The Complete Guide to Growing Pulmonaria

Written by Hannah Miller. Reviewed and Fact Checked by Elizabeth Smith. Published to Spring Plants. Updated: 21st February 2023.

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Pulmonaria, also known as lungwort, is an underused but rewarding perennial from the Boraginaceae family and is a cousin of the more popular forget-me-not.

Low growing and a very early bloomer, pulmonaria performs best in a woodland or sheltered setting with full or partial shade and moist, free-draining soil.

I experimented by growing this plant for winter colour, this is what you can expect:

  • Late winter and early spring colour.
  • Easy to grow and requires little care.
  • Suitable for north and east-facing gardens.
  • Bee-friendly – one of the few early-season plants that produce nectar.
  • Attractive and unusual foliage.
  • Will multiply naturally.

Size

Height: Up to 35cm (14″)

Spread: Up to 45cm (18″)

Notes: Clump forming

Type

Type

Semi-evergreen hardy perennial

Growth icon

Growth

Moderate growth rate. Time to max size: 3-4 years

Difficulty

Easy to grow, even for beginners

Native

Central and Eastern Europe

Location

Best in sheltered locations. Woodland, under tree canopy, under large shrubs

Sunlight

Partial shade, full shade

Hardiness

US zone 3-9 and hardy in all parts of the UK

Water & Feed

Pulmonaria prefers moist soil and will struggle in dry or hot conditions. A yearly mulch of rich organic matter can benefit but there’s no need to apply heavy doses of fertiliser  

Companions

Ferns, grasses, hostas, heuchera, daffodils

Planting

Spring, summer or autumn avoiding the extremes of a hot summer or cold winter

Flowering

Late winter to mid spring

Blue and pink flowers on a pulmonaria (lungwort) plant
Overhead view of purple and pink flowers on a pulmonaria

How to Grow Pulmonaria

I grew pulmonaria for a few years at my previous home and here I’ll try to answer questions you may have:

How is Pulmonaria Sold?

I’ve seen pulmonaria sold in garden centres as potted plants and bare roots.

I’ve grown them from both with success both times.

What is the ideal location for pulmonaria?

In my garden, I grew pulmonaria in a shaded part of my garden that consistently had moist soil.

I’ve also seen it grown:

  • Under tree canopy.
  • Under large deciduous shrubs.
  • In north and east-facing gardens.
  • Next to walls, fences and other light-blocking obstacles.

Is pulmonaria full hardy? Can it survive the summer heat and winter frosts?

Pulmonaria is winter hardy in US zones 3-9 and all parts of the UK.

I’ve found that it dislikes hot, dry ground conditions and prefers shade and moist soil.

Is pulmonaria invasive?

Pulmonaria may set seeds but I’ve never considered it invasive and in my garden, it was easy to control.

Many cultivars are hybrids and the seeds probably grow true to the original plant.

What soil conditions are best for pulmonaria?

Based on my experience, I believe that fertile, moist soil is best for pulmonaria.

I used to apply a good layer of mulch each year to protect the soil from drying out and to feed the plant but beyond this, I’ve never felt the need to apply additional feeds such as chemical fertilisers.

When and how should pulmonaria be planted?

The ideal time to plant pulmonaria is in spring or autumn. Summer planting is possible, but the gardener should water the plants more, so they don’t dry out.

I’ve planted loose root pulmonaria in late autumn and potted varieties in spring and autumn, both thrived without issue.

Is pulmonaria prone to pests and diseases?

In my garden, slugs and snails weren’t attracted to the plants, and no other pests caused issues.

Powdery mildew may affect plants grown in dry soil but is fairly easy to contain.

When does pulmonaria produce blooms and how long do they last?

My pulmonaria produced small funnel-shaped flowers for 4-8 weeks, starting in late February to April.

Can pulmonaria be grown in a container?

I don’t believe pulmonaria is suitable for growing in a container as it struggles in dry soil and is best suited to a woodland setting or at least a shaded border.

While this plant can be grown in containers, it would require frequent watering and a sheltered spot away from direct sunlight.

Is pulmonaria toxic or harmful to humans and pets?

Pulmonaria can be found in several homoeopathic medicines to treat stomach, lungs, urinary tract and wound healing in humans. However, the level at which compounds within pulmonaria become toxic to humans isn’t known.

Source.

Pulmonaria may be toxic to cats and dogs, although these pets aren’t attracted to the plant.

