Companions for Bleeding Heart

gold heart dicentra bleeding heart

Question: I have a wonderful stand of bleeding hearts in my front garden that come up after the tulips and daffodils have bloomed, but by late June and July the foliage looks terrible. Any suggestions for under plantings or follow-on plantings? The garden faces west and gets about half-day sun.

Answer: Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) can be frustrating as they move from their charming spring bloom back to dormancy. Once the leaves have yellowed, you can cut them back.

Classic companions include hostas and ferns. Their foliage is usually picking up speed just as the bleeding heart finishes blooming and begins to decline. (If the afternoon sun reaching your garden is strong and hot, the ferns may burn.)

Brunnera macrophylla makes a good partner as well. The cultivar ‘Jack Frost’ is very popular. This plant has green and white spotted foliage and blue spring flowers. It blooms about the same time as bleeding heart, but its foliage remains attractive all summer.

Astilbes bloom in early to midsummer, with large plumes of bright flowers held upright. These may be just the trick for screening your bleeding hearts’ demise. Bear in mind that astilbes require regular watering.

Heucheras, heucherellas and foamflowers (Tiarella spp.) can all provide interest and distraction with their colorful leaves, and they’ll do well in part shade.

You might also try planting Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’ or ‘Luxuriant’—bleeding heart hybrids that bloom all summer in cool regions and offer a rebloom after a short midsummer rest in warmer climates. In all areas, its foliage looks decent all summer long. Cultivars of the eastern-US native fernleaf bleeding heart (D. eximia), such as ‘Burning Hearts’ also provide longer bloom and green foliage through the summer if you deadhead the spent flowers and do not allow the plants to dry out. The same can be said for native Pacific bleeding heart (D. formosa).

Shown: Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’, a chartreuse-leaved cultivar, in late spring, with emerging hostas and Japanese painted fern. Spotted leaves of lungwort (Pulmoaria cv.), another good companion choice, appear to the right of the fern.

Public domain image. Source.

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9 thoughts on “Companions for Bleeding Heart

  1. In addition to the plants listed (ferns, hosta and lungwort), I also like to plant Ceratostigma plumbaginoides around bleeding hearts. The little green plants grow nicely under and around the dicentra foliage, and as it dies back the Ceratostigma get larger and then bloom with those fantastic blue flowers! It will tolerate partial shade quite well.

  2. Sounds like a nice spot for a couple of fillers; I call them the bones of the garden. How about the following shrubs which can remain on the smaller side: Kerria japonica ‘Picta’ a lovely variegated graceful 3-4′ deciduous shrub with small yellow flowers, shade/partsun, avg soil, all-seasons interest, z4b-9 or Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Dart’s Gold’ another deciduous shrub, 4-5′, sun/pt shade, z3-7, renew by cutting to the ground in late winter, an adaptable shade brightener for a small space, spring yellow leaves turning to light green in summer and back to yellow in the autmun. My bleeding heart area has become a fantastic large bed over the years which also includes yellow celandine poppies, blood root, mayapple and my husband’s large G-scale train winding its way thru and under the foliage! Good luck -

  3. Another choice instead of, or mixed with, Brunnera is Candelabra Primula. I have used it for years in front of my Bleeding Heart. The Primula are best with partial shade. I have planted in 2 locations. One is at the east end of the house, which faces north, and receives half-day morning sun. The other, more recent planting, I took a small gamble on, is in a bed sited out in the yard. I planted the Primula around a Pagoda Dogwood mixed with Cranesbill Geraniums, Johnny-Jump-Ups, and Tulips for an extended season display. The Primula blooms with the Bleeding Heart in shades of pink and once established form clumps of plants with leaaves that remain all summer. Many people have commented that the clumps resemble lettuce. My experience with the sunny planting around the Dogwood is the Primula act like the “canary in the mine” in that they wilt when dry. Sun does not seem to burn the plants, they simply require sufficient water. It is a 1 foot high raised bed and if the Primula need water then the entire bed would benefit from being watered. If left to go to seed the Primula freely multiply, but the babies are easily thinned or scratched out if unwanted. They are sensitive to transplanting. Young plants are best potted and kept moist – not wet – in full shade until established then planted out. Mature plants can have roots that reach as much as a foot deep and as wide as the plant.

    • One thing I might add. My garden is in Zone 4 Wisconsin. The Primula die to the ground in the winter but come back year after year after the Tulips bloom.

  4. Here in Boulder, CO I have had great success with several cultivars of Brunnera, Jack Frost and Looking Glass particular favorites. The height of the plants have worked well as campanions and camouflage with bleeding hearts and early spring bulbs. The foliage is the true interest for me but the beautiful light blue flowers are truely wonderful. Brunnera has held up beautifully during the height of our summers and into the fall. This has definitely become one of my favorite shade/part shade garden perennials.

  5. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ does not have spotted or speckled leaves. It has white leaves with green veins. The plant to the right of the fern appears to be pulmonaria with white flowers.

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