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Dicentra Plant Growing & Care Guide for Gardeners

Article by Dean Ravenscroft, Ph.D. - Updated 24th Nov 2023

In this Gardener's HQ guide, we'll explore cultivating Dicentra plants in your garden, indoor spaces, and other settings.

At a Glance: Dicentra
  • Plant Characteristics: Dicentra has heart-shaped flowers and fern-like foliage. Its unique blooms and easy care make it ideal for shaded borders and woodland gardens.
  • Ideal Growing Conditions: Prefers a moist well-drained soil, and partial shade. It excels in cooler climates.
  • General Care: Requires minimal maintenance. Keep soil consistently moist for optimal growth.
  • Tips for New Gardeners: Bleeding heart is ideal for beginners seeking a low-maintenance yet visually appealing plant. Be mindful of its dormant period in late summer.

Bleeding Heart, and Dutchman's Breeches: Cultivation & Garden Use

Members of the Dicentra plant genus are are shrubby hardy perennials.

They range in size from 7 to 60 cm (3 to 24 inches) in height, depending upon the species.

They come into bloom anytime from the beginning of spring to the end of summer.

They have a foliage that is almost fern like, and carry delicate flowers of pink or white.

Dicentra eximia picture

Some of the common names for Dicentra include Bleeding heart, Lady in the bath, and Dutchman's breeches.

dicentra
Dicentra Photograph by Golbenge.

Dicentra spectabilis
Dicentra spectabilis by yamada*.

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Dicentra Growing and Care Guide

Common Names: Bleeding Heart, Dutchmans’ Breeches, Komakusa, Squirrel Cone, Lady In The Bath, Longhorn Steer’s Head, Turkey-corn.
Life Cycle: Hardy perennial
Height: 3 to 24 inches (8 to 60 cm).
Native: Northern America, Asia.
Family: Papaveraceae.
Growing Region: Zones 3 to 9.
Flowers: Species dependent: Early spring and/or summer.
Flower Details: White, pink, red. Hearts. Four petals, two sepals. Clusters.
Foliage: Herbaceous. Basel rosette. Dissected. Fern-like. Heavily lobed.
Sow Outside:
Roots: 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm). Towards the end of autumn and the first month of Winter. Spacing 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm).
Seeds: Cover. End of autumn through to the first month of Winter.
Sow Inside: Middle of Summer. Germination time: one month to one year. Temperature 55 to 60°F (13 to 16°C). Mix seeds in a moist growing medium, place in a freezer bag, then stratify by freezing for six weeks. Transplant outdoors in spring or in autumn.
Requirements and care: Full sunlight or partial shade. Soil pH 5.0 to 6.0. Rich soil, moist soil, light soil. Regular watering. Occasional light feed whilst growing Dicentra. Cut back once flowering has completed in hot regions. Vigour can be maintained by dividing every three years. Propagate: Root cuttings. Or by dividing at the start spring.
Miscellaneous: The seeds of members of the Dicentra genus such as Dutchmans’ Breeches are spread by ants.

How to Grow Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)

If planning to grow Dicentra outdoors from the off, it is best to sow out the seed at the end of autumn or the beginning of winter, simply cover the seeds.

If you are growing bleeding heart from roots, then they should be buried at a depth of about 6 or 7 cm (2 inches).

The seeds should be planted into either a sunny, or preferably a lightly shaded part of the garden. Thi slocation should have a moist rich acidic soil (pH 5 to 6).

If planning to grow Dicentra plants indoors before transplanting, then the seeds will need to have a simulated winter. you can do this by placing the seed within soil in a plastic bag, and freezing for about six or seven weeks.

The soil/seeds should then be allowed to germinate at a temperature of 15 degrees (59°F). Germination can take anything from one to twelve months.

Once growing, the Dicentra seedlings should be transplanted outdoors with a spacing of about 30 cm / 12 inches (small species) or 60 cm / 24 inches (large) in either the spring or autumn.

Looking After Dicentra plants

If you require further plants, then Dicentra root cuttings can be took throughout the year. Or they can be divided in the spring.

Bleeding hearts require both a light feeding, and regular watering when they are growing.

Common Questions

How many members does the Dicentra genus have?

The Dicentra genus has around 20 species currently.

Do members of Dicentra make a good garden or landscaping plant?

Yes, with their unique heart-shaped flowers, Dicentra species add charm to shade gardens.

Which Dicentra species are most frequently grown by gardeners?

Dicentra spectabilis (Bleeding Heart) is the most commonly grown species in this genus.

Are members of the Dicentra plant genus fragrant?

Most Dicentra species, including the popular Dicentra spectabilis, are not notably fragrant.

What is the perfect location to grow Dicentra?

Dicentra prefers a shady location with moist, well-drained soil.

Is Dicentra invasive in the USA, if so in which states?

At present, Dicentra species are not considered invasive in the USA.

How do I remove Dicentra plants from my garden?

To remove Dicentra, dig up the plants, ensuring you remove all of the root system to prevent regrowth.

Summary

The Dicentra genus, also known as Bleeding Hearts, contains about 20 species of perennial plants native to Asia and North America. These plants are loved for their heart-shaped flowers that dangle from arching stems, typically in shades of pink and white.

Dicentra thrives in partial to full shade and moist, fertile, well-drained soil. It can be grown from seeds or division, but is most commonly bought as a potted plant. The best time to plant Dicentra is in early spring or fall. Keep in mind, many Dicentra species go dormant in the summer heat, so it's beneficial to pair them with other shade-loving perennials to fill the gap.

I hope that you found this guide on how to grow Dicentra plants in your garden. You may also enjoy my gardening guides on how to grow Meconopsis grandis, Glaucium plant, and Papaver plants.

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