Lady’s mantle: A perennial plant with alchemical secrets

Lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis, is an appealing ornamental perennial in my shade borders, especially after rainfall, when the leaves retain droplets of water.

Cultivating lady’s mantle as a perennial offers the joy of its long-lasting presence and the convenience of a plant that comes back year after year. Its delicate, scalloped leaves and charming, frothy yellow-green flowers make it a great addition to the front of any mixed border.

The name lady’s mantle refers to the scalloped edges and pleated texture of the leaves resembling the cloak or mantle worn by medieval noblewomen.

Here are some key aspects to consider when growing lady’s mantle as a perennial.

Location and soil

Lady’s mantle thrives in partial shade to full sun, depending on your climate. It is renowned for its excellent hardiness. It is a robust perennial plant that can thrive in a wide range of climates and conditions. Generally, Alchemilla mollis is considered hardy in USDA hardiness zones 3-8. This means it can withstand temperatures as low as -40°F (-40°C) in Zone 3..

It appreciates some protection from the intense afternoon sun in hotter regions. When choosing a location, ensure the soil is well-drained, as excessive moisture can lead to root rot. However, it can tolerate a variety of soil types, including clay, loam, and sandy soil. Heavy clay soil should be amended with organic matter to improve drainage.

It is important to note that extreme heat and prolonged periods of high humidity may cause the plant to struggle and reduce its vigor.


Leaves of Alchemilla mollis
Alchemilla in bloom in the border

Lady’s Mantle can be planted either in the spring or fall, depending on your region and the availability of plants or seeds. If starting from seeds, sow them directly into the prepared soil or start them indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost date. The seeds should be covered lightly with soil and kept consistently moist until germination occurs, usually within two to four weeks. If planting nursery-grown plants, dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball and space them about 12 to 18 inches apart.

Lady’s mantle typically grows to a height ranging from 12 to 18 inches. However, in optimal growing conditions, it can sometimes reach a height of up to 24 inches. The plant’s compact and mounding habit contributes to its overall height, making it an ideal choice for borders, edging, or as a ground cover in garden beds.

Watering and maintenance

Once established, Lady’s Mantle is relatively low-maintenance. While it appreciates consistent moisture, it is important not to overwater, as the plant can be susceptible to root rot. Watering when the top inch of soil feels dry is usually sufficient. Mulching around the base of the plant helps retain moisture and suppress weed growth. Deadheading spent flowers will encourage further blooming and maintain a neat appearance.


Flowers of Alchemilla mollis

Lady’s Mantle can be propagated through both seeds and division. Alchemilla mollis has the remarkable ability to self-sow, gracefully spreading its presence throughout the garden. While this can be beneficial for naturalizing and creating charming displays, it is important to exercise control and manage its growth to prevent overcrowding.

I have one mother plant that I allow to spread its seeds, and I consider this patch my personal nursery for baby Lady’s Mantle plants.

Seeds can also be collected from the plant after flowering and stored for planting in the following season.

Division is best done in early spring or early fall. Gently dig up the plant, ensuring you retain a good portion of the root system. Divide the clump into smaller sections, making sure each section has adequate roots. Replant the divisions, spacing them appropriately, and water thoroughly.

Pest and diseases

Lady’s mantle is relatively resistant to pests and diseases. However, it’s always a good practice to keep an eye out for common garden pests like aphids and slugs. If infestations occur, organic pest control methods such as insecticidal soaps or physical barriers can be used. Providing adequate airflow around the plant through proper spacing and avoiding excessive moisture can also help prevent diseases like powdery mildew.

Lady’s mantle is often considered to be deer-resistant. While no plant can be guaranteed to be completely immune to deer browsing, Alchemilla‘s hairy and slightly bitter leaves are typically unpalatable to deer.

Winter care

Lady’s Mantle is generally hardy and can withstand colder temperatures.

One of the remarkable features of Alchemilla mollis is its ability to retain its lush green foliage throughout the winter season. While many plants lose their leaves or turn brown during the colder months, lady’s mantle stands out with its evergreen presence.

However, in areas with harsh winters, it is not uncommon for the leaves of lady’s mantle to turn brown or even die back entirely. While the plant is generally considered hardy, severe cold temperatures and harsh weather conditions can cause some leaf damage. Once the leaves have turned brown or dried up, it’s best to prune the plant back in the spring to about 2-3 inches above ground level. This helps remove the dead foliage and encourages fresh growth. With the onset of warmer temperatures, Alchemilla mollis will often regrow and produce new foliage. Once new growth appears, you can resume regular care and maintenance practices for the plant.

A layer of mulch around the base of the plant can provide extra protection. Mulching helps insulate the roots and prevents heaving caused by freeze-thaw cycles.

Lady’s mantle: A plant with a historical connection to the mystical arts and medicine

The genus Alchemilla belongs to the rose family, Rosaceae. While its precise origin is not definitively known, the plant is believed to have originated in Europe and parts of Asia. Its latin name derives from the Arabic word Alkemelych, meaning alchemy. The plant’s historical roots can be traced back to the medieval period when alchemists believed that Alchemilla possessed magical properties. It was believed to have the power to unlock hidden knowledge and secrets of the universe.

In ancient folklore, Alchemilla was often associated with the mythical realm of fairies and elves, believed to be their favorite plant. Its delicate leaves, covered in dewdrops, were thought to capture and hold the essence of the morning sun, imparting a sense of magic to the plant.

old illustration of lady's mantle- wikimedia commons

Beyond its mythical reputation, Alchemilla is treasured for its remarkable medicinal properties. Traditionally used in herbal medicine, this plant contains a variety of active compounds such as tannins, flavonoids, and salicylic acid, which contribute to its healing effects. Alchemilla has been used to alleviate menstrual disorders, promote wound healing, and ease digestive issues. Additionally, it is renowned for its astringent and anti-inflammatory properties, making it an excellent choice for skin care products, helping to tighten and tone the skin, reduce inflammation, and promote a youthful complexion. As with all herbals, I recommend extra caution and research should you want to use Alchemilla for these properties.

In conclusion, lady’s mantle is a delightful perennial herbaceous plant that can bring a touch of elegance and magic to any garden.

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