Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM. Paul recently sent this article out called "Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)" (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"Did you know that a bleeding heart is a wild flower that grows as a native plant under the deciduous tree canopy in the forest from New York to Georgia? The variety that grows wild is called Dicentra eximia or fringed bleeding heart, and is also known as dwarf bleeding heart. The larger-growing variety, known as the old-fashioned bleeding heart, came from China.

There are two distinct types of plants: the larger growing, taller growing and spring flowering, bleeding heart Dicentra spectablis and the dwarf types that bloom later in the season and throughout most of the summer. If you have a shade or partial shade garden, these plants should be in your garden. If they aren't, add them to your list to plant this spring. And yes the flower looks like a heart that has broken, with a tear falling from it.

The old-fashioned bleeding heart (Dicentra spectablis) is one of the earliest flowering perennials in our gardens to bloom. It will begin in mid-spring/late April and last well into June. When your tulips, daffodils and crocus are in all their glory and your forsythia, dogwoods, and wisteria are the show makers in your yard, the bleeding heart is the king of the perennial garden.

The foliage is almost fern-like and deep green in color (though there is a cultivar with almost golden foliage). This foliage develops early--a soft fluffy mound of greens that quickly grows 2 to 3 feet tall and just as wide. Once the foliage is formed, look for tall growing arching branches that will grow another foot tall with no leaves on them; these will develop all over the plant. Then the flowers begin to form in the shape of deep pink hearts that develop quickly on the tip of the stems. As the flower matures and grows in size, they seem to break open at the base of the heart and a tiny white tear-like flower emerges. The flowers develop in rows along the tip of the stem and may number a dozen or more in each row, making the stem arch even more with the weight of the flowers. Each flower will grow to an inch in diameter and last several weeks on the plant, especially if the weather is cool.

The bleeding heart is a perennial plant that needs little to no care once established in your garden, so leave it alone and do not move it around once it has been planted. If you divide the plant, it will take several years to recoup from the division--especially the mother plant. You're better off to buy new plants if you want more plants for your garden. When the heat arrives in July, the plant will begin to turn yellow and go dormant for the summer unless you have a cool moist summer. Just cut it back to the ground and wait for next year as the plant did give you a beautiful flowering plant from April to July.

Plant the bleeding heart in a soil rich in organic matter--the more organic matter the soil contains, the larger the plant will grow and the more flowers it will develop. Compost and animal manure are the best soil conditioners but peat moss and well-rotted bark work well also. I always use "Soil Moist" granules when planting to help hold moisture around the roots, especially if the soil is on the sandy side. Keep the soil moist when plants are in bloom and place a 2 inch thick layer of compost or bark mulch around the plant to control weeds during the growing season and to hold moisture around the plant when it gets hot out during the summer.

Fertilize with Plant Tone fertilizer in the early spring when you see the plant emerge from the ground; no additional feeding will be needed during the rest of the year. You can lime the garden if you begin to notice moss growing in the garden or in the grass around the garden to prevent the soil from getting too acidic. These plants are very hardy and will tolerate -10 to -20 degrees below zero during the winter and even thrive in a climate as far south as northern Florida, where winters are cool.

Most of us know this plant with the deep pink flower with the white tear, but did you know that a red or white heart is now available with the white tear. The all-white or red and white flowering types do not grow as large but will stand out in your garden. Plant them with other shade loving plants like hosta, astilbe, primrose, lily of the valley, helleborus, and ferns.

The dwarf- type fringed bleeding hearts, Dicentra eximia, grow differently but do develop a dense mound of deeply cut fernlike foliage much like the taller growing type. The foliage is gray-green, more feathery looking and stays closer to the ground. This variety is a summer bloomer and it will flower most of the summer despite the heat as long as you can provide enough moisture to keep it happy. It is heat -resistant and will take a bit of morning sun but you will have to water more. I add "Soil Moist" when planting and that will help a lot in the long run to keep moisture around the roots when you forget to do so.

The flower stems are like the spring-flowering types, with no leaves on them; they contain fewer flowers per stem, but the plant produces many more stems during the season. The plant will grow 10 to 18 inches tall and spread the same width. If your soil is rich with organic matter and you provide moisture during the hot days of the summer, your plant can grow up to two feet tall and just as wide. If your soil dries out with the hot weather, your plant can turn yellow and go dormant earlier than normal. The plant will not die but will stop growing for that year.

The dwarf varieties will vary on height and spread, some staying small--under a foot tall--so be sure you read the plant label when you purchase the plant and check with the salesperson for more information. Also like the spring-flowering types you can select white, pink, red and coral pink flowers varieties. The flowers on the smaller growing varieties are not as dramatic looking, with big heart-shaped flowers of spring flowering types, but look very nice in your garden during the summer.

Both types of plant will produce a flower stem that can be cut and used with other flowers in a vase of water on your table. The flowers will last well over a week as a cut flower. Insects and disease problems are few and the plant is not eaten by rabbits and deer--a real plus if these animals come to your yard.

Both plants will attract butterflies, birds, and hummingbirds to your garden. Use bleeding hearts in perennial borders, mixed planting flower beds, plant them as wild flowers under tall growing trees to create color in a wooded lot, in shrubbery beds as a foundation planting around them for additional color--and they look wonderful when planted along shaded streams on your property with other wild flowers.

The bleeding heart plant will be in bloom for Mother's Day and will make a great present for Mom! "

Special thanks to Paul Parent!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 19, 2011

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These are no longer termed "Dicentra", they're now Lamprocapnos spectabilis. I had a terrible time finding them on Wiki under Dicentra.