Saturday, December 15, 2012

Not Yet Native of the Week: Spotted Dead-Nettle

Purple Spotted Dead-Nettle  Lamium maculatum

When we first acquired what would eventually become the Home Bug Garden, two distinct floras were evident: the dying and the weedy. The Weeping Birch in front had been top-killed by the team effort of drought and Bronze Birch Borer. A couple of ever optimistic, but ratty, roses clung to life behind a spruce on the south wall of the house. A lilac, looking like an Edward Gorey sketch, scraggled in the backyard. The side fences needed replacing and the back fence had fallen down. This yard had seen better days, but some plants thrived.
Rose after a late April freeze - here, the best roses bloom in June
Most of the “lawn” was quackgrass, dandelions, and assorted weeds. Spotted Deadnettle smothered the front planter. A lawn of Lily-of-the-Valley filled the area between the east wall and the sidewalk. Goutweed and a Manitoba Maple choked the patch of clay between the driveway and the east fence. An unattractive lilac root-stock sprouted up from under the new garage pad. Creeping Charley covered the shaded edge of the west fence and Creeping Bellflower shot up spikes of purple blooms wherever the push-mower failed to lop it low enough. A couple dozen other official weeds scrambled to set seed here and there.
Creeping Charley - a bane in lawns, but not in a more natural garden
Eight years later, the weeds are still here, but except for the pernicious Creeping Bellflower, too rare and overwhelmed by the increased diversity and structure to be considered weedy. 
Up close, Glechoma hederacea (aka Creeping Charley, Ground Ivy, etc.)
Well, the Creeping Charley (Glechoma hederacea) is spreading. For years I mistook our Creeping Charlie for Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), a similar but larger and more aggressive ground cover.  Fortunately, the Garden Ms S at Gardening with Latitude questioned this assumption and discovered that Creeping Charley was the culprit. It does have a bad reputation. Google Creeping Charley and horror awaits, or maybe not
Creeping Charlie, Deer Mushroom & Manitoba Maple seedling
It seems most of the horror is that Charley creeps into lawns, is somewhat resistant to herbicides, and is too low-growing for the lawnmower. Having done away with our lawns, and not minding an attractive ground cover spreading over the decomposing mulch, I've decided Creeping Charlie is just fine. Its flowers are an early treat for pollinators, it's too low and open to inhibit other plants, and it makes an attractive ground cover in the moister and shadier spots in the backyard. In any case, Creeping Charley is now a naturalized part of the Flora of Alberta and much of the rest of North America, so it seems it is here to stay. 
Spotted Dead-Nettle among some early bulbs
I’ve also come to an accommodation with Spotted Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum). It’s much taller and more sprawling than Creeping Charlie, and spreads rather quickly in the right spots, but it is shallow rooted and fairly easy to control by hand weeding. Unlike Creeping Charley, Spotted Dead-Nettle is not yet naturalized in Alberta, but neither is it considered a significant weed where it is naturalized.
Spotted Dead-Nettle and rising tulips just after snow melt
I suspect that Spotted Dead-Nettle is not quite hardy here without protection. It's one of those plants that tries to keep its herbaceous above-ground stems and leaves alive over the winter. When the snow melts in the spring, this 'evergreen' is more wilted, red, and sorry-looking than green. Still, it's nice to see something alive in March or April, even if its is looking a bit haggard. The new leaves will be pleasant, the flowers pretty, and when they spread somewhere not wanted, they are easily pulled out.
Pink Panda and Spotted Dead-Nettle in March

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