Winterizing Pulmonaria Plants: Learn About Pulmonaria Winter Care

By: Tonya Barnett, (Author of FRESHCUTKY)

The addition of flowering bulbs and perennial plants is an excellent way to create beautiful flower borders rich with vibrant color throughout the entire growing season.

While summer blooming flowers are common, there is also an abundance of early spring flowering perennials that will add appeal before many other plants begin to grow.

Cool season plants, such as Pulmonaria lungwort, are great options for gardeners wishing to kickstart their spring flower beds with a burst of color. But to enjoy all this plant has to offer, winterizing Pulmonaria adequately is important.

Does Pulmonaria Bloom in Winter?

Like many cool season plants, Pulmonaria and coldtemperatures are an ideal combination. With proper care and attention, Pulmonariaplants will usually begin to bloom from late winter into early spring. This mayvary depending upon your growing zone and specific seasonal conditions.

Lungwort in winter will begin to flower as the days slowlybecome longer and temperatures steadily begin to warm.

Pulmonaria Winter Care

Pulmonaria winter care is relatively simple. As with manywinter hardy plants, gardeners should give special attention to providing idealgrowing conditions. Lungwort plants will thrive in a location that receivespartial to full dappled shade throughout the day. Additionally, these plantsshould never be allowed to dry out, as they require soil that is consistentlymoist.

Lungwort plants are unique in that they do not bloom whenfoliage is present. When winter temperatures arrive and plant foliage hasstarted to die back, the leaves of the plant should be removed using a pairsharp gardening shears. At this time, many growers also choose to cover theplant with a light layer of mulch to protect against harsh temperatures and tobetter regulate moisture.

At bloom time, gardeners can expect flower stalks to beginprotruding through the soil. Once blooming has ceased, foliage will once againbecome a prominent aspect of the plant. The low growing speckled leaves allowfor added visual interest throughout the remainder of the growing season.

With correct care and maintenance of lungwort in winter,especially during the plants’ period of dormancy, growers can ensure the bestchance of beautiful blooms early in the growing season.

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How do you cut back perennials? Some can be cut down after the first killing frost others can be left to help birds and beneficial insects during the winter months. Let’s talk about which perennials to tackle, which to leave, how to cut back perennials properly, and other ways to prepare your perennials for winter so they survive and thrive next spring.

When to Cut Back Perennials

After several hard frosts, many herbaceous perennials have old foliage and dying stems. It’s a good time to cut down to the ground, allowing the crown (base of plant) to remain dormant over wintertime. Diseases can overwinter in dead and rotting foliage, as can slugs and other pests. Old stems can also get battered about by fall and winter winds which will damage the plants crown and roots.

Don’t be in a rush and be sure until a few hard frosts. Even if the flowers or leaves are dead, the roots are reclaiming energy from the dying plant for healthy growth in the spring.

Not all perennials need to be cut back. Some perennials with seed heads add winter interest and also provide food for birds and wildlife. These can wait until spring to be cut back—when new growth appears.

Which Perennials to Cut Back

Bee balm and phlox are prone to powdery mildew so cut them all back once they’re gone. Remove all hosta after a hard frost, including any leaves on the ground, as they harbor slug eggs.

Other perennials that can be cut down to the ground in autumn include:

  • Artemisia
  • Bearded iris,
  • Campanula
  • Catmint
  • Clematis
  • Columbine
  • Coreopsis
  • Delphinium
  • Day Lily
  • Hardy geranium
  • Peony
  • Salvia
  • Shasta Daisy
  • Sunflower
  • Veronica
  • Yarrow

How to Cut Back Perennials

To cut back your perennials, remove spent flower stems. Use bypass pruners and make clean cuts at an angle through the stems of the plant. I usually leave 6-inch stubs so I can find the plants next spring.

Many perennials, like this penstemon, have already started to form leaves for next year at the base of the plant. When cutting back be sure to leave these rosettes of green.

