Landscape Spotlight: Bleeding Heart, ‘Dicentra spectabilis’

Posted February 28, 2019 in Plant and Tree

Whether you know this garden beauty by bleeding heart, lady in the tub or lady in a bathtub, this spring herbaceous plant is a classic staple in the landscape.  Native to northern China and Japan, this pretty perennial was introduced to England by Robert Fortune when he returned from a plant expedition sponsored by the Royal Horticulture Society in 1846; thank you, Mr. Fortune, for our great fortune!

Most often described as delicate and dainty, don’t let this ephemeral beauty fool you; it is quite hardy!  Bleeding hearts are trouble-free and quite resilient additions to the landscape.  This landscape spotlight is shade-loving and clump-forming, generally topping out at 2-3 feet in height with a similar spread.  Blooming in the early spring months of April-May, its foliage will quickly grow lush and usher in a most-welcomed splash of color with its many flowers along its long stems.  You will find that the graceful fern-like leaves sway in the slightest of breezes and is only trumped in beauty by its stunning red, pink or white heart-shaped flowers cascading off its romantic arching stems.  In the early stages of bloom, a little drop of “blood” dangles at the bottom of the base of the heart, hence the name.  Once the flower has fully matured, the drops transition to all white, becoming one of the prettiest and most whimsical plants in the garden.

Hardy in planting zones 3-9 (find your zone here), you need not worry about the deer, rabbits and other pests wiping out this plant before you have the chance to enjoy it; the bleeding heart is virtually pest-free!  It’s been reported that this plant is toxic if ingested in large quantities, so perhaps it is learned behavior to leave them alone.  On this same note, if you happen to have a furry friend of the family that gets curious in the garden, you may want to block access to this plant, for safety measures.

Mentioned as a shade-loving plant, bleeding hearts do well in most landscape scenarios, but make sure that they are always introduced to areas with well-drained soil, as this will mitigate any chance of root rot.  Although slightly acidic and humus-rich soil is its favorite, you can find bleeding hearts thriving in dappled shade under trees, near woodland water sources and around the home.  Unfortunately, this landscape loveliness only lasts until mid-summer and the foliage will die back in dormancy after the flowers have faded.  When the foliage has wilted and turned yellow, the plant can be cut back to the ground for a cleaner look.  Don’t worry, it will be back next year!  If you feel that you will forget where it was planted, place a stone or a notable marking in that location, so you don’t end up planting on top of the now-invisible plant!

After you cut back the spent leaves and stems, go ahead and plant colorful annuals to compensate for this new-found landscape vacancy.   If annuals are not on your to-do list, you may want to explore the option of companion plantings that work well with bleeding hearts.  Plants such as hostas and ferns are wonderful complementing additions, as their foliage is about to pick up speed as the bleeding heart begins to decline.  The texture and visual interest of hostas and ferns will balance the surrounding evergreens and colorful summer perennial petals.

After a few seasons and when bleeding hearts are well established, you will want to divide and plant in other areas in the landscape or give them to your friends as a glorious garden gift!  Division is best done in the spring just as the plant begins to grow again, or done in the early fall when the foliage is cut back.  You can also harvest its seeds after the seed heads turn brown and the seeds inside are black.  You may plant the seeds immediately for successful propagation the following spring season!

Without a doubt, bleeding hearts provide unmatched beauty in the spring to early summer landscape.  Once you have this beauty included in your landscape layout, you will understand what we mean!  When the garden is about to awaken from its winter slumber, bleeding hearts offer a sweet ascension into the new year with its dainty yet romantic and playful exuberance.  Just as this plant elicits smiles and carefree attitudes outdoors, its lengthy and unique stems make excellent cuttings for indoor flower vases and arrangements, bringing its delight indoors you can’t go wrong!

Serving the Poconos, the Lehigh Valley through the Main Line of Philadelphia and western New Jersey, MasterPLAN Outdoor Living would love to help uncover the true potential of your property!  We are truly committed to creating custom, low-maintenance outdoor living spaces that provide an enjoyable and beautiful place to rest, relax and spend quality time with your friends and family.  If you would like to explore your options with an outdoor living design/build firm that is professional, passionate and caring, reach out to become a part of the MasterPLAN family!  We are ready to partner with you along this positive and creative journey!

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