Late spring brings many beautiful flowers to shady spots in gardens across the United States. Among them are perennials with a bush-like habit that sport long appendages from which dangle heart-shaped flowers. These are commonly known as bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis). Bleeding hearts can reach about three feet in height and sprout anywhere that is moist and shady.
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Dicentra is said to have been brought to England from Japan in the 1840s when it caught the eye of explorer and botanist Robert Fortune. Dicentra spectabilis has grown for generations in Chinese gardens, though a similar Dicentra commonly known as Dutchman's breeches is native to the United States. Since their introduction, bleeding hearts have been very popular with Western gardeners.
Bleeding hearts receive little academic or professional attention. This is curious, because they are so favoured by home gardeners. They are very easy to grow and have few serious problems with diseases or pests. Bleeding hearts prefer a shady spot with moist soil anywhere in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 through 9; a variety of cultivars are available.
Pests and Diseases
When they are troubled by disease or pests, bleeding hearts are usually affected by powdery mildew or verticillium wilt. Both diseases can be treated with applications of fungicide, though the best control is placement in an area where there is good air circulation. Slugs may also find this plant delicious, though deer are not attracted to it.
Growing Cycle and Division
Bleeding hearts are generally propagated by division. Their roots are fragile, so divide with caution. Each division needs to contain a part of the rhizome and an eye bud for it to form a plant the following year. Unlike most flowering plants, bleeding hearts die back and go dormant in the heat of the summer. This is the best time to divide them.
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- University of Vermont: Dicentra Spectabilis "Gold Heart"
- Smithsonian Gardens: Heirloom - What's Blooming?
- University of Illinois Extension: Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart
- West Virginia University Extension Service; Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage; John W. Jett
- Oregon State University: Dicentra Spectabilis