By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Blooming, growing brunnera is one of the prettiest plants to include in the shady garden. Commonly called false forget-me-not, petite blooms compliment attractive, glossy foliage. Brunnera Siberian bugloss is also called heartleaf brunnera because of the shape of its leaves. It is an herbaceous perennial, dying back in winter.
The light blue blooms of brunnera plants rise above the leaves of various cultivars. Brunnera plants have leaves that are glossy green or in variegated hues of gray, silver, or white, such as the popular cultivar ‘Jack Frost’. Brunnera Siberian bugloss blooms in early to mid spring.
When growing brunnera, locate the plant in part to full shade, and in well-drained soil that can be kept consistently and lightly moist. Brunnera plants don’t do well in soil that dries out, neither will they flourish in soggy soil.
Plant care for Brunnera macrophylla will include watering to maintain soil moisture and providing good drainage to assure that roots of brunnera plants do not sit in soggy soil. Growing brunnera reaches 1 ½ feet (0.5 m.) in height and 2 feet (0.5 m.) across and grows in a small mound.
Brunnera blooms may self-seed and readily sprout from seeds dropped the previous year. If so, dig small seedlings and replant into areas where more growing brunnera is desired. You may also collect seeds from brunnera plants and replant them or plant newly purchased seeds or small plants. Division of existing plants is another means of propagation.
The plant easily thrives in USDA Hardiness zones 3-8, when conditions are right. Brunnera plants prefer rich soil. When growing brunnera in the hottest zones, avoid planting where it gets hot afternoon sun. Brunnera, especially the ones with variegated leaves, are sensitive to sun and may burn.
Now that you’ve learned how to plant brunnera and a little about plant care for Brunnera macrophylla, try it in the shady garden or use it to help naturalize a wooded area. You’ll find this easy-care plant is an asset to any shady area.
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Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost'
This woodland plant is valued for its flowers and its heart-shaped, ground-covering leaves. Its small blue flowers go nicely with ephemeral bulbs in mid- to late spring, as the enlarging leaves block out the ripening bulb foliage. 'Jack Frost' can take dry summers and wet winters. This cultivar is prized for its improved tolerance of heat and sun. -Marty Hair, Regional Picks: Upper Midwest, Fine Gardening issue# 127
Noteworthy CharacteristicsHighly valued for striking silver variegated foliage. Powder blue flowers hover over the plant in spring.
CareRemove ragged foliage in late fall and snip off the spent flower stalks in early summer to keep this plant looking its best.
PropagationSow seeds in container in spring. B. macrophylla should be divided in winter.
ProblemsNone serious, but watch out for too much sun or hot sites.
Having lost my share of brunneras, I would not say that they are a cinch to grow. But if you give them what they want—a shady site with moist but not soggy soil—they will grow happily. Some reference books state that they will grow well in dry shade, but I’ve found that a consistently moist soil is essential for them to flourish, especially if the plants receive sunlight during the day.
Although ‘Betty Bowring’, ‘Dawson’s White’, ‘Hadspen Cream’, and ‘Jack Frost’ received high ratings in our trial, their journey to the top wasn’t without hiccups. We had to try and try—and try again—to get these plants established. I attribute this to issues with our site (at times too sunny, too wet, or too dry) rather than deficiencies in the plants. The third planting was often the charm.
Unsightly foliage, whether damaged from sun, drought, or pests, should be promptly removed. And severely damaged plants can be completely cut back to rejuvenate their health and appearance. Afterward, keep plants watered for several weeks while they recover.
Brunneras can suffer stress from heat and humidity, especially in areas at the warm end of their hardiness range silver-leaved cultivars, such as ‘Jack Frost’, ‘King’s Ransom’, ‘Langtrees’, ‘Looking Glass’, ‘Sea Heart’, and ‘Silver Heart’, tough it out better than those with leaves of a different color.
Removing spent flower heads is vital to keeping plants tidy and healthy it also reduces reseeding, which can be prolific in moist sites. Seedlings tend to arise close to the parents and aren’t considered invasive variegated forms often produce green seedlings. Variegated cultivars periodically throw up green-leaved reversions, too, which should be cut out when they appear so that they don’t overwhelm the desired plant.
The creaminess of ‘Dawson’s White’ and ‘Hadspen Cream’ is enhanced by a bit of morning sun. But beware of hot, sunny locations, which will easily scorch these beauties.
Brunneras are tough, fairly trouble-free plants, but you might occasionally see leaf damage from slugs, nematodes, and rabbits. These issues are, luckily, more cosmetic than a true health concern. Deer seem to ignore these plants.
How long: A minimum of four years
Conditions: Partial shade moist, well-drained soil
Care: Minimal, allowing plants to thrive or fail under natural conditions
|Overall rating||Name||Height||Width||Leaf color||Flower color||Bloom period||Flower production|
|★ ★ ★||Brunnera macrophylla||18 inches||36 inches||Green||Blue||Midspring to late spring||Heavy|
|★ ★ ★ ★||B. macrophylla ‘Betty Bowring’||19 inches||42 inches||Green||White||Midspring to early summer||Heavy|
|★ ★ ★ ★||B. macrophylla ‘Dawson’s White’||16 inches||33 inches||Green creamy white margins||Blue||Midspring to late spring||Heavy|
|★ ★ ★||B. macrophylla ‘Diane’s Gold’||10 inches||17 inches||Golden yellow-green||Blue||Early spring to late spring||Moderate|
|★||B. macrophylla ‘Emerald Mist’||6 inches||10 inches||Dark green silver spots||Blue||Late spring||Low|
|★ ★ ★ ★||B. macrophylla ‘Hadspen Cream’||15 inches||28 inches||Green creamy yellow margins||Light blue||Midspring to early summer||Heavy|
|★ ★ ★ ★||B. macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’||17 inches||34 inches||Silver green veins||Blue||Midspring to early summer||Heavy|
|★ ★ ★||B. macrophylla ‘King’s Ransom’||14 inches||27 inches||Silver yellow margins||Blue||Midspring to late spring||Heavy|
|★||B. macrophylla ‘Langtrees’||14 inches||36 inches||Green silver spots||Blue||Midspring to late spring||Low|
|★ ★||B. macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’||8 inches||12 inches||Silver green veins||Blue||Midspring to late spring||Moderate|
|★ ★ ★||B. macrophylla ‘Mr. Morse’||12 inches||28 inches||Silver green veins||White||Midspring to late spring||Moderate|
|★ ★ ★||B. macrophylla ‘Silver Wings’||18 inches||36 inches||Light green silver spots||Light blue||Late spring to early summer||Heavy|
|★ ★ ★||B. macrophylla ‘Spring Yellow’||18 inches||32 inches||Yellow||Light blue||Midspring to late spring||Heavy|
Richard Hawke is the plant evaluation manager at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois.
Photos, except where noted: millettephotomedia.com, courtesy of Richard Hawke, Pernilla Bergdahl/gapphotos.com, Doreen Wynja, Jerry Pavia, Danielle Sherry
The following mail-order plant sellers offer many of the brunneras featured:
Remove wilted flowers as they appear, since this increases production of new flowers of increasing size and durability.
Regular weeding helps the plant set up shop and settle in for the long run.
Owning a dog, especially a big dog will almost always keep deer from approaching your home. Just the scent of the dog will keep most deer away, and if your dog lives outside you will probably never see any deer.
For most gardeners, it is a combination of different solutions that works best. Every gardener has to find the solution that works best in their garden.