Over the past few weeks, the kids and I have enjoyed watching clusters of creeping, little purple flowers seemly plotting to take over the elderberry patch.
At first I was tempted to pull them up, but they were so pretty, and I’m beginning to wonder if leaving the “weeds” might even benefit my plants at times.
I’ve learned that the ground will heal itself by covering back up with growth when exposed; oftentimes these plants are wild edibles and medicinals.
If we would only take the time to learn what they are and how they might be used before we yank them out just for looks. So I left the sprawling plants to do as they pleased.
Last week I was at my mother-in-law’s house and I noticed that she had some of the same plant growing in her yard. I asked her if she knew what it was, and she said it was Ajuga.
I asked her if it was good for anything, but she didn’t know of any uses. When I went home later that day, I did a search online and learned some very interesting things about this pretty “weed”.
- Scientific name: Ajuga reptans (Creeping Bugleweed)
- Other Names: Ajuga, Bugle, Bugleweed, Blue Bugle, Bugleherb, Bugula, Carpenter’s Herb, Carpet Bugle, Carpet Bugleweed, Common Bugle, Middle Comfrey, Sicklewort
Note: There is another herb by the name of Bugleweed (Botanical Name Lycopus spp.), which has different uses and mustn’t be confused.
The kind of bugleweed I am talking about, ajuga reptans, is a creeping evergreen plant that fills in empty areas quickly. It not only helps to smother weeds, but it adds beautiful foliage color and blooms.
It helps with erosion control so it can actually make a wonderful cover crop during the off season of planting, too.
Normally, ajuga bugleweed contains blue or purple flowers, but I’ve heard that there are some white cultivars, too.
The evergreen foliage of this plant alone is enough to take your breath away, especially because it has copper colored hues at certain times of the year. There’s even a variegated form of this plant available if you like a more striped look!
Bugleweed works well at filling in oversized chunks of shady property – particularly where you’ve had a hard time growing a lawn – and also does well on slopes, banks, or around shrubs and trees.
It’s deer resistant and is one of the few plants that can grow in close proximity to black walnut trees, which are allelopathic to most other plants.
In the spring (usually May or June), bugleweed puts out gorgeous small blue flowers. The spikes rise to about ten inches tall.
Varieties of Ajuga Bugleweed
There are several types of ajuga bugleweed that grow wild as well as those that you can cultivate in your garden.
“Atropurpureum” is one that has bronze or purple foliage, while “Burgundy Glow” is one of the best options if you’re looking for that popular variegated look. “Black Scallop” has super dark leaves, as you might expect from the name, while “Dixie Chip” is another variegated version that can be found in pink, white, and green. “Chocolate Chip” has dark leaves, too.
Growing Ajuga Bugleweed
Ajuga bugleweed is a member of the mint family, so like all mint plants, it has a tendency to be somewhat invasive. Without the proper measures, it can easily become invasive!
Therefore, you will want to be careful and strategic about where you plant it. It can easily provide a dense mat of growth to keep weeds out, so it can be used to this benefit if you plant it wisely.
An easy way to keep ajuga bugleweed in check is to surround your garden beds with it. The plant will thrive in both shady and sunny locations. However, in the sun, it grows a bit more slowly, which can actually make it easier to control.
Moist soil is preferred, but the plant (like other mint plants) is tolerant of most conditions and can even handle a little bit of drought. In hot, humid areas, remember that your bugleweed will need plenty of good air circulation in order to prevent nasty fungal diseases, like crown rot.
In most cases, you’ll plant ajuga bugleweed from a started plant. You should space your plants about a foot apart and water deeply. Wait for a day long after the danger of frost has passed to plant.
Your planting holes should be roughly eight to fifteen inches apart and you need to loosen the roots before planting in the ground.
Then, just water when you notice that the first two inches of the soil is dry. Usually, this only needs to be every three to four weeks after the plant has been established. Thine very three years to prevent them from becoming overcrowded.
How to Care for Ajuga Bugleweed
Once they’ve become established, you don’t really need to do much of anything at all to care for your ajuga bugleweed. Unless the weather is really dry, this plant can handle itself just fine with a bit of rainfall. You don’t need to fertilize, either.
The plant is self-seeding. If you don’t want it to pop up all over the place – like mint does – you may want to deadhead it. This will reduce the seeds so you don’t have as many of these issues! You can also remove some runners, which will help keep this groundcover under control.
When you remove the runners, either lift them and point them in the right direction, discard them, or fully remove them and plant them elsewhere.
ou will likely want to divide this plant every few years anyway, which will prevent crown rot and overcrowding. Division should be done in the spring.
