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.