver stripe down the center, and it produces dark pink flowers.
- Cosmopolitan – Walters Gardens introduced this miniature Shell Pink cultivar, and it has virtually all-silver, very small leaves. The compact habit makes it very useful in containers as it won’t overtake anything else you plant in the container.
- Orchid Frost – You’ll get greenish-blue leaves with a silver midvein, and the flowers are a pretty orchid-pink. Supposedly, it’s more resistant to foliar diseases and vigorous than other cultivars.
- Purple and Pink Chablis – These plants have greenish-silver leaves with a dark green edging and light pink or lavender-purple flowers.
- Purple Dragon – This plant offers bigger purple-pink flowers than most types of dead nettles you can buy, and it has smaller silver leaves with a wide green edge.
- Red Nancy – The deep pinkish-purple flowers sit way above the foliage with this dead nettle, and it offers silver leaves with thin green margins and reddish stems. It’s one of the best performers in terms of flowering and longevity.
- Shell Pink – As the name suggests, this plant has clear pink blossoms. The Chicago Botanical Garden named this cultivar one of the best performers with green leaves and silver striping foliage. It was the only plant in the dead nettle category to secure a five star rating.
- White Nancy – As the name suggests, this dead nettle has silvery white leaves with thin green margins and white flowers. The foliage will scorch if you plant it in full sun, and it’s not as invasive as other cultivars.
There are several dead nettle cultivars available, and some are much more aggressive than others if you don’t take the time to prune them back.
How to Grow Dead Nettle
Dead nettle stays relatively short, and most cultivars top out at below a foot tall at full maturity. However, the pretty variegated foliage will easily spread out two or three times the plant’s height. Spotted dead nettles are usually grown for the silvery leaves over the flowers, but the flowers can be stunning too. Some leaves will turn back to an all-green coloring, and you want to prune these leaves out so the green color doesn’t take over the variegated plant.
Having a tendency to spread and being a creeper, dead nettles are classic cottage garden plants and flowering ground covers. They are very valuable to fill in shady spots, and this is a condition many plants can’t thrive in. The silvery coloring on the foliage makes them a good fit for any landscape design that incorporates a creative color scheme. If you’re after companion plants for it, go for other shade-loving plants. Depending on the landscaping needs, the following could work well:
- Barrenwort (Epimedium)
- Hosta species
- Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis)
Where they touch the soil, the roots on the stems allow dead nettle to spread. Eventually, they’ll form a thick mat, and some plants will naturalize to certain areas. This is fantastic if you need to cover a bare spot with a ground cover, but it’s not great if you’re trying to grow them in a more crowded area where you need a well-behaved plant. So, you need to be very careful about where you plant it and how much time you have to devote to pruning and maintaining it.
Choosing a Location
Dead nettle will tolerate some sunlight, but it does best when you plant it in full to partial shade. In full sun in hot climates, the leaves wither and become scorched and brown. You’ll need an area that drains well for the soil, and the soil should be more on the acidic side to keep the plant happy.
You want to space your plants a foot apart. Even though they seem small, these plants will quickly spread. In mild climates and in moist soil, it can quickly become invasive. You should cut it back in the summer if it is trying to take over your garden. Another option you have is to remove some of the plants every few years. When you take the time to control dead nettle in this manner, it’s a beloved, well-behaved member of your garden.
During the spring months, sprinkle fertilizer on the soil around your dead nettle clumps and allow the rain to help it soak in. Don’t allow the fertilizer to touch the foliage or stems. During the middle of summer, you can dilute a liquid fertilizer on all of the foliage to give the plant a boost. You don’t want to overfeed this plant because this opens the door to disease issues and encourages excessive growth. Adding compost should be enough because dead nettle doesn’t need rich soil. Manure tea is another option if you can’t work the compost into the soil.
Fertilizers can give your plants a boost to encourage strong growth all season long.
Grow dead nettle in partial to full shade. They don’t need a lot of water when you grow them in full shade. In fact, this aspect along with the plant’s deer resistance, makes them a popular choice for anyone needing a low-maintenance landscaping option. They are one of the best shade perennials you can buy.
