The Ajuga reptans group of low growing perennials has some interesting and colourful varieties in its midst – all with blue flowers held on short spikes above prostrate ground hugging foliage.
It is normally grown as a ground cover plant, and that is not to detract from the many other uses that this evergreen – or semi-evergreen – perennial has.
The dense carpet of foliage made up from pairs of ornate oval shaped leaves, rarely exceeds 2 – 3in (5 -7cms in height, but the erect flower spikes stand well above the foliage mat. The individual flowers on the spikes are tubular and ‘lipped’ and are set right round the flower stems in candelabra type whorls.
The carpet of flower spikes will put in an appearance in mid spring - through until end of summer.
Ajuga reptans is essentially a shade-loving plant, but will tolerate full sun also. The dense mat is formed by the rooting procumbent stems that creep along the ground – rooting into the earth as they ago.
Add a moist situation to shade or dappled shade, and you have the perfect growing environment for Bugles.
Most of the best garden varieties are from the original Ajuga reptans, which has freely sported some good varieties. Grow them well, and you are sure to see some variation in the foliage as they mature.
Bugles are happy to oblige in most garden situations, but avoid dry garden areas. In moist soils they will do well in full sun, but by far the best use is as ornamental groundcover at front of border or under shrubs. They will grow under trees providing the main requirement for a moist soil is met.
They are not a plant for on top of a dry wall.
Ajuga are good container or trough plants, and especially good for a bit of winter colour and interest from the assorted foliage types.
They are perfect for hanging baskets and window troughs on the shady side of the house, but they will need to be kept moist – not always possible in that type of area. (They do not like drying winds rushing down the dark side of the house!)
Plant them in the right environment as above, and they will repay you with cover and flower for many years. They are not ‘invasive’ as such. They simply creep steadily to take up whatever space is available.
As with most perennials, they tend to thin out in the centre areas over a few years. Periodic division and discard the bare steams that build up over time is the best way forward. If it is a fertile soil – and most semi-woodland areas are, then they will not require feeding, though if grown artificially in pots and troughs, then a weak liquid feed will keep the growth happening.
When planting – which can be done at any time of the year – give the plants a good soaking to get them settled in, and repeat this as necessary until established. Thereafter you need not fuss over them other than a good soaking if drying conditions.
The flower spikes are a big draw for flying insects – most of which are predatory so helpful to have buzzing about. The flowers obviously have a good store of what is considered ‘tasty’ by the bees and whatever. The shape of the flowers – tubular and slightly drooping – provide a good landing-pad for bees.
Propagation does not come any simpler than with Ajuga reptans. I used to grow them commercially on my nursery, and the method was so simple. As the growth start in early spring, it is possible to ‘harvest’ ready-rooted stem sections which are best potted and grown for a few months into pot-filling carpets of foliage. These rooted sections can be separated at any time of the year – other than mid-winter - to provide additional plants.
Powdery mildew in dry - or sometimes in ideal conditions – is the main problem. It is unsightly more than harmful, though if left unchecked, will eventually weaken the plants. Spray at first sign of the mildew – and do it in the evening after the insects have finished for the day.
In the spring, there will be inevitable slug damage to leaves, but they grow so fast that it is soon covered up.
The naming has become a bit confused, so best to pop to the garden centre and see the different foliage types growing in pots. Otherwise, and all with blue flowers
Ajuga reptans - the green-foliaged parent for the quickest of growth.
Ajuga reptans Atropurpureum – has dark bronze leaves, and there are several different forms such as ‘Black Scallop’; ‘Inkpot’ and the like
Ajuga reptans ‘Multi-colour’ or sometimes ‘Tricolor’ are good variegated types with white and red variegation.
Ajuga reptans Burgundy Glow is superb, and the name describes it well.
As stated, best to see them growing before choice!