Red Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Dead Nettle, Purple Archangel, Purple Dead Nettle, Purple Dead-nettle, Red Dead Nettle, Red Dead-nettle, Red Dead-nettle, Velikdenche

Purple dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum) is an herbaceous annual weed, commonly found in meadows, wastes, gardens, and at the edges of roads and woodlands. Though it appears similar to true nettles, purple dead-nettle gets its name because it does not have “live” nettle poison that harms the skin. It originated in Asia and prefers environments with full sun.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Lamium purpureum, known as red dead-nettle, purple dead-nettle, or purple archangel, is an annual herbaceous flowering plant native to Europe and Asia. Frequent in meadows, forest edges, roadsides and gardens.

Lamium purpureum grows with square stems to 5–20 cm (rarely 30 cm) in height. The leaves have fine hairs, are green at the bottom and shade to purplish at the top; they are 2–4 cm long and broad, with a 1–2 cm petiole (leaf stalk), and wavy to serrated margins.

The zygomorphic flowers are bright red-purple, with a top hood-like petal, two lower lip petal lobes and minute fang-like lobes between. The corolla shows a line of hairs near the base of the tube. They may be produced throughout the year, including mild weather in winter. This allows bees to gather its nectar for food when few other nectar sources are available. It is also a prominent source of pollen for bees in March/April (in UK), when bees need the pollen as protein to build up their nest.

It is often found alongside Henbit Dead-nettle (Lamium amplexicaule), which is easily mistaken for it since they both have similar looking leaves and similar bright purple flowers; they can be distinguished by the stalked leaves of Red Dead-nettle on the flower stem, compared to the unstalked leaves of Henbit Dead-nettle.

Though superficially similar to species of Urtica (true nettles) in appearance, it is not related and does not sting, hence the name “dead-nettle”.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight and temperature

Purple dead-nettle can be planted under shade, although it grows well in sunny locations too. However, if your garden experiences strong summer sunlight, shade purple dead-nettle. Otherwise, its leaves may dry out.

Purple dead-nettle is widely distributed in temperate and subtropical regions, and prefers warm conditions. Suitable temperatures for its growth are 16 to 25 ℃, while it can tolerate a low temperature of -34 ℃. Purple dead-nettle prefers moist conditions and can tolerate a certain degree of drought.

Watering

When growing in a shady place, purple dead-nettle does not need too much watering, as natural rainfall can provide all it needs. As a ground cover, purple dead-nettle requires much less water compared to grass, which makes it perfect for homeowners who are aiming at a low-maintenance garden.

However, if it hasn’t rained for a long time, you will need to provide it with additional water. For purple dead-nettle planted in sunny locations, watering once a week is sufficient to keep the soil moist. More frequent watering is needed to provide enough moisture, as well as help cool the plant in summer heat, as low humidity will lead to yellowing of the leaf edges. In winter, purple dead-nettle grows slowly and does not need much water, so you can reduce watering frequency. Keep the soil well-drained, especially during rainy days and in winter; otherwise the soggy soil may cause root rot.

Soil

Purple dead-nettle can grow in many types of soils. The optimal soil is loose, fertile, and well-drained. It prefers slightly acidic conditions, with a suitable soil pH of 6.0-7.0. Lime your garden soil if it is too acidic; similarly, if the soil is alkaline, use more organic fertilizer or soil conditioners, such as a gypsum-based one.

Fertilizing

Purple dead-nettle has little need for additional fertilizer and can grow in poor soil, although it grows better when nutrients are rich. Compost mixed into soil before planting is sufficient for its general needs. If your purple dead-nettle grows too slowly, apply some balanced fertilizer (N-P-K = 10-10-10) to improve it.

Planting Instructions

It is better to plant purple dead-nettle in summer or fall. Select a suitable place in your garden and dig 5 to 8 cm-wide holes to plant your seedlings. You can buy seedlings from a reputable gardening store. Do not plant too deeply, but plant them 8 to 10 cm apart, as purple dead-nettle spreads horizontally rather than vertically. After planting, cover the soil with mulch to reduce evaporation and keep the soil moist.

Pruning

To encourage purple dead-nettle to grow new branches rapidly, remove the top shoots either after blooming or before its growth in spring. If its branches get too dense, prune to one-third of its height in late summer. This can not only protect it from invasion of pests or disease, but also increases the air circulation and light exposure to make it grow healthier. Cutting the scapes promptly after blooming is also important to prevent mold and rot. Trim dried and diseased leaves and branches to reduce pests and diseases.