To prune clump-forming perennials such as hardy geraniums, reduce clumps to the ground level in the fall. Cut away all the dead foliage. Any perennials and grasses that die back can be died up this way in autumn, too.

After cutting back your plants, apply a light mulch. Then, wait to feed until the spring for healthy growth.

Leave Some Winter Interest!

The blackberry lily Belamcanda looks great until heavy wet snow finally knocks it down. Ornamental grasses add movement and sound to the landscape.

I let the agastaches and coneflowers and rudbeckia stand for the birds to enjoy. Self-seeding plants will provide you with volunteers next spring to move to new spots or share with friends.

Thistles and plants with seed heads also add interest, food, and shelter to wildlife over winter. See plants with seedheads to feed the birds.

Perennials NOT to Cut Back

Some perennials (including the alpines below) and evergreen perennials such as epimediums, hellebores, and euphorbias should be left alone.

Candytuft, primulas, dianthus, hens & chicks, heaths, and heathers are also considered evergreen and should not be cut back in the fall.

Pulmonaria and penstemons should also be left in place until spring.

This hellebore is considered an evergreen and should not be cut back in the fall.

Do not cut back marginally hardy perennials such as garden mums (Chrysanthemum spp.).

Clean Up Garden Debris

As with the vegetable garden, any diseased or bug infested plant material needs to go—far away. Don’t put it in the compost pile. Debris from things like rusty hollyhocks, peonies with powdery mildew, leaf-spotted delphiniums, and other fungal-infected flowers should be removed from the garden.

Leaves from a peony infected with powdery mildew should not be composted.

Don’t Fertilize in the Fall

Fertilizing in autumn encourages new growth that will just get killed when cold weather hits. Compost is not considered a fertilizer it is a soil conditioner so feel free to add that in the fall. If your soil test indicates that you need lime, it can be applied in the fall also.

Weed Before the Freeze

Before the ground freezes, do a final weeding. The more weeds you can get out now, especially those that have seeds, the fewer weeds you’ll have to deal with in the spring. Edge your beds for one last time and you’ll start the year with a neat and tidy look.

To Mulch or Not to Mulch?

If you are growing plants that are hardy in your zone and live where snow cover is plentiful each winter you probably don’t have to worry about mulching your garden, though it’s always insurance to give them some extra protection. It’s newly planted perennials that are the exception. Definitely tuck some mulch around them for their first winter.

The purpose of a winter mulch is to keep the soil temperature even and prevent heaving of roots due to alternate freezing and thawing of the ground. Waiting until the ground is frozen before mulching is not only best for your plants but also discourages rodents from making a cozy home there. Use a mulch that does not pack down and smother your plants. Shredded leaves, pine needles, straw, or evergreen boughs are good choices. Snow provides the best insulating mulch, it goes down gradually and melts gradually.

Watering the Garden

If you live where it has been dry this growing season, keep watering your garden until the ground freezes. Usually there is plentiful moisture in the fall but many areas experienced drought conditions this summer and the ground is dry. Plants that are water stressed will have a tough time surviving the winter.

The more work you do in your perennial garden this fall, the less you’ll have to do next spring.

Pulmonaria Pops in the Shade

As a garden designer, one of the questions that I’m often asked is “What can I plant in the shade that the deer won’t eat?” We all know that while hostas may be gorgeous and highly collectible, they are also a tantalizing “salad bar” for grazing deer. Pulmonarias, with their eye-catching foliage and early flowers, are the answer.

Relegated to grandma’s shade garden for many years, Pulmonarias have seen a recent resurgence of popularity as hybridizers have produced wonderful new varieties. Like several other perennials, Pulmonarias are plagued with an unattractive common name – Lungwort, due to the resemblance of their leaves to a diseased lung. But their subtle beauty, hardiness (Zones 3-8), pest and disease resistance make them a great addition to the modern shade garden.

