Today I’d like to introduce you to a spectacular perennial species: the Bleeding Heart plant. Once planted, it’ll continue to return bigger and better every year. A truly unique-looking plant, it’s happiest in moist shade and guaranteed to add brightness to a gloomy spot.
Let us discover a little more about this romantic, unique plant species.
Damp, shaded garden areas are always more challenging when sorting out a planting scheme. Many people are confident in choosing plants for a sunny border, but give them a shade bed to plan and their minds just go blank. We tend to favour planting in sunnier sites, and associate shade with difficult growing conditions, lack of planting choices and overall dullness.
In my opinion, the Bleeding Heart Plant is stunning, and far from dull. I’m sure many of you will already be acquainted with this slender beauty. It was formally botanically referred to as “Dicentra spectabilis” and now “Lamprocapnos spectabilis“.
When planted en masse or amongst other shade-loving perennials like Hostas and Astilbes, its fern-like foliage and gentle arching form is a vision to behold. It features deep pink, heart-shaped lockets dangling in organised rows from a series of slender arching stems.
Native to Northern China, Korea, Japan and Siberia, its delicate appearance encompasses far Eastern aesthetics. As such, it would look magnificent as part of a Feng Shui garden.
Bleeding Heart Plant Varieties
There are actually over twenty varieties of this shade loving specimen plant, all with dainty little locket-like flowers. Below I have listed some of the best:
This traditional Bleeding Heart Plant, “Lamprocapnos spectabilis” is the most recognized and well-known variety. It grows to around 28 inches in height, and is suitable for planting in zones 3-8.
The first flush of lush foliage will appear in springtime as a sign that winter dormancy has passed. Further foliage and flowers appear in late spring, lasting throughout early to mid summer.
Its 9-inch flower stems arch gracefully over a clump of bright green foliage. Each stem holds dangling, deep pink-red and white heart-shaped flowers, each up to an inch in length.
Once flowered, foliage will die back with flower stems from late summer time onward. Being a herbaceous perennial, the plant will remain dormant throughout the winter months and reappear the following spring.
Lamprocapnos spectabalis “Alba”
This has exactly the same form and height of that above, but has exquisite pure white heart-shaped blooms. This variety is commonly used as a cut flower for arrangements.
Both of these varieties perform best in humus rich, moist, free-draining soil in a cool and sheltered, shaded or part-shaded site.
Lamprocapnos spectabilis “Gold Heart”
An old-fashioned, English variety with red-tinged flower stems, and pendulous pink-and-white flowers. This is an interesting change from the standard variety, with lovely golden-yellow foliage and frost hardiness. A valuable addition to a shaded bed, especially when planted alongside glaucous foliage such as “Blue Cadet” hostas.
Also known as the “Pacific Bleeding Heart Plant”. This is a clump-forming perennial with mid-green, fern-like foliage. It’s topped with tender pink-green stems and less uniformed mauve-pink, heart-shaped flowers. This variety grows to around 23 inches with a spreading habit. It’s known to love well-drained, fertile soil and cool, shaded growing conditions.
Lamprocapnos formosa “Alba”
The pure white flowered version of that listed above. It has the same foliage, form, and site requirements.
Lamprocapnos formosa “Bacchanal”
This herbaceous perennial is also known as the Bleeding Heart “Bacchanal” plant. It boasts lacy foliage and arching panicles of deep crimson, heart-shaped flowers. Rather than being bright green, this variety has a glaucous (greyish-blue) tinge to its leaves, which contrasts elegantly with its inch long flowers.
With a growing height of 12-15 inches, and being frost hardy in zones 4-8, this is another strong contender for any shade bed.
Lamprocapnos “Stuart Boothman”
I have fallen in love with the glaucous grey-green foliage on this variety. It creates the perfect companion to the arching sprays of deep-rose pink, heart-shaped flowers, dangling elegantly in panicles from their stems.
This variety is lightly smaller and generally more compact than many of the others listed, at just 12-15 inches high. It’s a pretty little plant, looking especially good alongside the Japanese painted fern “Athyrium”—another curiously colorful, shade-loving plant worth checking out.
