It’s a weed

Arguing that bugleweed (Ajuga reptans, below) is not a weed, given its aggressive reputation, can be wasted effort. But, after two prior failed efforts in this garden when bugleweed was improperly sited and neglected early on, several areas now flourish, spreading vigorously but treading gently so as not to disturb neighbors. Now, I endorse it as a pleasant and practical choice to cover areas between shrubs or larger perennials in a shaded space, having seen none of the negatives for which bugleweed is disparaged.

The thinner, elongated leaf of ‘Chocolate Chip’ bugleweed between a hellebore and hosta. If it starts to spread a bit too far, the roots are a quarter inch deep and easily removed.

In this acre and a quarter garden where free hours for relaxation are demanded, open ground is an invitation to weeds, and to labor that I have never pretended to enjoy. Some gardeners set out benches, but claim always to be too busy to put them to use. There are several seating areas in this garden, and all are regularly used. Admittedly, these are often resting places between spurts of determined labor, but the balance overwhelmingly favors resting rather than working. And, bugleweed and other spreaders largely contribute to tipping the scales.

An unidentified, dark leafed bugleweed has spread in an area once shaded by a tall and wide spreading yew. The yew has recently been removed and the bugleweed is doing fine with several hours of direct sunlight. And, no weeds grow through it.
This was mail ordered as partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) in autumn, and received as dormant roots so it could not be identified until spring. Certainly, one of the hazards of mail order, but it’s worked out just fine.

Unfortunately, I have not discovered the plant to cover exposed ground in the damp, lower third of the rear garden that has been renovated in recent years. This area is sunny and often wet during rainy periods (and never dry), and until newly planted trees and shrubs mature, too much time will be spent managing weeds. Ideas to cover ground in this area are usually dismissed as too aggressive, though I am beginning to lean in the direction that aggressiveness is preferable to pulling weeds that are back two days later.

I am considering transplanting bits of cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias, above), moved at the last moment before being overrun by a seedling of ‘Espresso’ geranium, but into too shaded a spot where it has languished. Having witnessed the lacking of the spurge in battle with a geranium, I am probably too confident that it will not turn into the aggressive demon of its reputation. I am quite desperate, so it’s worth a try. Cypress spurge is quite lovely in bloom, but also with exceptional, lacy foliage. And, aggressive might be exactly what is needed for this damp, weed prone area.

This unintended mix of ‘Angelina’ sedum and Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) grows vigorously in part sun. The two come from separate plantings, and they’ve joined in the middle. A few weedy grasses occasionally poke through, but hardly anything worth mentioning.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Anne Kelly says:

    Greetings Dave and thank you for all of your posts, which I read faithfully. I was very glad to read this morning’s topic of dark leafed bugleweed. I planted about a dozen or two plugs of it about three years ago in our smallish yard. I’ve asked myself in the interim if I created a monster but I am pleased with the areas it covers which are only about 5% of the yard so far! I find the string edge trimmer does a fine job of eliminating unwanted encroachments. thank you again for so generously sharing your thoughts and beautiful garden!

    1. Dave says:

      If all weeds were as easily removed as the shallow roots bugleweeds I’d be a happy man.

  2. Jeane says:

    Liked seeing your post- I planted a few bugleweed in a shade area that needed filling in last fall, and I was pleasantly surprised how thickly it filled in. Now I wish for a few more varieties for other areas under trees- and the ‘chocolate chip’ one looks really attractive. I hadn’t seen one before with narrow leaves like that. Hope my nursery might have one someday.

    1. Dave says:

      Chocolate Chip is fairly common. Most garden centers should be able to order it in 3 1/2 or 4 inch pots, or in a gallon container that can be split in a handful more.

  3. tonytomeo says:

    bugleweed, which we know simply as Ajuga, never does well here. I really do not know why nurseries continue to sell it. We tried a bit of it, which was no my idea. It has been there for more than a year, but I do not know if I could find any.

  4. I envy your carpet of bugleweed! I planted a few dozen Chocolate Chip ajugas on a small berm in shade, after amending the soil, and it failed miserably. I have a couple of surviving small patches where I had envisioned a neat, low carpet of foliage and blue flowers that would save me from weeding. The possibly happy ending to my tale of woe is that the hardy begonias I planted nearby have leapt onto the berm and are seeding themselves madly all over and around it. They are in bloom now with their pink flowers, which are very pretty when massed. I do have to pull up their seedlings from other areas, but I just move them to the berm, where they are rapidly covering the soil and wood chips. I’ll see how it looks after our first frost, but I may have accidentally solved my groundcover problem.

  5. Jeane says:

    Thanks, I will definitely take a look next time I’m at my nursery, and ask if they can order some for me.

  6. Wish i knew about this article when i was younger. Maybe i could’ve convinced my mother that weeds can be grown as creatively and wonderfully as you show us here. I just cant help but laugh because i used to spend hours pulling tweeds out every time they grew back

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