If you are growing a Lamium species or cultivar with spotted leaves, trim the leaves as soon as the spots fade away. Otherwise, all leaves will gradually turn green, reducing its ornamental value.

Propagation

You can propagate purple dead-nettle by cuttings in spring or fall. This is done by selecting a healthy branch, cutting the leaves at the bottom off, and burying 3/4 of the branch in the soil. To propagate via division, choose a vigorous individual, dig up the whole plant, divide it into clusters with a clean sharp knife, and plant them into soil. Propagation with seeds produced by your purple dead-nettle is not recommended, as the seedlings may not perform as well as parent plants.

Transplanting

The perfect time period to transplant purple dead-nettle is from late spring to early autumn (S3-S5) due to optimal growth conditions. The ideal environment for this plant is partial shade to full sun locations. A friendly tip: consider well-drained soil for a successful transplant.

Maintenance

Generally, purple dead-nettle is evergreen, but it may lose leaves if the temperatures get too high in summer or too low in winter. Thus, avoid strong light exposure in summer, and make sure purple dead-nettle has over 50% shade. After flowering in fall, apply frost protection in your garden, such as bark or straw mulch, or move your potted purple dead-nettle indoors before the early frosts arrive. Ensure good airflow between plants to avoid pests and diseases, and mist to cool it during heat.

III. Uses and Benefits 

  • Culinary uses

Young plants have edible tops and leaves, used in salads or in stir-fry as a spring vegetable. If finely chopped it can also be used in sauces.

Undyed, the pollen itself is a red color and is very noticeable on the heads of bees that frequent its flowers.

  • Medicinal uses

Folk herbalists use purple dead nettle in many herbal remedies. One of these is purple dead nettle salve that can be used on irritated, itchy, or sore skin.

  • Benefits

Soil Improvement: Purple dead nettle acts as a natural ground cover, protecting the soil from erosion and improving its structure. The plant’s root system helps prevent soil compaction and promotes aeration.

Nitrogen Fixation: Similar to other leguminous plants, purple dead nettle has the ability to fix nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form usable by other plants. This nitrogen fixation enhances soil fertility, benefiting neighboring plants.

Pollinator Attraction: The vibrant purple flowers of purple dead nettle serve as an excellent nectar source for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. By attracting these beneficial insects, it supports overall ecosystem health and promotes biodiversity.

IV. Purple Dead Nettle vs. Henbit

You might confuse purple dead nettle with its close cousin, henbit. Henbit, or Lamium amplexicaule, is also a winter annual weed. It’s common to see purple dead nettle and henbit growing side by side. Their flowers and leaves have slight variations that make them possible to distinguish from each other.

Henbit’s leaves are rounder, where purple dead nettle’s are triangular, with a purple hint near the top and a distinct fuzziness compared to henbit’s greener leaves. Henbit’s flowers are also a darker purple with a more tubular shape. Telling the two apart is not a priority for most garden and lawn owners — both are invasive weeds requiring prevention and elimination.

V. How to Get Rid of Dead Nettle

Despite your best efforts, purple dead nettle could still appear on your lawn — it’s a fast-spreading, resilient plant. If that happens, you’ll need to know how to get rid of dead nettle. A few different strategies can prove effective, including removal by hand and removal using herbicide. For the best possible results, consider hiring professional lawn care services to handle these strategies for you.

  • Remove by Hand

A common strategy for purple dead nettle control in lawns is to pull the weeds up by the roots and dispose of them. This option works well if you only have a few of the weeds on your lawn. Be sure to remove all pieces of the plant, as they can regerminate if given the chance.

  • Remove With Herbicide

If you have a widespread or persistent purple dead nettle infestation, you may need to use herbicides. A word of caution — some herbicides can have negative environmental impacts and can damage desirable plants and animals. It’s a good idea to seek a professional, organic weed control service. Weed control can be either pre-emergent, creating a shield against weed growth, or post-emergent, controlling sprouted weeds.

Red Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) Details

Common name Dead Nettle, Purple Archangel, Purple Dead Nettle, Purple Dead-nettle, Red Dead Nettle, Red Dead-nettle, Red Dead-nettle, Velikdenche
Botanical name Lamium purpureum
Plant type Perennial
Flower color Gold/Yellow
Leaf color Purple/Lavender