Choosing a Site
All plants in this family need a semi- to full-shaded spot in moist, humus-rich, fertile soil. Although they’re pretty frost-hardy, they’re quite tender in structure. Therefore, they really need a sheltered site, away from strong winds and frost pockets.
These plants do not like dry cloggy soils: they’ll suffer and under-perform in these situations.
Growing a Healthy, Strong Plant
Add good amount of well-rotted leaf mold or farmyard manure to the planting hole to help your Bleeding Heart plant grow strong. Unlike a fibrous root system, this plant family has a rhizomatous root system, which is really an underground fleshy storage organ. The roots enlarge year after year, containing all the nutrients the plant needs to recharge for growing again in springtime.
When planting en masse, leave a space of around 2 feet between plants. This will allow the plants to mature and grow into the space sufficiently. Most varieties will grow to around half a metre in width, but always check the plant label before you put it in the ground, just to be sure.
Caring for Your Bleeding Heart Plant
The plant’s preferred cool moist soils tend to stay damp longer when in the shade. When your plant has become established, it’ll only need watering if the soil around it besins to dry out. Give it a really good drink, then let the soil start to dry again before watering again.
I just rely on the weather, to be honest. We have enough rain that everything gets watered by the clouds rather nicely.
Add a good amount of well-rotted manure or leaf mold to your planting hole instead of using an additional feed throughout the growing season.
At the end of the flowering season, when you’re clearing away the dead herbaceous foliage, use this time to put a thick layer of mulch on the flower beds. This practice will protect the root systems from oncoming frosts, keep the ground moist, and put goodness back into the soil for the next growing season. Choose humus mulch in the form of the aforementioned well-rotted manure or leaf mold.
The easiest way to propagate your Bleeding Heart plant is through plant division. Carry this out every three to five years when it has begun to outgrow its space. Dividing the root systems needs to carried out in wintertime when the plant is dormant.
You can also propagate using root cuttings. Do this in late summer when the flowers have faded. Your mother plant will need to be watered well beforehand, which will enable you to dig down to the roots and successfully gather your cuttings.
Once you’ve established where the roots are, clean excess soil from the rhizomes. Use a clean knife to cut off a 3-inch-long piece of root: one that holds at least a couple of growth nodes.
Wash your cutting well and place on the surface of a 9-inch pot that has been filled with a wet mix of 1 part peat compost and 3 parts horticultural sand. Cover your cutting with a thick layer of sand and water lightly.
Keep your pot in a shaded place for around 6 weeks, until you start to see new growth. Water intermittently whenever the sand feels dry, but don’t saturate it. Once there is sufficient new growth, move the cutting into a larger container.
Pests and Diseases
This sounds too good to be true, I know, but there aren’t any specific pest or disease problems with with this plant family, as long as they’re planted in their ideal conditions.
I’ve always enjoyed planning and planting shade beds because you have a whole new range of plants to work with. It’s far more common to plant up a sunny site, so you get used to what works well together: that becomes second nature.
Shade plants also seem to be delicate, intricate beauties. Their foliage has more value than the flowers, most of the time. and there are some precious plants out there that look really effective when planted together.
My favorite companion plants for Bleeding Heart are as follows:
- Hosta “Halcyon” – A lovely blue-leaved hosta and keen shade lover.
- Athyrium niponicum “Pictum” – This is a colorful fern with burgundy and silver shades.
- Dryopteris erythrosa – Another fern with bronze colored new growth—spectacular!
- Helleborus orientalis – Known as the “Lenten Rose”, it boasts pretty, saucer-shaped flowers.
- Polygonatum multiflorum – This Soloman’s Seal plant is tall and graceful, with dangling white flowers
All of the plants above love moist, humus-rich soil and part to full shade.
Take your time to explore the diverse selection of shade-loving perennials available. I’m sure you’ll be impressed and inspired to make something more of that dark, shaded corner in your garden.