The Complete Guide to Growing Pulmonaria

A low-growing and early flowering delight

Part of our Spring Flowering Plants guide: By Daniel Woodley at DIY Gardening

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.

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

How is Pulmonaria Sold?

Pulmonaria is sold as seeds, plugs or as potted plants.

What is the ideal location for pulmonaria?

The best spot for pulmonaria is in moist soil that never fully dries and where the midday sun is never a threat.

Popular locations are:

  • Under tree canopy.
  • Underplanting of large deciduous shrubs.
  • 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.

It dislikes hot, dry ground conditions and prefers shade and moist soil.

Is pulmonaria invasive?

Pulmonaria may set seeds but isn’t considered invasive and is easy to control.

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

What soil conditions are best for pulmonaria?

Fertile, moist soil is best for pulmonaria.

A good yearly mulch will provide nutrients and protect the soil from drying out but beyond this, there’s no 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 more frequent watering will be required to help the plant establish.

Is pulmonaria prone to pests and diseases?

Very few pests are of concern, and slugs and snails generally prefer other plants. 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?

Pulmonaria produces small funnel-shaped flowers for 4-8 weeks starting in late February to April.

Can pulmonaria be grown in a container?

Pulmonaria isn’t suited to small pots as the soil/compost is more likely to dry out, and most containers become hot in the summer months.

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, pulmonaria is a very easy and carefree plant to grow once it’s established and requires little attention.

You may find these tips 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.

Propagation

Pulmonaria is best propagated by division after flowering or in the autumn, after the heat of the summer but well before the frosts.

Consider dividing large plants every 3-5 years.

Companion Plants

The classic combination is pulmonaria, hostas and heucheras but you’ll find this plant looks delightful when mixed in with 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 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 for a short time or may only lose some of its leaves before they reappear.
  2. Winter hardy in all parts of the UK but 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 practical, grow 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. Propagate by division every 3-5 years to keep the plant in check and gain new plants.
  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.

Hannah’s Take on Pulmonaria

Here is a quote from Hannah, our co-founder:

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.

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

More From Daniel Woodley:

This guide to growing pulmonaria was created by Daniel Woodley here at DIY Gardening and was last updated in March 2022.

Discover more spring-flowering bulbs and plants here.

Daniel is a keen gardener who also manages a large residential landscape in addition to his own mid-size garden.

He also enjoys experimenting with vegetables and fruits in his garden but with varying success!

More About Daniel Woodley

Danny Woodley

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This growing guide was published by DIY Gardening

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