Dicentra is an elegant, easy care perennial for shady gardens. More commonly known as bleeding heart, it is named for its heart-shaped blossoms that dangle from slender, arching stems. Delicate, fernlike foliage creates a perfect backdrop for the flowers.
Dicentra is a great companion for other shade loving perennials such as hosta, astilbe and ferns, as well as summer-blooming bulbs such as caladiums and begonias. Generations of gardeners have lost their hearts to dicentra’s charm.
START WITH A BETTER PLANT
When you compare two dicentra plants side by side, it’s easy to see differences in quality. Longfield Gardens supplies grade #1 plants that have strong, well developed root systems. The bigger the root system, the faster the plant will settle into your garden and the sooner it will flower.
SHADE AND SUN: Both old fashioned bleeding heart (Dicentra spectablis) and fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa) grow best in partial shade where they are protected from hot sun.
ZONE: Dicentra are hardy in zones 3-9. If you don't know your growing zone, check the map HERE.
WHEN TO PLANT: Plant bareroot dicentra in early spring while the plants are still dormant. Potted plants may be planted at any time during the growing season.
WHERE TO PLANT:
WOODLAND GARDENS: Bleeding heart is a great companion for primroses, phlox, columbine, violets, trillium and other spring ephemerals. Its informal habit and fernlike foliage blends well with wildflowers and other native plants.
SHADY PERENNIAL GARDENS: Both types of dicentra are ideal for shady perennial gardens, where they combine beautifully with hosta, astilbe, pulmonaria, ferns and lady’s mantle.
GROUND COVER: For a pretty ground cover beneath lilacs and other flowering shrubs, combine bleeding heart with small spring-blooming bulbs such as crocus, chionodoxa and scilla. As the early-blooming bulbs fade, the fernlike leaves of the bleeding heart will hide their foliage.
ROCK GARDENS: In the wild, dicentra formosa often grows on rocky outcroppings. It will be equally at home in a semi-shaded rock garden.
PLANTING DICENTRA IS AS EASY AS 1-2-3
1. Loosen the soil to a depth of 8” and mix in several handfuls of compost.
2. Put the dicentra in the hole so the crown of the plant (where the roots meet the stem) is positioned about 1” below the surrounding soil.
3. Cover the roots with soil and water well.
PLANTING TIPS FOR DICENTRA
Old fashioned bleeding heart needs humusy soil that contains lots of organic matter. It will not tolerate extremely wet or extremely dry soil. Bloom time is spring. After flowering, the foliage will yellow and die back to the ground. It’s good to have other plants nearby – such as ferns, astilbes or hostas – to fill in the gap when the bleeding heart goes dormant.
Fringed bleeding heart is native to the eastern US, where it grows naturally in woodlands and on rocky cliffs. The low-growing plants produce a mound of lacy foliage that looks good all season long. Once established, fringed bleeding heart is more sun and drought tolerant than old fashioned bleeding heart. Dicentra eximia blooms in early summer and may continue to flower on and off for months.
Before planting, you can enhance the soil by adding compost or leaf mold. There’s no need to add fertilizer. Dicentra are actually quite sensitive to fertilizers so it’s best to let them draw nutrients directly from the soil.
After planting, mulch the area around your dicentra with shredded leaves or compost. These organic mulches will suppress weeds, retain moisture and gradually enrich the soil as they break down. Old fashioned bleeding heart grows into a large plant that may eventually occupy a 3' x 3' area. Fernleaf bleeding heart is much smaller and the plants can be spaced 12 to 15 inches apart.
If deer are a problem in your garden, they will probably ignore both old fashioned and fringed bleeding hearts. Hummingbirds, on the other hand, love their nectar-rich flowers.
CARING FOR DICENTRA AFTER THEY BLOOM
After flowering, the leaves of old fashioned bleeding heart will look tattered and/or begin to yellow. If you wish, the foliage can be cut back to the ground. The plant may send up new leaves or may just die back completely until the next spring.
Dicentra are hardy perennials and they will flower for many years without dividing. If it’s necessary to move a plant, do it in the spring while the plant is still dormant. The roots of dicentra are brittle and the plants don’t like being moved. Take the time to dig a large hole and remove the entire root ball. Replant immediately and water consistently until the plant has reestablished its root system.