Pulmonaria 'Silver Bouquet'

Pulmonarias are low-growing, clump forming relatives of borage, with similar fuzzy leaves and deep-blue flowers. Like hostas, pulmonarias can be collected just for their foliage contribution to the garden. Leaves range from apple-green to olive and deep emerald, and many are spotted in white or streaked with silver. They also differ in shape, from spear-like to oval. The plants range in size from 8-28” high and 12-24” wide. Outstanding cultivars for foliage include ‘Silver Bouquet’ with solid silver leaves, and ‘Milky Way’ with large white spots.

In addition to showy foliage, pulmonarias rival hellebores to be the first flowering perennials in the early spring garden. Clusters of funnel-shaped flowers appear in early spring, and many change colors as they age. My pulmonaria flowers transform from sky blue to lavender and pink, and since they open gradually, you see all three colors on the same plant at once!

While pulmonarias are generally known for their deep blue flowers, there are varieties that bloom in white (‘Opal’), salmon (‘Redstart’) and raspberry (‘Berries and Cream’).

Pulmonarias are easy to grow in average, humus-rich garden soil, in part to full shade. Moist soils and good drainage ensure the best success. They spread slowly by creeping roots and can be easily divided in late spring or fall. They also cross-pollinate and self-seed naturally, so you may find unexpected new varieties sprouting up in your garden.

Eye-catching as specimen plants, pulmonarias are also effective when massed as a ground cover. They can be artistically combined with almost any shade plants, particularly Japanese Painted Ferns, Coral Bells, Hostas, and Black Mondo grass. No matter how you use them, these old-fashioned, deer-resistant perennials will breathe new life into your shade garden.

Pulmonaria And Cold Hardiness – Does Pulmonaria Bloom In Winter - garden

Green shades Silver/grey shades

Part Shade (4-6 hrs. Direct Sun) Full Shade (

Average Water Needs Consistent Water Needs

Average Soil Quality Fertile Soil Quality

Neutral Soil (pH = 7.0) Alkaline Soil (pH > 7.0)

Attracts Hummingbirds Bee Friendly

Deer Resistant Rabbit Resistant

Patio Container Eclectic Woodland Shade

Border Plant Container Cut Flower Cut Foliage Edging Mass Planting

Not Native to North America

Pulmonarias do best in a highly organic, moisture retentive soil. Dry conditions can lead to powdery mildew and leaf scorch. Clean up in the spring by removing old or damaged foliage from the previous year. Some of the older cultivars can open up in the center and thus it becomes necessary to prune them down to ground level for a new fresh flush of foliage. If plants decline or are affected by powdery mildew, prune them back to ground level as well.

Pulmonarias spread slowly by creeping rhizomes, forming a nice patch of foliage.


Apply a balanced fertilizer with micronutrients at 150 ppm in a constant liquid feed.

For flowering plants use vernalized liners for spring planting or provide 8-10 weeks of cold temperatures if planting in late summer.

Aphids and slugs.
Powdery mildew. Botrytis can occur on older leaves at soil level under high humidity conditions. Running a heat/vent dehumidifying cycle, increasing air circulation, and applying fungicides as necessary should keep this disease under control. Pythium and Rhizoctonia can become a problem if the growing media does not have good drainage.

Recently transplanted pulmonaria are happiest at 65% humidity and 65-70°F until they are halfway rooted. They can then be cooled down to 55-60°F.

For potting soil use commercial planting media.
Keep soil evenly moist but with good drainage, and do not allow plants to dry out between waterings. Due to heavy foliage growth and high water usage, this plant is a good candidate for sub-irrigation.

No pinching or PGRs required.

Provide moderate shade in spring and summer production.

Roots must be kept cool or plants will exhibit heat stress and wilting. Foliage can wilt at temperatures above 85° F, but plants should still be kept on the dry side to maintain healthy growth.

