When I think about iconic flowers, I think of this one immediately. It is an absolute delight. The pink and white blooms hang on arching stems with a little “drop” at the end of each flower. This flowering habit gives this perennial its romantic, common name – bleeding heart.
It’s a popular choice for woodland and cottage gardens because of its long bloom time and easy care. No shade garden should be without it.
Let me show you how these plants can add a sweet, romantic touch to your shade garden.
Lamprocapnos spectabilis (formerly Dicentra spectabilis) is native to Asia. It is hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9.
It can take 3-4 years for this plant to reach its mature size of approximately 3 feet by 3 feet. It is ephemeral – which means it will go dormant after flowering the way daffodils and virginia bluebells do. It likes the cooler temperatures of spring, so when the heat of summer arrives, the foliage will yellow and die back, and the plant goes dormant until the following spring.
Types of Bleeding Hearts
- Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis,) has pink and white blooms that arch above its deeply lobed blue-green foliage.
- White Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’) is a cultivar of L. spectabilis. The flowers are white.
- Gold Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’) has pink flowers and golden yellow foliage.
- Valentine (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Valentine’) is another cultivar with bright red flowers.
Some Bleeding Hearts are still called Dicentra, because, well, they are Dicentras. Their foliage does not die back in summer; they go dormant in the autumn.
- Dicentra eximia, the Fringe-leaf Bleeding Heart is native to North America (the eastern United States, to be exact). It has pink flowers and fern-like foliage that persists through the summer. Hardy in zones 3 to 9, this plant grows to 12 to 18 inches tall and wide.
- Dicentra cucullaria, another North American native, goes by the common name Dutchman’s Breeches, because its flowers resemble little, white, upside-down pantaloons. They grow to 12 inches tall and are hardy in Zones 3 to 7.
- Dicentra formosa, fern-leaf Bleeding Hearts is native to the Pacific coast of Canada and the United States. Growing 18 to 24 inches tall and wide, it has pink flowers.
- Dicentra x ‘Luxuriant’ has pink flowers and fern-like foliage that persists all summer. The Missouri Botanic Garden suggests that it is a hybrid between D. eximia and D. formosa.
- Dicentra‘ King of Hearts’ is another hybrid, a cross between the Japanese species D. peregrina with the two American species D. formosa and D. eximia. This plant only gets about 8 inches high and 14 inches wide and has pink flowers. Sometimes ‘King of Hearts’ will bloom through the summer, especially if the weather is cool. King of Hearts is sometimes sold under the name Dicentra formosa ‘King of Hearts.’
Where to Plant
These plants are not hard to grow. They prefer cool and moist, fertile soil in a shady spot. This makes them perfect for a woodland garden. They are not picky about pH but do best in neutral soils, as long as it is rich and humusy.
Planting: Bare Root vs Seed
Bleeding Hearts are often sold bare root or as potted tubers. Plant them 2 to 3 feet apart after you have amended the soil with compost. Plant with the growing ‘eyes” facing up and place them 1 inch below the soil surface. If planted in the spring, you probably won’t get flowers the first year, so plant in the fall.
If planting from seed, this is best done in late summer or early fall. Plant the seeds about ½ inch deep and keep the area moist but not soggy. The seeds need a period of cold weather (winter) to germinate, so you won’t see any seedlings until next year, in springtime. The baby plants probably won’t flower in their first year. Mature plants can self-seed. Transplant the young seedlings in late spring or early summer.
Because these plants prefer cooler temperatures, a mulch of compost, humus, or leaf mold can help feed the plant and keep the soil cooler. This can help extend the time before the foliage dies back, but doesn’t impact bloom time.
A yearly application of a balanced, slow-release fertilizer when the foliage first emerges is all the feeding needed.
Bleeding Hearts need a constantly moist, but well-draining soil. Again, mulch can help regulate soil moisture. Supplemental waterings may be necessary during a dry spring.
Deadheading and Pruning
They need very little deadheading or pruning.
Some gardeners will remove the flower stalks when the plant is finished blooming. You do not have to do this; it is a matter of personal preference.
If you are pruning, do not cut down the foliage stems of Lamprocapnos until they have turned yellow.
Bleeding Hearts can be propagated by stem cuttings and by root division. You can take cuttings anytime the plant is actively growing.
- Choose healthy stems about 6 inches tall and make a clean, sharp cut with clean clippers.
- Dip the cuttings in rooting hormone and use the end of a pencil, a dibble, or your clean finger to make a small hole in a pot of fresh potting soil.
- Insert the cutting, firm the soil around it, and water well.
- You can cover the cuttings and the pot with plastic to hold in the moisture. Roots should start growing in a few weeks. Remove the plastic once the roots form.
- Transplant into the garden in early fall.
Divisions are best made in late summer and early fall when the plant is dormant.
- Gently dig up the root system and break apart the tubers. Tubers should have at least 2 “eyes.”
- Discard any tubers that look dried-up and shriveled; they will not grow.
- Plant the tubers 2 to 3 feet apart and 1 inch below the soil surface with the eyes facing up.
Pests and Diseases
These plants are generally trouble-free. L. spectabilis is often already dormant before disease and insect problems arise.
Bleeding Hearts are sometimes attacked by aphids and scale. Be careful with insecticides. If you want to use insecticidal soap on these plants, keep in mind that Bleeding Hearts are sensitive to soap-based products. It’s best to test only a few leaves before treating the whole plant.
Slugs and snails can find the foliage tasty and chew ragged holes in the leaves. Deter them by ridding the area of any debris these invertebrates use to hide, setting out a saucer of beer for them to fall into, or using commercial slug and snail bait. Slugs and snails are active in the nighttime. You can handpick them then if you’re not squeamish.
Bleeding hearts might occasionally be browsed by deer and rabbits but are not considered high on these animals’ list of favorite foods.
Diseases include fusarium wilt, verticillium wilt, and root rot. Keeping the foliage dry and ensuring the soil is well-drained can help prevent these problems.
Garden Design and Companion Plants
Plant Bleeding Hearts with other shade and moisture-loving plants such as ferns, heuchera (coral bells), and hostas. When planted with these foliage plants, Bleeding Hearts are the star of the show during their bloom time. Hostas and ferns will grow to hide the bare spot after Lamprocapnos plants go dormant.
Bleeding Hearts also blend nicely with brunnera, hellebores, and Solomon’s Seal.
Plant shade-loving annuals, like begonias and impatiens, around and next to Bleeding Hearts. The annuals will grow to hide the bare spot.
Bleeding Hearts can also be a backdrop to your spring bulb display and look lovely with daffodils, tulips, and grape hyacinths.
‘Luxuriant,’ fringed bleeding heart, which can take a little more sun, pairs nicely with brunnera, anemone, wild ginger (asarum), lady’s mantle (alchemilla), and tiarella.