A classic cottage garden staple, bleeding hearts have long been a favorite in perennial gardens. It’s easy to see how these plants, with their heart-shaped pink or white blooms, have captured the love of so many gardeners. Dicentra are quick to come up in the spring, and their long stems with pendulous, romantic flowers beg to be admired.
The old-fashioned bleeding heart, D. spectabilis, is truly an easy-to-grow perennial. These plants are quick to pop up alongside spring bulbs and swiftly grow to full size. D. spectabilis leaves are generally a pleasant blue-green or gold, and its heart-shaped blossoms can come in a range of colors, including pink, red, white-reds, and white.
Dicentra Care Must-Knows
Bleeding heart is an ephemeral plant, which means that once summer comes along, it will go dormant. (So don't panic if your plant dies back rather quickly after it blooms—it's just taking a nap.) While the classic poster child of the Dicentra family is the typical old-fashioned bleeding heart, there are other species worth considering, like the fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia). This eastern United States native comes from a shady woodland environment. Similar in many ways to the traditional bleeding heart, fringed bleeding heart comes up in spring and blooms right away. The flowers aren't quite as obviously heart-shaped, but they are no less beautiful. One benefit to the fringed bleeding heart is that it is not an ephemeral, so it stays up in your garden all through the growing season. This also means that you may get a few reblooms in the early summer if it stays cool, and potentially again in the fall as the summer dies down. The foliage on the fringed bleeding heart is smaller and finer than the old-fashioned type.
The next in this great family is the western bleeding heart, or Dicentra formosa. This is also sometimes referred to as the Pacific bleeding heart, since it hails from the forests of the Pacific coast. Much like its eastern cousin, the western bleeding heart is a woodland perennial that persists throughout the growing season and won't go dormant when adequately watered. Its flowers are extremely similar to the fringed bleeding heart, but the foliage is slightly more fernlike.
Dutchman's breeches (D. cucullaria) share many of the same characteristics as its bleeding heart cousins. But rather than a heart-shaped flower, these woodland natives hold what looks like upside-down pants (or "breeches") above their blue-green foliage. Coming in a little smaller than the bleeding hearts, this variation does well in shady gardens and is a great conversation starter, too.
More Varieties of Bleeding Heart
Dicentra cucullaria features adorable blooms shaped like upturned breeches in spring. Summer dormant. Zones 3–9
Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart' offers a dramatic color combination. It pairs chartreuse foliage with pink blooms to stunning effect. Zones 3-9
Dicentra eximia has deeply cut, blue-green foliage and pink blooms rising to one foot. It reblooms through summer and fall as long as temperatures are not excessively hot. It is native to the eastern U.S. Zones 4-8
Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' has the same qualities as regular old-fashioned bleeding heart except its flowers are pure white. Zones 3-9
Dicentra 'King of Hearts' produces a mound of blue-green foliage six to eight inches tall and masses of pink blooms in spring and again in late summer and fall. Zones 4-8
Dicentra spectabilis is a two- to three-foot-tall springtime bloomer with long arching branches of dangling heart-shape blooms. It usually goes dormant in summer, so pair it with a plant that will fill in its space later in the year. Zones 3-9
Plant Bleeding Heart With:
This plant hardly grown 40 years ago is now one of the most commonly grown garden plants. But hosta has earned its spot in the hearts of gardeners—it's among the easiest plants to grow, as long as you have some shade and ample rainfall. Hostas vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive four-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that can be puckered, wavy-edged, white or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged—the variations are virtually endless. Hostas in new sizes and new foliage features seem to appear each year. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plantain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shape or flared flowers in summer. Some are intensely fragrant. Hostas are a favorite of slug and deer.
In spring, a cloud of tiny blue flowers hovers above brunnera's mound of fuzzy heart-shape leaves. The plant prefers partial shade but can grow in full sun in cool climates provided it receives adequate moisture. Variegated forms need more shade; in full sun they're likely to scorch. It is sometimes called Siberian bugloss.
In early spring, the brilliant blue, pink, or white flowers of lungwort bloom despite the coldest chill. The rough basal leaves, spotted or plain, always please and continue to be handsome through the season and into winter. Planted close as a weed-discouraging groundcover or in borders as edgings or bright accent plants, lungworts are workhorses and retain their good looks. The plants prefer high-humus soil that retains moisture. Although lungwort tolerates dry conditions, be alert for mildew.