Growing, Enjoying, and Using Lungwort

Growing, Enjoying, and Using Lungwort

By Michael Jenkins

One of the best things about Gardzen is that we hear from gardeners all around the world, and as a result we get to learn a lot about gardening, plants, and what gardeners need. One of the most frequent questions we get is about shade gardening, and what kinds of plants can be grown in spaces that don’t get much sun. While having a shaded garden does limit your options in terms of what you can grow, there are a number of beautiful flowering plants that thrive in shade and semi-shade. Pulmonaria officinalis, better known as common lungwort or Mary’s tears, is a beautiful shade loving flower that can be adapted to many garden spaces where sun is limited. Let’s dig in and learn more about lungwort, how it grows, and how you can bring it to your own garden!

What is Lungwort?

A quick note before we begin: there are many plants colloquially referred to as “lungwort”, including a very interesting species of lichen. We’re not talking about those in this blog, but rather the flowering perennial belonging to the genus Pulmonaria of the Boraginaceae family.

The lungwort we’re interested in is again formally known as Pulmonaria officinalis, and it’s a native of  Eurasia where it enjoys an impressively widespread range. Found across Europe from Sweden to the Mediterranean, its natural range extends west into France and East into central Russia. Lungwort is what botanists refer to as an understory species, meaning that it thrives close to the ground in forested areas, preferring the company of deciduous trees.

Growing Lungwort in Your Garden

Lungwort is not usually propagated from seeds, as many popular garden varietals are hybrids and don’t reproduce that way. It’s more typical to buy lungwort starts from a nursery or to divide an existing plant. Finding the right space for lungwort is important, and that can be tricky in some gardens and all too easy in others. Pulmonaria officinalis likes full to partial shade, although it can tolerate some full sun in the spring when trees haven’t put out new leaves yet. The balance is tricky—too much sun will kill lungwort, while too little will reduce the number of blooms. The latter isn’t a crisis—the wonderful mottled leaves make lungwort a striking landscaping feature regardless. But the flowers are pretty, and make for a visually interesting part of the garden.

Lungwort likes rich humus soils, and like many Pulmonaria species is sensitive to soil pH, which should stay between 7.0 to 8.0 for best results. Like hydrangeas, the flower color of lungwort changes with the pH of the soil and ranges from pink to blue. This often occurs over the course of the growing season as the soil chemistry changes and can be quite fun to watch! For keeping the soil rich and full of nutrients, we recommend mixing compost into the soil when possible and applying some additional flowering plant fertilizer during the blooming season.

Lungwort likes growing among deciduous trees, but it doesn’t like competing with them for water and requires moist but not soggy soil. Make sure to water your lungwort thoroughly but avoid saturation as too much water can lead to rotting roots and fungal diseases. Try to avoid planting lungwort in places that get overly saturated or accumulate standing water—those are best saved for water-loving plants. Plant starts in the spring after the weather warms up for blooms later that year, and don’t forget to prune after the flowers have faded to extending the bloom season.

Growing Lungwort in Containers

With its love of shade and particular soil pH needs, lungwort might seem like an ideal candidate for a container garden. And while lungwort can be grown in containers, it does require a bit more work than some other container plants and won’t be as successful as it would in a shady garden bed. If you’re up for a challenge for your patio garden, give lungwort plenty of shade, a good rich potting mix with the appropriate pH, and water well. Fabric containers that allow for good drainage and ventilation also help lungwort succeed as a potted plant by reducing the risk of diseases and pests.

Pulmonaria officinalis for Shade Gardens

Lungwort might not be the right plant for every garden, but it might be just right for your space if you have a shaded corner that needs some love. It’s a beautiful plant and a visual delight, so we hope that if your garden has the right conditions you’ll give lungwort a try. If you do, send photos and let us know how it works out. We’d love to hear from folks growing lungwort in containers as well!

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