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Of pulmonarias, hellebores, hydrangeas, and an exotic cycad

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Last weekend I was finally able to spend some time in the garden. Most of it was dedicated to winter cleanup and an emergency drip irrigation fix—too boring for a blog post—but I also did a bit of planting in the backyard. But before I did any work, I noticed a beautiful sight: one of the Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’ I planted last fall is in bloom!

Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’

Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’

I love the flower color. Not quite raspberry, but close.

Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’

The other pulmonaria (next photo) isn’t quite blooming yet, but it shouldn’t be much longer. When I planted it, I forgot that this spot is also home to an Arum italicum. Since the arum goes dormant in the late spring, there is no trace of it in all summer and fall. Its leaves don’t come up until late winter.

Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’ and Arum italicum

In yesterday’s post I raved about a hellebore I’d spotted at Lowes, Helleborus × ballardiae ‘HGC Pink Frost’. I bought a nice specimen and planted it near a clump of variegated shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’). In the next couple of photos you can see the ginger’s leaf stalks in the background.

Helleborus × ballardiae ‘HGC Pink Frost’

Helleborus × ballardiae ‘HGC Pink Frost’

This hellebore hybrid not only has sublime flowers, but also attractive foliage. One description I found referred to the leaves as having a pewter overlay—I can definitely see that.

Helleborus × ballardiae ‘HGC Pink Frost’

Helleborus × ballardiae ‘HGC Pink Frost’

A couple of months ago I mentioned that A&A Cycads was having a huge moving sale. I took advantage of the savings and bought a Cycas debaoensis. This extraordinary cycad from China has multi-pinnate leaves, i.e. the leaves are split into multiple levels of leaflets (I count three levels of leaflets on mine). This produces a light and feathery effect and makes this cycad highly desirable.

Unlike its relative, the sago palm (Cycas revoluta) the caudex of Cycas debaoensis is mostly underground—not like my juvenile plant has much of a caudex yet. According to reports from collectors, this is one the fastest growing cycads. This person reports cone production and 10 ft. leaves in just five years.

I don’t really expect this kind of growth in my garden, but I picked a spot that has room for the long and graceful leaves that will hopefully be produced in the years to come.

As you can see in the photo below, I planted my Cycas debaoensis near two bamboos: an in-ground Borinda papyrifera and a potted Phyllostachys nigra. The leaves of these three plants should harmonize beautifully.

The last plant I planted was a variegated hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Tricolor’). I picked it up last fall because I was attracted to the stunning foliage. Initially I didn’t know where to put it so I left it in its nursery pot through the winter. It suffered a bit because I forgot to water it regularly but it did survive. I finally decided to put it in a large urn that had previously been occupied by a moribund Fargesia apicirubens ‘White Dragon’ which I finally put out of its misery.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Tricolor’

I must admit I have no clue whether hydrangeas do well in pots over the long term, but I’m willing to give it a shot. The leaves of this Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Tricolor’ will definitely brighten up this spot under the bay trees in the backyard.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Tricolor’

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Things have been very busy for you recently, glad to see you managed to spend some time in the garden. That Cycad is a beauty, I want one!!

The weather has been so perfect, I've been wanting nothing more than to play outside!

Yes, that Cycas debaoensis is a beauty. I've been wanting one for years. If it hadn't been for that sale, I wouldn't have bought one. Now keep your fingers crossed that it won't die. It's in a bright but shady spot with relatively decent drainage. Hardiness should be OK in our zone.

I've stopped thinking "ooh, I want one of those" when seeing the cool plants you stick in the ground -- like the cycad. Too discouraging when I read about the "hardiness".

BTW, who says cleanup and irrigation fixes are boring?

It may sound funny, but I envy gardeners who can grow "boring" plants like hostas. To me they're as exotic as cycads (well, almost).

>>BTW, who says cleanup and irrigation fixes are boring? Delete

Watch the video: Interesting Lungwort Facts

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