How to - Gardening Resources

Growing old-fashioned bleeding hearts

Well loved for its early blooms, bleeding hearts are a mainstay of cottage gardens.

Western bleeding heart (D. formosa) Also known as fernleaf or Pacific bleeding heart, this species thrives in moist woods along the Pacific northwest coast. Featuring fern-like, greyish green foliage, which persists throughout the growing season, its buds open in late spring to display pale or deep rose-pink, heart-shaped flowers on long, leafless, arching stems.

Two new Dicentra hybrids worth watching for are D. spectabilis ‘Gold Heart' (Zone 5) from England, with shining sprays of golden foliage and pink bleeding hearts; and D. formosa ‘King of Hearts' (Zone 4), a dwarf from the U.S., featuring rosy flowers that continue blooming all summer.

Prolific self-seeders
Notorious self-seeders, bleeding hearts will often create many new plants. Divide in spring or fall, but be sure to treat brittle roots with care. Cuttings can be taken from large plants after flowering or from young shoots once they've started to grow in spring.

Heart to heart
• Plant Dicentra in spring, preferably in humus-rich, moist soil enriched with compost or leaf mould in full sun or partial shade.
• Do not plant in hot or windy areas of the garden.
• Plants can grow very large; be sure to leave ample space around each bleeding heart—at least 90 centimetres for D. spectabilis, 45 centimetres for D. formosa.
• Apply mulch in May.
• Plants can be potted up and forced into bloom inside.
• Deer will usually not eat them. (D. eximia is the exception.)
• Sprigs of flowers and foliage look lovely in mixed bouquets.

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