Bleeding Hearts For Spring Gardens
Bleeding Heart, or Dicentra Spectabilis is one of the most popular spring blooming perennials in the west. Part of the reason is that Dicentra Spectabilis, (known for its low temperature, zone 2, hardiness) can survive winter at minus fifty-to-forty degree winter temperatures! This makes it an easy survivor in high Rocky Mountain gardens. But its popularity is more based on its heart shaped flowers that dangle from graceful arching stems, for the plant is easily recognized by everyone, even children. The delicate hearts are backed up by equally charming fern-like foliage of deeply divided blue-green foliage. Also, Bleeding Hearts are native to the United States and have added their ethereal beauty to shady gardens from the beginning. Native origins give it deer resistance, a carefree long-life, and a toughness that belies their fragile looking beauty.
The key to growing Bleeding Hearts is organic mulch. They are not fond of fertilization but will thrive with the initial planting spot enhanced with mulch and addition mulch added regularly. Organic mulch suppresses weeds, retains moisture and enriches the soil.
Dicentra Spectabilis grows about thirty-inches tall and wide and breaks dormancy early. Damage from late freezes or snow and wind may harm the Bleeding Heart’s stems. Removing these will benefit the plants for they will emerge again, thicker and stronger. Dicentra, or the common Bleeding Heart, will go into dormancy due to drought conditions or excessive summer heat later in the season. Planting it in partial shade or shade is necessary and will help prolong the looks of the plant, but a summer dormancy, called an ephemeral perennial, is necessary for the health and beauty of next year’s plants. Planning on using later-season flowers to camouflage the bare spot left by the dormant Dicentra. My favorite companion plants are Physostegia and late breaking Hosta. Wild geraniums will share a garden space with Bleeding Hearts very comfortably.
If you want to inspire a child with wonder in the garden, you’ll love the story David Wilson tells about the first time his grandmother taught him the name of this plant. In his native Ireland, it is called, “Lady in the Bath,” and he’ll show you why. The “story starts at about minute 2, but before he tells the story, he shows some beautiful Dicentra varieties you may want to look for at your favorite nursery.
Dicentra seed is all but impossible to germinate for it needs extended cold and heat treatments so fall division is an option. Bleeding Hearts have long brittle roots that grow horizontally so a planting hole will require plenty of space. Personally, I have the best success with purchasing potted Dicentra.