Sometimes, patches of ajuga bugleweed will die – seemingly at random. Don’t stress if this happens. It’s part of the natural cycle of the plant. Let the roots stay in the ground but remove the dead foliage. Sometimes the plants return the following year.
Fertilizing Ajuga Bugleweed
You really don’t need to fertilize your ajuga bugleweed – it should do just fine on its own!
However, if you really want to fertilize, you should do this in the spring. Use an all-purpose fertilizer or compost. Apply sparingly to avoid burning the plant.
You shouldn’t need to do anything to pollinate the plant, either. Both male and female flowers are found on the same plant and it will attract bees, moths, and even butterflies to your property!
Propagating and Pruning Ajuga Bugleweed
Ajuga bugleweed is shockingly easy to propagate. It reproduces with underground runners – also known as stolons – which develop in large, dense clumps around the original plant.
Once the clumps start to become noticeably crowded, you can remove them and transplant them wherever you’d like. Ideally, this should be done in the fall or early spring for best results.
When you do this, you will need to remove the entire original plant and clumps and then gently pull them apart by hand. You don’t need to keep all of them.
In fact, you should get rid of those that look brown, dying, or withered in any way – they won’t survive being transplanted. Then, plant your others in new locations.
If you don’t have a plant to work with, you can also propagate your ajuga bugleweed by seed. Do this indoors, utilizing pots filled with seed-starting soil.
Cover them with a thin layer of peat moss or compost and they should sprout within three to four weeks.
Once the seedlings emerge, go ahead and transplant them into larger containers. Once they are growing vigorously, they can be placed in the garden.
The plant can be pruned, too. This should ideally be done in the fall or spring and can be done just when you see the plant overwhelming the area it is growing in. Trim down to the base, but don’t remove all of the leaves on the plant.
You can harvest ajuga bugleweed in the late summer by cutting off the flower spikes. They will have turned brown by this point. You can also shear a large planting area with a lawnmower to get them cut down if you don’t particularly care about the harvest and just want to limit its growth.
Pests and Diseases
It’s tough to bring ajuga bugleweed down with anything – and that includes pests and diseases! In fact, it is more of a pest itself than it is a pest to other plants. You’ll have to be mindful about keeping it controlled in your planting area.
Otherwise, the only issue to be aware of is crown rot, also known as Southern blight. This disease strikes only in warm areas. This disease is caused by a fungus and can be prevented by ensuring well-draining soil.
They usually don’t attract mammals, like rabbits and deer. You can grow your ajuga bugleweed with popular companion plants like coral bells, ferns, astilbe, violas, geraniums, hostas, and more.
This oftentimes invasive perennial isn’t just any ordinary weed. It has been used throughout history to treat a good variety of ailments, including hemorrhaging, hangovers, bruises, sores, broken bones, throat irritations, mouth ulcers, and more.
According to Wikipedia, “Ajuga reptans herb has been used in traditional Austrian medicine internally as a tea for the treatment of disorders related to the respiratory tract.”
Bugleweed, as a plant, hasn’t been formally studied by medical researchers.
However, there is some evidence that this plant can be used to treat overactive thyroid syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, and other conditions related to the production of the thyroid hormone.
Some people believe it reduces the release of the hormone prolactin.
There’s even limited evidence suggesting that bugleweed can be used to help treat insomnia, breast pain, and nervousness. Talk about a diverse drug!
It’s believed to be unsafe to take during pregnancy or breastfeeding, though, so avoid it if you fall into one of these categories. This is because it interferes with hormone production.
Children should also not use bugleweed. Bugleweed is equally unsafe if you’re headed into surgery or you have diabetes.
Researchers aren’t sure what effects the plant might have, but since it’s believed to lower blood sugar, it’s best to steer clear in these situations, too.
Always check with your doctor if you intend to use a medicinal plant for treatment! It can sometimes interact with other medications you might be taking.
Otherwise, most studies show that bugleweed is probably safe at dosages of 100 to 400 milligrams a couple of times per day.
To consume it for a medical condition, you will want to steep a teaspoon or two of bugleweed eaves in a cup of hot water. Strain and drink it for relief!
If you’re fortunate enough to have Ajuga/ Bugleweed growing in your yard, consider allowing it to spread (or at least transplanting it where it won’t get in the way of your other plants).
It really is a beautiful ground cover. Plus, there’s nothing better than a wild edible or medicinal volunteering to grow in your yard. I love it when that happens!
updated 04/04/2020 by Rebekah White