As a general rule, groundcovers do well with mulch only when you first plant them and before they spread out to cover the soil. Adding a thin layer of chopped leaves, shredded bark, wood chips, or organic material for young plants helps get them off to a strong start. Mulch will discourage the weeds, keep the soil cool and moist, and add nutrients as it decomposes.
Put your dead nettle in well-drained, acidic, and loamy soil to keep it happy and thriving. If you have a clay-based soil, you’ll want to mix compost in to increase the drainage and ward off diseases.
Temperature and Humidity
This plant has a broad humidity and temperature range that it’ll thrive in, but it doesn’t do very well in humid, wamr locations. It prefers cool and moist environments.
When you grow dead nettle in a shaded space, it won’t need a huge amount of water. In fact, natural rainfall can give it all of the water it needs. Since it’s a ground cover, it doesn’t need nearly as much water as grass will, and it makes it a solid choice for anyone who is looking for an addition to the low-maintenance garden.
But, if it hasn’t rained in a long time, you will need to water it. If you plant them in a sunnier location, it’ll need watering once a week to keep the soil moist. More frequent watering sessions are needed to give enough moisture, and it will keep the plant cool during the scorching summer heat. Lower humidity will lead to yellowing leaf edges. In winter, this plant grows very slowly and doesn’t require a lot of water, so you can cut back on how much you water. Keep the soil well-drained, especially during winter and rainy days as soggy soil can cause root rot.
Propagating Dead Nettle
If you want to multiply the number of dead nettle plants you have, there are several methods you can use. These methods include:
- Cuttings – Snip off a six-inch piece of the plant and strip off the lower leaves. Dip the bottom of each cutting in a rooting medium and put it in perlite or moist sand in a pot or cup. Cover the plant with a plastic bag and water it to keep it moist. Within a few weeks, your dead nettle plant will start to develop roots. At this point, you want to carefully replant it outside in another pot in a potting soil.
- Division – Gently dig up your dead nettle plant in the spring or fall before separating it. Replant your divisions at a minimum of six inches apart.
- Stem Layering – All you have to do is push a stem that is still attached to the mother plant down into the ground and cover it with soil until you only see a tip. The tip will grow into a new plant.
How to Dry Dead Nettle
We’re going to outline several things you can use dead nettle for, and many of them require that you dry the plant first. To dry dead nettle, you:
- When there is no dew or rain on the plants, gather it up
- Turn each piece upside down and tap or shake it against your hand. This will dislodge the ants inside of the plant.
- Bring the dead nettle inside and spread them out in a single layer over a paper towel or clean dish towel.
- Let them air dry for several days until they’re completely dry.
- You can also dehydrate them by putting them in your dehydrator at 95 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit for one to four hours.
Drying plants is one way to make them last longer, and it allows you to use them in a huge range of projects.
Uses for Dead Nettle
There are several uses for dead nettle plants, and this can help add to the reasons why you may want to have this plant in your garden. Some popular uses include:
Edible Spring Food
You can eat purple dead nettle fresh, use it in pesto, or sprinkle it in salads. The fresh leaves can taste like a cross between overcooked green beans and spinach, so you may want to use them sparingly. Also, watch out for ants as they like to hide inside of the plant. When you pick it, make a point to turn it upside down and tap it to dislodge any ants before you bring it inside.
Steeping dried plants or herbs in oil will create a nice infused oil that you can then use to create lotions, balms, salves, and much more. To make an infused oil using dead nettle, you’ll need twice as much oil as a crumbled, dried plant. You:
- Fill your glass canning jar with ½ or ¼ dried, crumbled up dead nettle plant. You can also mix in other herbs like yarrow or calendula, depending on your end product goals.
- Fill the jar to the top with the oil you picked out and stir it. Apricot kernel oil will give you a slightly lighter feel, but sunflower or olive oil can both work well for most skin types. It’s also possible to mix oils.
Melt & Pour Soap Colorant
Dead nettles will lend a greenish-yellow or pale green color when you infuse it with a meltable soap base. To do this, you’ll need a few items, including:
- 1/4 tsp water
- 1/8 cup chopped fresh purple dead nettle
- 4 oz white melt and pour soap base
Put your dead nettle in the bottom of a half-pint container or canning jar, or a similarly-sized heat proof vessel. Add ¼ teaspoon of water and fill the jar using a soap base. If you want to jumpstart the infusing process, you can microwave your jar for 20 seconds until the soap starts melting. Next, put your jar down into a smaller saucepan with a few inches of water. Cover the jar with a lid and let it infuse for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the soap starts to take on a green coloring.
