Fundamental Facts

HARDINESS: Zones 3 to 8
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Neutral to slightly acidic
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Fertile, moist but well-drained
PREFERRED LIGHT: Full to partial shade; more sun in cool, moist climates
ATTRIBUTES: Graceful, heart-shaped, pink or white flowers; blue-green, ferny foliage
SEASON OF INTEREST: Midspring to summer
FAVORITES: D. spectabilis; ever-blooming D. eximia 'Luxuriant', 'Snowdrift'
QUIRKS: White-flowered types are slightly less vigorous than the pinks
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Ajuga, ferns, hostas, Solomon's seal, trillium
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Full to partial shade in rich, moist soil
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Fungal leaf diseases can occur in damp sites with poor air circulation
RENEWING PLANTS: Plants live many years; divide overgrown clumps
SOURCE: Division; seeds of pure species
DIMENSIONS: 2-3 ft (0.6-1 m) high, 2-3 ft (0.6-1 m) wide

Bleeding Heart in the Landscape

Clearly a perennial designed for romance, bleeding heart casts a spell with its graceful, arching sprays of dangling heart-shaped blossoms and blue-green, fernlike leaves. Whether planted on the shady north side of a building or under trees along a woodland walk, bleeding heart catches your eye with its 1 in (2.5 cm) long blossoms that look like little hearts torn apart and shedding drops of blood. The flowers dangle gracefully from many arching flower stems.

Three feet (1 m) tall and equally wide, bleeding heart thrives in the shade of leafy trees. It emerges when the gentle spring sun warms the soil, then lasts into summer, protected by the leafy canopy overhead.The flowers are delightful additions to bouquets. Cut the stems when half of the flowers are open, in early morning, and plunge the stems into cold water for several hours before arranging.

Whether in a bouquet or in your garden, savor most bleeding hearts while they last. In midsummer, as the last blossoms fade, the foliage of the species Dicentra spectabilis suddenly yellows and the plant goes into dormancy, although the roots live on to flower in coming springs for dozens of years. Inter plant bleeding hearts with ferns or hostas to fill the vacancy during the second half of summer.

An Ever-Blooming; Heart

To extend the show, try the fringed bleeding heart, D. eximia. Although smaller and less showy than D. spectabilis, this North American native keeps its handsome foliage all summer and sends up flowers from late spring into fall. Just pinch out the old flower stems to encourage more blooms.

Fringed bleeding heart has been crossed with several other species, and hybrid plants in varying shades of pink, such as 'Luxuriant' and 'King of Hearts', as well as the pure white 'Snowdrift' and 'Purity' varieties are available. They have such a long-running act that hardy fringed bleeding hearts are perfect for containers, provided they receive shade and moisture. Similarly, they can line woodland paths or grace spots with dappled shade in perennial borders.

Growing Bleeding Heart

Loosen the soil and dig in plenty of organic matter when planting. Set out potted plants in early spring, or plant dormant roots as soon as the soil can be worked in late winter. Keep the soil moist until the young plants are established. An organic mulch will cool the roots and retain moisture, but to prevent root rot, keep the mulch away from the plant crowns, or growing points where leaves emerge. When plants go dormant, trim away faded foliage and mark the site so you don't accidentally dig into the roots while they're at rest. Established plants are best left undisturbed. Mulch with 1 in (2.5 cm) of compost in spring, and you'll enjoy years of care-free flowers.

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