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Dicentra (Bleeding Hearts) Care

Last Updated on July 22, 2022 by Plant Mom Care

Dicentra or bleeding-hearts, a genus of 8 species of plants from the Papaveraceae (poppy) family has unusually shaped flowers with divided leaves. They are indigenous in Asia and North America. 

These plants grow in low spreading mounds, about 8 – 12 inches high and 15 inches wide. They have lobed blue-gray, fern-like leaves

The flowers are heart-shaped, pink, purple, red, or white, with 1 – 2-inch long petals, and appear in branched clusters on leafless stems arching above the foliage. 

After putting on a fantastic floral display in spring and summer, these plants frequently become dormant after flowering in summer, emerging and blooming again in fall. 

These plants attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees and, with adequate moisture, dormancy may be delayed and the leaves will remain attractive when used as ground cover. 

Other perennials, such as hosta, sedge, or geraniums could be planted close by to fill in empty gaps.

There are many hybrids and cultivars available that have been developed from D. eximia, D. formosa and D. peregrina, Hybrids developed from D. peregrina are frequently not tolerant of hot and humid climates and full sun.

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Sunlight

These plants perform better under partial or fully shaded locations. Excess exposure to sunlight will impede flowering and bring on the onset of dormancy.

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Water

These plants must be well-watered throughout their active growing season, at least 2 -3 times weekly.

Watering can be reduced when hot weather begins in summer however, dormancy can be delayed until fall by continuous regular watering if you want the attractive foliage to be on display. Do not get the soil water-logged as the roots might start rotting.

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Humidity

They can tolerate a variety of humidity levels.

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Temperature

They grow well in temperatures between 55-75°F. In cooler areas with adequate watering, the flowering period might be extended. They are typically hardy in zones 3 to 9 and can withstand temperature lows of 5°F.

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Soil

They prefer consistently well-drained wet, loamy soil high in organic content. They can also grow well in rocky soil with a high ratio of organic matter.

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Repotting

These plants grow well for 4 or 5 years in a container until they have to be repotted after dividing. When picking a new container for repotting, make sure there are 2 or 3 inches of space around the roots for expanding and refreshing the soil. 

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Propagation

They are usually propagated from seed, division, or cuttings. 

Propagation by cuttings

This can be done in spring and usually takes 10 to 21 days to take root. Take a 3- or 5-inch cutting from a healthy stem. Prepare a plastic bag, suitable soil, and an appropriate container. Rooting hormones can improve success but is optional. 

Cut all leaves from the lower part of the cutting, push the cutting inside the growing media and gently press the soil down to hold the cutting and water well. Place the plastic bag above the cutting without touching it, and make a tiny hole in the bag to add ventilation.

Place the container under indirect light – the direct sun will damage the cutting. When new leaves emerge, remove the bag. When plenty of leaves appear, move the plant outdoors and harden off the new plant in a protected area before planting it in a permanent spot.

Propagation by division 

This is a very easy method and should be done after the plant finishes flowering or in spring before buds form. If the plant is in your garden bed, you will require a trowel or shovel unless it is a container plant (simply take the plant from its container).

If you aim to grow the divisions in containers, prepare suitable containers and soil. Dig around the roots in a circle and lift out the plant. The roots generally grow horizontally, so don’t be worried if you cut through them.

Examine the plant, looking for buds of new growth. Split the root clump, leaving a minimum of 1 bud per section – 2 or 3 buds will be better. Plant the separated sections, water them well but do not water-log the soil. 

Propagation from Seed

When starting seeds indoors, plant them in a pot filled with soil. Place the pot inside a plastic container/bag and store it inside your freezer for 6 or 8 weeks. Take the pot out and slowly introduce the seeds to light and warm temperatures.

This will help the seeds germinate and sprout. If faded flowers are left on the plants and not removed, small seed pods develop, dropping their seeds when they are mature and dry. If left undisturbed, the seeds will germinate in spring and the resulting seedlings can be transplanted while they are small. 

Additional Care

In rich fertile soil, these plants will grow well if you amend the soil every year with compost. Fertilizer is only needed for very poor soil.

The foliage should be trimmed down to the ground level when the plant goes dormant after flowering, if you still want to enjoy the foliage, keep watering the plants as usual (or more if summer is hot) until fall, then prune them down and reduce watering in winter.

They will return in spring. In cold zones 3 and 4, protect the roots with mulch, removing them when winter ends.

Common Problems

These plants thrive under shade this can often make the plants susceptible to problems from excessive moisture such as fungal diseases and pests. 

Aphids and scale might attack the plants and can be controlled with insecticidal soap and/or neem oil. Slugs and snails can also plague the plants – the best remedy is physically picking them off and disposing of them in a container of soapy water. 

Fungal infections like powdery mildew, root rot, and leaf spot can be controlled and treated with fungicides. Plants with severe infections that smell foul from rot must be destroyed. 

Occasionally, when the roots get overcrowded, the plant might not flower. Dig up and divide the plants – this will generally help them recover and flower again. These plants need adequate shade to shelter them from too much sun as this too will prevent them from flowering properly.

Powdery mildew is often a treatable fungal disease when caught early. It can affect plant growth, making stems stunted and gnarly.

Fungicide application will help treat the infection to prevent repeat infections, always water the soil directly, avoid the foliage, make sure the plants have good circulation of air, and are not crowded close to each other.

Fungal leaf spots can also be a problem under excessive humidity and moisture. It manifests as brown/black spots that become larger with yellow edges, with the centers starting to become rotten.

It can be treated if it is spotted early with fungicide or a spray of baking soda solution. If the problem is very severe, fungicides will not work and the leaves will start dropping and the plant will die eventually. 

Hot temperatures will make the leaves turn yellow and die. Water-logging, alkaline soil, and too much exposure to direct sun will often produce the same effect.

You can’t do much about the hot temperatures since this is a normal phase of the growth of these plants when they become dormant.

Follow the recommended frequency for watering, uproot and replace the soil or move them under more shade. 

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