Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
April, 2001
Regional Report

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Newer isn't always better, but it certainly is in the case of pulmonaria 'White Wings', which is a much stronger and better-blooming plant than the older 'Sissinghurst White'.

Pulsating Pulmonarias

Getting tired of always planting hostas in your shady garden areas? I've found another perennial, pulmonaria, to be the perfect antidote. From the 12 species of these low-growing, clump-forming, spring-flowering plants, numerous selections offer a range of flower color and leaf type. The most common name for pulmonarias is lungwort, referring to its misguided use 500 years ago as a remedy for lung ailments.

Pulmonaria Colors

Native to woods and scrublands from Siberia to Italy, pulmonarias are among the first perennials to bloom in spring, with clusters of tiny petunia-like flowers. The flowers are unusual because most turn different colors as they age. Various shades of pink, salmon, and wine turn to shades of blue, or vice versa. But several, such as 'Sissinghurst White', 'White Wings', and the coral-colored 'Bowle's Red', hold their color throughout the blooming period.

Pulmonaria Sizes

Many gardeners choose pulmonarias for their foliage rather than the flowers. Leaf colors range from a bright apple green to a dark emerald. Nature marks the leaves of many types, creating foliage with white or silver dots to almost solid silver. Leaf shape also varies, ranging from spear shaped to oval, and a few have ruffled edges. Dwarf forms of pulmonaria grow from about 8 inches tall to 28-inch giants. Most, however, are in the 12-inch range, spreading 12 to 18 inches wide.

Where to Put Them

Pulmonarias are champion ground covers in the same areas favored by hostas. They grow particularly well under trees and shrubs, where their speckled foliage can lighten and brighten otherwise dull areas. They're especially effective in large, sweeping masses along a path. Dan Heims, a pulmonaria breeder, suggests combining them with Japanese painted fern, heucheras, or mondo grass. Chanticleer, a display garden outside of Philadelphia, features a planting with the dark wine-colored foliage of Heuchera 'Chocolate Veil' and Pulmonaria 'Excalibur'.

Soil Needs

Pulmonarias will tolerate almost any soil except heavy clay, but they do best in a well-composted, moist, but well-drained loam that's been mulched. Fertilize once a year after plants have flowered with a slow-release or organic flower fertilizer according to the manufacturer's directions. Pests are rare, but older forms are subject to mildew if planted in areas with little air circulation or if watered in the evening. Pulmonarias are easily propagated by division in spring or autumn. Sometimes the plants will self-sow. The seedlings may or may not be like the parents, so it's your choice whether to keep them.

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