If you garden with children, bleeding heart is one of the plants for northern gardens that is an absolute must. What child would not be fascinated — even awed — by the delicate pink hearts that dangle from bleeding heart’s arching branches in spring.
A garden favorite, bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is native to both Asia and the eastern North America. It became a popular garden plant in the mid-1800s, and many gardeners associate it with old-fashioned gardens. One reason for bleeding heart’s popularity is that it provides early color to shady gardens. It grows best in evenly moist soils in shade or part shade conditions, similar to those in the woodland settings from which it comes. In spring, it grows to 2 to 3 feet tall and 18 to 30 inches wide, with lacy foliage and the characteristic graceful branches.
Bleeding heart is relatively trouble-free, hardy to USDA Zone 2 and will bloom for several weeks, though it may disappear from the garden when temperatures get hot and soils dry. Don’t be too worried, though, it will likely return next spring.
While the species (pink) bleeding heart is lovely, there are several varieties that you may see in nurseries and garden centers. Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ has white blooms that are very showy, especially in dense shade. Even better, this bleeding heart tolerates rabbits — a constant threat in northern gardens. For interesting foliage as well as blooms, gardeners may want to plant Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’. This variety has pink flowers but a yellow gold foliage that stands out in the shade garden.
Bleeding heart grows well with other shade lovers, such as columbine, ferns and coralbells (Huechera). We’ve seen it in the front gardens of many east-facing homes. Bleeding heart does especially well in sites with morning sun and afternoon shade.
Where do you plant your bleeding hearts?