Bleeding Heart: Delicate yet Tough

Bleeding Heart BlossomsIs it worth growing an herbaceous perennial if it only lasts a half-season? I used to ask myself that about Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis, now renamed Lamprocapnos spectabilis). Many gardeners know it, it’s the old fashioned perennial that shoots up in early March in the Pacific Northwest, immediately blooms in beautiful drooping, two-toned flowers, grows big and bushy, then by early June, ceases blooming, and dies back. I still love it though. It grows quickly so in the dull grayness of spring it brings cheer and fresh foliage to the landscape. It fills in a visual blank when hydrangeas and fuchsias are bare sticky forms and hostas and grasses are nowhere to be seen. One rarely needs to water it as spring rains usually take care of that. Also, I’ve never grown a Bleeding Heart that caught a disease. The foliage is almost always whole and unblemished. It’s too divided and papery for slugs, though I’ve read that slugs can be a pest toward it. But if it gets some sunlight and has good-draining soil, Bleeding Heart is one of those workhorses that requires little to no care while offering alluring blossoms and interesting texture.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Old Fashioned'
Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Old Fashioned’

The well known Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Old Fashioned’ features medium green foliage and those classic pink and white flowers. It’s so unusual and cool how the flowers hang like lanterns off the fine branches. For me, this straight species variety has been the bushiest and most vigorous growing in one season.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Gold Heart'
Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’

I love L. spectabilis ‘Gold Heart.’ You can spot it from 100 feet away. The leaves come up bright yellow, then fade to chartreuse, depending on the light exposure. This absolutely glows against the wintery blackness of its surrounding soil.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Alba'
Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’ (Photo from Plant Delights Nursery)

This white bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’) is a little leggier and less robust, I’ve found. But it’s still worth growing, especially if you have a darkish corner in a perennial bed.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Valentine'
Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Valentine’

I have to confess ‘Valentine’ is not my favorite. I’m just not a red color person. But hummingbirds love it. And this one features burgundy new growth.

New cultivars of Bleeding Heart include ‘Amore Rose’ (brilliant magenta blossoms with a touch of purple at its ends) and ‘Love Hearts’ (white blossoms with a touch of purple at its ends).

I usually plant Bleeding Heart at the middle depth of a mixed, part-shade border, in front of a large shrub but behind a small, mounding shrub or low-growing perennial. They usually top out at about 30 inches tall and depending how happy they are, 20-30 inches wide. I fertilize with organic fish fertilizer once in April. When the plant has exhausted its blooms and is fading to yellow, usually in late June, I cut it to the ground. The key to growing Bleeding Heart is giving it some sunlight. Otherwise, it tends to get tall and leggy and will not bush out. This old stalwart is a worthy addition to almost any garden in the Unites States (Zones 3 – 9).

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