Lungworts, Pulmonaria, are low-growing, spring-flowering herbaceous plants that thrive in shade. Named after the mottled leaves of some species, which were thought to resemble lung (pulmonary) disease, lungworts were traditionally used to treat lung infections.
These days they're grown for their shade tolerance, attractive leaves (despite resembling diseased lungs) and bee-friendly flowers – lungworts are particularly associated with the hairy-footed flower bee, Anthophora plumipes.
There are several species of lungwort available, such as Pulmonaria officinalis, Pulmonaria angustifolia and Pulmonaria saccarata. There are many hybrids, too, featuring different flower colours –typically blue, pink, or white – and leaf patterning.
Lungworts are perfect for growing at the front of shaded or partially shaded borders. Perfect as ground cover, grow them in a slightly more sunny location to attract more bees than those growing in full shade.
How to grow pulmonaria
Grow lungworts in moist but well-drained soil in partial to full shade. Plant pulmonaria singly, or in groups or drifts, in good fertile soil in partial shade. Once established, pulmonarias need little care apart from cutting back once or twice a year. Remove browned leaves and faded flower stalks after flowering. Divide clumps every four to five years to maintain healthy growth.
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Where to grow pulmonaria
Grow lungworts in moist but well-drained soil in partial shade to full shade. They work well in woodland borders and benefit from the shade produced by trees, however they may suffer in dry soils due to tree roots. A north- or east-facing border is ideal, where partial sun and moist soil offer the best growing conditions.
How to plant pulmonaria
The best times to plant pulmonaria are autumn or spring, although container grown plants can be planted in summer as long as they’re kept watered during dry spells until established. Depending on the ultimate spread of the variety, space plants between 30cm and 45cm apart. Dig a generous hole and plant the lungwort at the same depth it was in the pot. Firm gently around the rootball and water well. Lungwort needs very little feeding so there's no need to add fertiliser to the planting hole.
How to care for pulmonaria
Pulmonaria is easy to grow and requires little care. Cut back the dead leaves of varieties that die back in autumn, at ground level. Evergreen varieties are best cut back immediately after flowering so the new season’s growth is shown off at its best. Mulch annually with well-rotted leaf mould or compost.
How to propagate pulmonaria
Lungwort may self-seed around your garden, but bear in mind that many cultivars are hybrids, so seedlings may not be true to type. The best method of propagation is therefore division. Divide lungwort after flowering or in autumn.
In this Gardeners' World clip, Monty Don demonstrates how to divide lungwort, for a bigger display the following year:
Growing pulmonaria: problem solving
Lungworts are usually free from disease and are not troubled much by slugs and snails. However, in dry soils, they can develop powdery mildew. Remove affected leaves and keep well watered, or move to a more shady area or part of the garden with more moisture-retentive soil.
Pulmonaria varieties to grow
- Pulmonaria 'Dora Bielefeld'
- Pulmonaria 'Glacier'
- Pulmonaria rubra
- Pulmonaria saccharata
- Pulmonaria rubra 'Red Freckles'
- Pulmonaria 'Ocupol'