Source.

Pulmonaria x hybrida ‘Trevi Fountain’ 1 x 1 Litre Pot
Pulmonaria 'Raspberry Splash'
Pulmonaria x hybrida ‘Trevi Fountain’ 1 x 1 Litre Pot
Pulmonaria 'Raspberry Splash'
Pulmonaria x hybrida ‘Trevi Fountain’ 1 x 1 Litre Pot
Pulmonaria x hybrida ‘Trevi Fountain’ 1 x 1 Litre Pot
Pulmonaria 'Raspberry Splash'
Pulmonaria 'Raspberry Splash'

How to Care For Pulmonaria After It’s Finished Flowering

For the most part, I found pulmonaria to be a very easy and carefree plant to grow once I got it established.

You may find my tips below helpful:

Pruning and Deadheading

You can prolong the flowering period by deadheading the flowers after they’ve faded.

The outermost leaves will fade first, leaving the fresh leaves in the centre. You can tidy the plant by pruning the outer leaves after flowering.

Diseases

Powdery mildew may affect plants grown in dry soil and too much sunlight.

Consider relocating affected plants to a more suitable location with more shade and moist but free-draining soil.

This was never an issue for me, but I always try to grow plants in a suitable spot.

Propagation

I managed to divide my pulmonaria successfully in the spring, and I believe this can be done every 3-5 years.

Companion Plants

I’ve seen pulmonaria, hostas and heucheras combined together, and they work well, but it also looks delightful when mixed in with short grasses, ferns, tiarella, bleeding hearts and many other woodland or shade-tolerant plants.

Alternatives

Forget-me-nots are of the same family and are a more popular alternative.

Consider these varieties and cultivars:

Pulmonaria longifolia – This narrow-leaved lungwort is more resistant to powdery mildew and tolerates more sunlight but dislikes deep shade.

Pulmonaria mollis – The largest lungwort, this species will reach up to 60cm (2foot) high and wide and again has good sun tolerance.

Pulmonaria officinalis – This is the plumonaria I grew and it’s a classic “common” lungwort and produces deep leaf spotting but is prone to powdery mildew so must be grown in ideal conditions.

10 Key Points

Before you jump straight in and buy pulmonaria, consider these 10 points:

  1. This plant is semi-evergreen, meaning it loses its leaves briefly or may only lose some of its leaves before they reappear. In my Surrey garden, it was evergreen and didn’t lose any of its leaves.
  2. Winter hardy in all parts of the UK, but I know from experience that it prefers a spot out of the sun.
  3. While pulmonaria loves a shaded, sheltered location, some trees and large shrubs soak up moisture that this plant requires for optimal growth, so choose a spot with reliably moist soil.
  4. There’s no need to apply chemical fertilisers to this perennial; a yearly mulch is more than enough.
  5. Pulmonaria can be difficult to grow in pots as the soil is often hot and dry; if you must, try growing it in a large pot in a cool sheltered and shady spot.
  6. Deadhead to prolong the flowering period and prune after flowering, starting with the faded outer leaves.
  7. I’ve had success propagating by division every 3-5 years.
  8. Pulmonaria blooms from late February to late April and looks stunning when mixed with other spring-flowering plants.
  9. Pulmonaria is an early source of nectar for bees.
  10. The foliage is striking and unique.

Elizabeth Smith’s Take on Pulmonaria

I asked qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith to comment on pulmonaria:

Pulmonaria is a favourite of mine, not just because of the flowers but the foliage which is eye-catching and unique.

Pulmonaria is a great choice for planting under trees and large shrubs where shade is dominant but do make sure the soil stays consistantly moist. This delightful perennial can also be grown in north and east-facing gardens where many other plants struggle.

Elizabeth Smith

More Photos

Flowers and foliage on a pulmonaria plant
Closeup of blooms on a pulmonaria (lungwort)
Blue flowers and foliage on a pulmonaria
Closeup of pulmonaria foliage

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This guide was reviewed and fact-checked by qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith.

Explore: Elizabeth's profile and qualifications.

Meet The Author: Hannah Miller

Hannah is a keen gardener who grows organic fruit and vegetables in her Surrey garden and is moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. 

She is also the proud grower of a dahlia and herb garden.

Hannah worked for the NHS for 12 years but also has a level 3 qualification in horticulture and is currently studying for her level 4.

More About Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller

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