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Vermont Garden Journal: Bleeding Hearts, An Early Spring Delight

In this week's "Vermont Garden Journal," learn all about the early-spring blooming perennial bleeding hearts, or dicentra.

In a Mary Oliver poem, she says of this plant, “Most things that are important, have you noticed, lack a certain neatness.” Well, this is certainly true of bleeding hearts. This Dicentra family plant makes an early spring appearance as soon as the ground thaws. The grassy foliage quickly grows into a floppy 3 to 4 feet tall and wide plant that's loaded with heart-shaped flowers. The colorful flowers appear to have a trickle of blood dripping out the bottom, hence the common name, bleeding heart.

Bleeding hearts originally hail from Japan, and became popular in Europe in the 1800's. They made their way to America as a Valentine's Day gift and have been a mainstay in our gardens every since.

While the traditional, large-sized pink and white flowered bleeding heart is the most common, there are some variations worth trying. 'Alba' is a white hearted version.  'Golden Heart' features golden leaves and red flowers. The 'Fringed' bleeding heart has deeply cut, fern-like leaves on a one foot tall plant with delicate, small flowers.

Bleeding hearts are hardy, tough plants. They grow well in part shade in cool, moist, fertile soil. When happy they can last for many years and be divided in early spring or late summer to be shared. Bleeding heart flowers last for a few weeks in spring. Then the plant slowly yellows and dies by mid summer. I usually cut them to the ground at this point. You can also plant bleeding hearts where other summer perennials, such a daylilies and bee balm, can over take them come June and hide the dying plant's foliage.

And now for this week's tip, start your tomatoes seeds indoors now. By starting a little later, you'll have healthy, stocky transplants to pop in the garden towards the end of May. To keep them stocky, gently brush the seedlings with your hand 20 to 40 times each day once the true leaves form. The movement keeps the plants short and robust.

Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I'll be talking about organic fertilizers. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.


The Vermont Garden Journal with Charlie Nardozzi is made possible by Gardener's Supply, offering environmental solutions for gardens and landscapes. In Burlington, Williston and

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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