With gracefully arching stems covered in fringed green foliage, Dicentra, or Bleeding Hearts perennials, are covered with delicate, heart-shaped blooms that split in the center to reveal a white "arrow." Although it blooms for a relatively short period of time, the spectacular display is worth the effort. Dicentra species grows well in climate zones 2 through 9, given proper care and attention.
Old Fashioned Bleeding Hearts, Dicentra spectabilis, reaches 2 to 3 feet in height and will spread as far. Other species are bunchier and spread more like ground cover. Stems arch, covered in lobed green, golden tinted or blue green leaves. Flowers are born along the last one third of stems, appearing as either well-formed hearts with a white center point protruding from between the heart halves, or as a more tightly closed, narrow and monochromatic heart form.
Dicentra grows in well-drained, moist soil in partially to fully shaded areas. Although it will tolerate some sun, this cool weather blooming plant prefers protection from harsh, direct sun. In the Pacific Northwest, Dicentra grows wild in forested areas. Rock gardens may also be a good choice for some species, although care must be taken to provide adequate water and shade protection in hot areas.
Prepare the planting bed by incorporating up to 3 inches of organic matter, such as composted peat moss, to a depth of 6 inches. Plant Dicentra starts up to 2 feet apart in the spring or fall before cold weather sets in. The plant crown should be just at surface level, as planting too deep may result in root rot.
Cover the planting bed around Bleeding Hearts with an organic mulch, such as composted pine bark, to protect the roots and retain moisture. Provide extra water during times of low rainfall and during blooming. Foliage may be cut back when blooms cease in the spring, although some species may repeat bloom in cooler weather.
D. spectabilis has two cultivars of interest aside from the typical pink heart, green foliage form. Alba produces white flowers, while Goldheart provides golden-toned foliage to set off pink blooms. Dicentra formosa, or Fringed Leaf Bleeding Heart, is a more compact perennial version. Luxuriant is a reblooming cultivar, reaching 18 inches tall. At 15 inches, King of Hearts has the monochromatic pink blooms with more feathery looking foliage than the Old Fashioned variety. Ivory Hearts will yield 1-foot-tall plants with pretty, blue-green leaves with white hearts.