Since I have a weird name, I don’t hold eclectic common names against plants. Consider deadnettle (Lamium maculatum), also called spotted deadnettle. The “dead” seems to make this plant a nonstarter, but it only indicates that the plant doesn’t sting like other types of nettle.
Spotted deadnettle is a wonderful plant for filling in empty shade beds with its small, speckled leaves. It blooms in late spring for several months, offering lovely flowers in shades of purple, white and pink.
Growing Deadnettle in Shade
Deadnettle is tops in my book as a perennial shade plant. It spreads by rhizomes to fill an empty shady bed, keeping down the weeds. Its variegated leaves are very attractive, green with a silvery aspect as if viewed by moonlight. And it really does thrive in areas that get little sun. Would I plant deadnettle if the species grew in sun rather than shade? I’m not sure I would choose it over bright flowers like California poppies and the million kinds of sage that make my hummingbirds happy. But as a shade plant, it really has minimal competition.
Deadnettle plants are creepers, the stems that grow those silvery leaves tiptoeing along the soil, putting down roots every so often. In time, you’ll have a magic carpet of shimmery green leaves, with plants rising to a foot tall and spreading twice or three times that distance. If you have a problem area you’d like covered, deadnettle is fully up to the task of serving as a handsome groundcover, and will even naturalize in some areas. Note that if you have the type of garden where every plant has a certain allotted space and needs to stay in it, deadnettle might not be for you. But I’m a fan of misbehaving plants and don’t mind at all.
The other thing I love about spotted deadnettle plants is how little care they take. They like a soil that is well-drained and acidic, which happens to define the soil in my gardens in both San Francisco and France. I work in organic compost before planting in California, given the high sand content. Planted in full shade, they don’t need much water at all to thrive. They’ll also grow in partial shade, but the more sun they get, the more water they need.
I love the species plant, but have also tried a few cultivars for different foliage effects. ‘Orchid Frost’ has leaves with silver centers and green edges, while the leaves of the ‘Ghost’ cultivar are extra large and almost entirely silver.