Ballota flowers

A small genus of low-growing herbaceous perennials and sub-shrubs, mainly grown for their attractive foliage. The rounded hairy leaves and stems provide a green/silvery-grey effect. The nectar rich summer flowers are attractive to bees.

Family: Labiatae (Mint)
Botanical Name: Ballota
Common Names: False dittany, shrubby horehound

Foliage: Evergreen, rounded, white hairy green leaves. Aromatic.

Flowers: Whorls of lilac-pink, 2-lipped flowers at the stem tips.

Flowering Period: Summer.

Soil: Moist but well-drained, poorish soil (chalk, sand or loam). Acid, alkaline or neutral pH.

Conditions: Full sun in a west or south facing aspect.

Habit: Bushy.

Type: Tender Perennial.

Origin: Mediterranean region and North Africa.

Hardiness: Moderately hardy in the UK, except in severe winters.

Planting and Growing Ballota

Plant in spring or autumn. Thrives in a light free draining soil in full sun. Tolerates alkaline soils. Shelter from cold winds and provide good drainage.

Suitable as a border plant in mild and coastal regions. Treat as a tender plant in cold districts and protect from severe frosts.

Suitable for scree and gravel gardens or raised beds.

Good drought tolerance once established.

Taking Care of Ballota

In very cold regions the plants can be lifted and potted up in September, then over-wintered under glass.


Cut branches back by a third or more just before growth starts in mid-spring. This will keep the plant tidy and encourage fresh colourful foliage.

Pests and Diseases

Susceptible to attack by leafhoppers.

Propagating Ballota

Take cuttings of short, non-flowering side-shoots in July-August, and root in a propagator. Alternatively, sow seeds under glass in April, in pots of well-drained seed compost.

Varieties of Ballota

Ballota pseudodictamnus (RHS Award of Garden Merit) is a compact low growing sub-shrub with soft lax woody stems and rounded hairy leaves. Whorls of lilac-pink flowers in July. Height 1 to 2ft (30-60cm), spread 2-3ft (60-90cm). Available from Burncoose Nurseries.

Ballota acetabulosa is a daintier form with whiter woolly hairs on leaves. Available from Beth Chatto's.

Ballota nigra (black horehound, Stinking roger) is an pungent, rotten smelling herbaceous form with nettle-like leaves, commonly found growing in hedgerows and waste ground in the UK.