Growing and Caring for Pulmonaria Plants (Lungwort)

Lungwort (Pulmonaria) 'Mrs. Moon'
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Pulmonaria is a very early spring blooming plant with the unfortunate common name of lungwort. While it used to be used medicinally for lung ailments, today we grow it mostly as a perennial flower. It's basically a woodland plant and prefers either a shady location or at least a moist one.

Growing Pulmonaria

Pulmonaria is a large genus with varieties that will grow almost everywhere. Its season is early spring when most other plants are barely poking out of the ground. It flowers in brilliant blue, pink, and white. Many will change color, as they mature and are pollinated

Pulmonaria is a low growing plant, although the flower stalks can reach a foot and a half. Bees love the blossoms. Most varieties will self-seed as well as spread by rhizomes, so it makes a nice choice as a ground cover. It is slow to spread, however.

Its oval, pointed leaves can be solid green of varying intensity or variegated with spots or splashes of white. Lungwort/pulmonaria is also known as Jerusalem cowslip and spotted dog. 

Pulmonaria is hardy from USDA Zones 4 - 8, and its mature plants can grow up to 14 inches tall. 

Drooping lungwort flowers on a fully grown plant
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Caring for Pulmonaria Plants

Pulmonaria is best grown in full to partial shade. Keep in mind that most trees have not leafed out when it blooms in early spring, and the weather is still cool and damp. So it would be fine to grow pulmonaria in a spot that will eventually be shaded when the trees leaf out. Pulmonaria can tolerate more sun if it is kept moist.

Most Pulmonaria plants do well in soil with a pH in the neutral to alkaline range. (7.0 - 7.5). More important is providing them with a well-draining soil that retains moisture just long enough for the roots to soak it up.

Since most modern Pulmonaria varieties are hybrids, they are not generally started from seed.

After flowering, the flower stalks turn brown and flop over. The initial leaves also begin looking tattered. Removing the entire flower stalk and the older leaves will encourage the plant to rejuvenate and look fresh again. More de-leafing may be necessary if the summer is hot or dry.

Pulmonaria plants are slow to spread and do not require frequent division, however you can divide a clump after flowering if you'd like to make more plants. Because they grow in moist conditions and low to the ground, Pulmonaria can be prone to mildew and slug and snail damage.

Garden Design with Pulmonaria

Pulmonaria plants are naturals for shady woodland gardens. The white-flowered varieties really glow against the green foliage.

You can also plant them in a sunny border, among later maturing perennials, for a shot of spring color. Pulmonaria can handle full sun in the spring and the leaves of taller, summer perennials will provide shade for it later in the season.

This flower looks especially beautiful planted with the delicate foliage and soft pink flowers of fringed leaf Dicentra, which blooms at about the same time.

Lungwort and hostas used in a border
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Suggested Pulmonaria Varieties

  • Pulmonaria "Excalibur" - A clump former with silver leaves and long-lasting violet-blue flowers. Mildew resistant.
  • Pulmonaria officinalis "Sissinghurst White" - Long, speckled leaves with pale pink buds that open to pure white
  • Pulmonaria "Spilled Milk" - Has the familiar pink to blue flowers. Young leaves are tinged purple, changing to white as they age.