Remove the jar from the heat and pour the soap base through the strainer into your silicone soap molds. Once it cools and hardens, remove it from the mold and wrap it in an airtight plastic wrap until you’re ready to use it.
Poultice for Insect Bites or Small Wounds
If you’re out in the yard or garden and you get bit by an insect like a mosquito and it starts to itch, dead nettle can help. All you have to do is chew up leaves of certain plants and apply them as a poultice to ease the itching, sting, or slow the bleeding. Plantain leaves are very commonly used as a green weed that’s great for this, as is yarrow. You can add purple dead nettle to this list. All you have to do is grab a few leaves, chew them, and apply the leaf pulp to the area.
Stinging nettle is used to prepare people for seasonal allergies. Purple dead nettle isn’t the same as stinging nettle, but it’s commonly used to help alleviate your allergy symptoms. One way to use this dead nettle is to make a tea, but a tincture has a much shorter storage life. To make it, you’ll combine ¼ cup of dried nettle leaves with ½ of a cup of high-proof vodka. Shake it well and store it in a cupboard for a few weeks before you strain it, and make sure it’s out of direct light in a dry, cool area.
You should only need a few drops of this tincture at a time to help with allergies and inflammation, and you can combine it with local raw honey to make it easier to take. If you have medical issues, or you’re nursing or pregnant, you should check with your doctor before you use it.
Tinctures have a long history or use, and you can use them for everything from helping with inflammation to alleviating allergy symptoms.
Dead Nettle Pests and Diseases
This plant is usually pretty low maintenance, but snails and slugs can bother it as they thrive in the shaded, moist growing conditions. Let the soil dry out between watering sessions to discourage them from coming around.
Edema and Drowning
The most common disease gardeners run into with dead nettles is edema and drowning. This is caused by poorly draining soils and too much water. You can improve heavy clay-based soils with manure, compost, and peat moss before you plant your dead nettle. If the soil is extremely heavy, you should consider replacing it with commercial garden soil. Water the soil so it says slightly moist but not saturated.
Leaf spot is a fungal disease that can spread using rain or wind, and this makes it much more likely to develop during humid and hot conditions. Brown or yellow brown spots will appear on the leaves first before slowly starting to expand, and then black spots will quickly follow. Remove the infected leaves and spray the plant with a fungicide. Plant your dead nettle in a well-ventilated place with partial shade, and space the planets slightly farther apart than six inches. Make sure you prune them regularly, especially before the winter months.
This is a fungal disease that is very common during the wet, warm season. When it comes on your plants, you’ll see a white powder on the stems and leaves. You should remove and burn any infected parts of the plant as soon as you notice this coating. If it’s severe, you’ll need to spray with a fungicide, and pruning between the plants can encourage air circulation to make it less likely this disease will occur.
Reasons Dead Nettle Leaves Turns Yellow
There are several reasons why your dead nettle leaves can turn yellow, but the most popular ones include:
- Infections – Diseases and pests can cause withering and yellowing leaves. You should look at the plant to figure out which disease or pest is causing it and spray it with the correct chemicals to treat it.
- Insufficient Water – Most dead nettles need a moist growing environment, and the leaves will turn yellow from not enough water. Water the plant when the soil dries out, or consider misting the leaves to help increase the relative humidity.
- Over Watering or Over Fertilizing – Both of these things can lead to root rot, and this causes your dead nettle to not absorb nutrients correctly, and this can lead to leaf yellowing. You can cut off the rotten roots and disinfect the remaining roots before replanting.
- Too Much Sun – This plant prefers shade, and too much light can cause the leaves to lose their shine, curl up, and turn yellow. Keep it out of direct sunlight during the summer, give it shade, and transplant it in a well-ventilated, cool space.
Dead nettle can be a nice ground cover if you maintain it and prune it. It can produce flowers in the spring and summer months, but it’s usually prized for the foliage. Whatever you choose to use it for, you’ll get a thick ground cover that fills in your bare spots in your yard to make it look lush and healthy.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.