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The Dicentra plant is also known as the Bleeding heart and gets its name from the heart-shaped flowers that dangle with a design that looks as though the heart is bleeding.
These are shade-loving woodland plants that provide said flowers at the beginning of Spring when not much else is flowering. They flower for several weeks so you can enjoy them for quite some time but the plant prefers cooler climates and if exposed to conditions that are too warm do not always grow as well.
This bodes well for UK climates where the weather is naturally cooler and often wet as they also like moist but free-draining soil.
A native to Asia, it produces pink, red, and white flowers in the springtime but the dicentra spectabilis variety is probably the most popular with its vigorous habit and red and white flowers. At its maturity, this herbaceous perennial can reach up to a meter tall and wide. It prefers shaded areas as mentioned with rich, moist soil that is somewhere between slightly acidic and neutral.
How to grow bleeding hearts
As mentioned, bleeding hearts are quite particular about the growing conditions namely the heat. They do not tolerate significantly hot summer weather which is why gardeners and very warm regions will have trouble with them but most gardens in the UK are much better suited for them. They do tolerate almost all soil with the exception of heavy clay soil or any soil that doesn’t have proper drainage leading to root rot.
Plant in partial shade
They do best if grown in partial shade. Given the early flower production of this perennial, you can easily plant them near any deciduous trees in your garden so that they get ample access to warmth and sun with some light shading during their growing season and then protection from the tree branches and leaves when the summer heat is at its hottest.
They prefer moist, humus-rich soil but well-draining
If you can have hummus rich, moist soil, with about 6 cm worth of organic matter, your plants will thrive. It’s always important to improve aeration so that the roots have enough room to spread as well as proper drainage so that the roots don’t get root rot. Mix in plenty of organic matter into the soil before planting and some extra grit mixed into the soil if the soil gets a little wet in winter to help improve drainage.
Watering dicentra – keep soil moist but not waterlogged
When it comes to watering requirements for your bleeding heart, make sure that they are giving extra water in the warmer weather even if you noticed that the plant has died back as a result of warm weather. If you recently planted it, give it water at the onset to help it adjust to the new environment but beyond that, treat it as you would any other woodland plant and simply provided with a moist environment that is never too wet.
Feeding bleeding hearts and providing essential nutrients
Bleeding hearts don’t need a lot of food so you may not have to add fertilizer. The decision to incorporate some extra fertilizer into the soil is heavily contingent upon the type of soil you already have.
Decent soil with good compost mixed into it won’t need any additional fertilizer to keep it nutrient balanced and to provide your bleeding heart with adequate food.
Mulch with leaf mold or homemade compost
On the other hand, if you have particularly difficult soil that is lacking in almost all vital nutrients, you can add fertilizer as a top dressing every spring once a year. If you can help it, simply integrate organic soil every year and give a top dressing of leaf mold or homemade compost to avoid any extra fertilizer.
Given the regrowth and nature of the plant, you actually don’t have to prune or deadhead at all. You can leave the flowers if you see fit and propagate from the seeds or you can trim back the foliage for aesthetic purposes before this happens. Remember that even if things are getting a little ragged in their appearance which they usually do being early flowers, it won’t harm the plant to go without pruning.
However, if you want to shear it back to the basal growth you can and the bleeding heart will rebloom the following spring or sometimes even for a second time in the same year.
As mentioned you can propagate from seed but propagating by division is much easier. They don’t often self-seed in the garden to the point that it becomes a problem but they will do it every year if you leave the flowers to become seeds.
Growing from seed
You can let them fall as they will or take the seeds off the plant before this happens and then sow them outdoors in the autumn in a different area of your garden. You have to do it in the Autumn so that the bleeding heart seeds can endure the freezing temperatures for the first winter.
Learn more about growing dicentra from seeds and how to cold store the seeds if you want to sow them in spring instead
Conversely, you can use division or cuttings to propagate. If you have a bleeding heart plant that is significantly larger and mature you can divide them in spring just as new growth appears.
Cuttings can be propagated indoors in potting soil with a plastic bag or container around them until such time as they have developed roots and can be moved outside. If you are placing your cuttings outside you need to adhere to the same rule as seeds in that they have to be transplanted in the Autumn so that they can endure the freezing temperatures initially.