Love of a Bleeding Heart

by Holly Boettcher

This is the perfect time of year to consider adding a beautiful perennial to your garden with heart-shaped flowers that bloom in the spring and look like a pillow. The pendulous drops would be beautiful as a pair of earrings! This is none other than the old-fashioned bleeding heart.

About Them

Although we know them as bleeding hearts, the botanical name is Lamprocapnos spectabilis (formerly Dicentra spectabilis). It is an herbaceous, perennial flower that comes in colors of pink, red, or white. They thrive in zones two to nine and are available in varieties that grow between 6 inches and 3 feet tall! They prefer slightly acidic soils (such as 6.0 to 6.5) but will tolerate neutral soils.

The bleeding heart is ephemeral, which means it doesn’t last very long, but don’t let that stop you from planting one in your garden. The magic it brings is worth the short-lived bloom time, although there are some varieties that will continue to bloom throughout the summer, such as the fringed-leaf bleeding heart.

By mid-summer, many species will turn yellow and die back to the ground. That is normal, and your plant has not died, rather it has gone dormant. Although the parts of the bleeding heart that are above ground die off, the root system remains healthy. That means once the snow melts next spring and the soil has warmed up, your bleeding heart will emerge with new growth and delight you as one of the first perennials to welcome the new season.

How to Grow

The bleeding heart will self-sow if you don’t deadhead your plant. You will notice the plant spreading non-aggressively. It can easily be propagated by starting new cuttings or digging small sections of the roots to transplant to other shady areas of your garden. Once planted, they have a slow growth rate, and it can take several months to reach full size, so be patient.

Bleeding hearts do best in part shade, and since it is such an early bloomer, it will do fine if you plant it near a deciduous tree. The plant will be up and growing before the tree “leaves out,” and when the bleeding heart needs shade from the summer sun, the tree will provide it.


Companion Plants

Bleeding hearts usually bloom about the same time as honeysuckle, Pulmonaria, brunnera, and hellebore, all of which contribute to a wonderful woodland cottage effect. Bleeding hearts will stay in bloom for several weeks, but the foliage tends to go downhill after flowering. Plan to fill in the space once the bleeding heart goes dormant. Consider late-emerging plants nearby so once the bleeding hearts go dormant, there is something colorful and interesting to catch your eye! I like to add perennials such as coral bells, ferns, foam flower, hosta, and monkshood.

If the charming and colorful bleeding heart sounds like a beautiful plant to add to your garden, why not try one this spring?