Favorite Plants: Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis, the plant formerly known as Dicentra spectabilis) is one of the highlights of the spring gardening season in our family. Those delicate, dangling pink hearts with their backdrop of ferny foliage are so romantic and old-fashioned looking. I vow every year that I’m going to plant a few more. Hopefully, this year will be the year.

Here are ten tidbits about bleeding heart:

1. Hardy in zones 3 through 9.

2. You can find bleeding hearts that bloom in pink, white, or red.

3. Bleeding heart goes dormant in the heat of summer. The foliage turns yellow and starts to die back. It’s a good idea to have a container or some annuals ready to fill the space once this starts happening, or you’ll have a gap in your garden.

4. You can grow bleeding heart from seed. You need to start with freshly ripened seed, and sow in a cold frame. I’ve also heard of people winter sowing them, but I haven’t tried that yet.

5. Bleeding heart grows best in light shade (sunny mornings and shady afternoons are optimal) but will also grow well in part-shade and even full shade.

6. Bleeding heart prefers evenly moist soil, especially while blooming. In fact, if you keep the soil moist, you’ll extend the bloom period for your bleeding hearts, possibly as late as mid-summer.

7. Bleeding heart rarely, if ever, needs dividing. I’ve had mine for eight years, and it’s still growing strong without division.

8. Mulch your bleeding heart well to help maintain that all-important soil moisture.

9. Bleeding heart is also known as Lady in a Bath, Lyre Flower, or Dutchman’s Trousers.

10. The most common folklore behind the bleeding heart is, of course, a tale of unrequited love. Here is one lovely variation of the story of the bleeding heart, told with parts of the flower itself.

If you’ve got a moist, shady spot in your yard, and a bit of a romantic streak, this may be the perfect plant to add to your garden. And if you have kids, they will love exploring the flowers with you.


Best Spring Perennials for Michigan: Bergenia

These gorgeous plants are grown as much for their foliage, which forms a pretty little rosette, and their flowers. Blooming in shades of white, pink, red, and purple, held aloft on sturdy maroon stems, they are a unique addition to the spring garden.

Where to Plant Bergenia:

Bergenia grows best in full sun to partial shade, in moist, rich soil. It is a good idea to plant them in groups of three or more plants for a nice display of color. Plant them 10 to 20 inches apart.

Bergenia looks great at the front of a border or along a walkway. Even when it’s not blooming, the rosettes of shiny green leaves will give you something attractive to look at.

Growing Bergenia:

Bergenia are actually pretty carefree plants. Other than making sure to water properly while they’re getting established, they can be left pretty much on their own. You’ll want to deadhead them after bloom, and divide regularly (see section on propagating Bergenia, below) to keep the plants growing strong. Once established, Bergenia are fairly drought-resistant, though you will want to give them some water (an inch or so per week) during an extended hot, dry spell.

Bergenia Pests and Diseases:

The most common pests you’ll encounter when growing Bergenia are slugs. If you start noticing holes in the foliage, look underneath the leaves and near the soil surface for the slimy pests, and hand-pick regularly to remove them. You can also try sprinkling coffee grounds or crushed eggshells around your plants to deter the slugs.

Propagating Bergenia:

You can start bergenia from seed, but it doesn’t always grow true from seed. It is better to start with plants or (if you’re lucky) rhizome divisions from another gardener.

You can dig and divide Bergenia by cutting and transplanting extra rhizomes in other spots in the garden. When making divisions, just make sure that at least one leaf shoot is attached to each section. Bergenia should be divided every two to three years to maintain the plants’ vigor.

Good Partners for Bergenia:

Ferns and irises both provide nice contrasts to the round, shiny foliage of Bergenia. Other good companions include spring-blooming bulbs such as scilla, snowdrops, or crocus.