The garden forms of the heart-flower originate mainly from East China and Korea, but some of the 12 species can also be found in North America. The plants grow preferably in light, moist mountain forests up to an altitude of about 2,000 metres. They belong to the poppy family (Papaveraceae). The botanical generic name for all species used to be Dicentra, but botanists now use the generic name Lamprocapnos for the Tearing Heart (Dicentra spectabilis). In the nursery, however, the name Dicentra is still common to all species.
Appearance and growth
The most common garden perennials are the Tearing Heart and the Small Tearing Heart (Dicentra formosa). The Small Tearing Heart is often referred to as the Dwarf Heart Flower, although it is actually the species Dicentra eximina, another interesting representative of the genus of heart flowers. The Tearing Heart grows to a height of 80 centimetres and bears its striking heart-shaped, white to pinkish red flowers from May on arching overhanging inflorescences. The leaves are two to three pinnate and lobed at the end. With a growth height of 30 centimetres, the Small Tearing Heart is basically a miniature version of this. The Dwarf Heart Flower blooms from May to the end of August and also bears heart-shaped, slightly smaller flowers in white or pink with mostly darker tips. Its leaves are fernlike lobed to double pinnate. It grows to 30 centimetres high, spreads over rhizomes and forms decorative carpets over the years. Both species move in again after flowering.
Location and soil
Heart-flowers are suitable for sunny to semi-shady, cool-humid locations on calcareous, sandy-humic, fresh to moderately moist soils.
The best time for planting heartflowers is spring, so that the perennials can take root well until the first winter. However, it is also possible to plant them in autumn. As heartflowers prefer nutrient-rich soil, you should mix some compost under the substrate when planting to give the plant a good start.
In late summer, the yellowed foliage of the heart-flowers can be cut off close to the ground if it disturbs the appearance of the perennial bed.
A regular division is possible, but not necessary, as heart flowers are by nature very durable. Do not plant the perennials too deep into the soil during planting and after splitting, otherwise they will not flower.
The shoots of the heart flowers are very brittle, so care should be taken when caring for them. By adding compost in the spring and watering regularly from June onwards, the perennials can be delayed.
Hibernation or winter protection
Most heart flowers are absolutely hardy in our latitudes. The climbing heart marie (Dicentra scandens), however, is happy to have a protective blanket of autumn foliage in case of bald frosts.
Heart flowers are typical farmer’s garden plants and are also appreciated as durable cut flowers. They are suitable for sunny to semi-shady locations under woody plants, but can also stand in the sun if the soil is sufficiently moist. Good bedding partners are columbines, Caucasian forget-me-not (Brunnera), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum), Funkien (Hosta), purple bells (Heuchera) and other leaf-ornamental perennials as well as various late bulbous flowers. Since especially the weeping heart moves in early, you need a “plan B” when designing the beds so that they do not leave any gaps. Late sprouting ferns and perennials such as the silver candle (Actaea) are suitable for this. With the Climbing Heart Mary, small walls and walls in semi-shaded garden areas can be elegantly planted with greenery.
As already mentioned, the Tearing Heart and the Small Tearing Heart are the most commonly used species in our country. Some of these varieties are now on the market. For example, there is now a white-flowering variety of Tearing Heart (‘Alba’) and one with cherry red and white flowers (‘Valentine’). With the variety ‘Goldheart’ there is also a variety with an extraordinary colouring of the leaves. Its foliage is bright yellow-green, unlike other heart flowers. There is also a white variety (‘Aurora’) and a blood-red variety (‘Luxuriant’) of the Small Tearing Heart. Somewhat more unknown is the Climbing Heart Marie, which bears striking yellow flowers from May to September and can climb up to two metres high.
The weeping heart can be propagated in early spring by root cuttings. The young shoots, about ten centimetres long, also form roots as cuttings in a water glass on the windowsill. Dwarf heartflowers are simply divided. All species can also be propagated by sowing and some even sow themselves. The seeds are sown in autumn or winter and need a cold stimulus (cold germination) for germination.
Diseases and pests
All heart flowers are very susceptible to snails and are occasionally attacked by powdery mildew. Particularly in warm, moist locations on loamy soils poor in humus, the perennials also suffer occasionally from basic stem rot (phytophtora).
Bleeding Heart Flower (Lamprocapnos Spectabilis)
The bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) grows naturally in light deciduous forests in China and Korea. In 1997 the “Herzerlstock”, as the shrub is also commonly called, was given its own generic name Lamprocapnos because of its different anatomy. Lamprocapnos spectabilis is still the only representative of this genus. In the plant trade, however, the perennial can still often be found today under its old name. The bleeding (also called flaming) heart belongs together with the other heart flowers (Dicentra) to the family of the poppy family (Papaveraceae). In 2017, the Bleeding Heart was voted Poisonous Plant of the Year.
The growth of the Bleeding Heart is very distinctive. The persistent, herbaceous plant grows about 80 centimeters high and up to 60 centimeters wide, its flowers grow on arching overhanging shoots, which give it a very romantic note.
The filigree but dense leaves of Lamprocapnos are pinnate and lobed. They reach a size of 40 by 20 centimeters. The foliage appears in a bright, fresh green. After flowering, the nutrients are absorbed and the leaves die.
The flowers with their special heart-shaped appearance are the eponym of the Bleeding or flaming heart. They appear already in the spring usually as scarcely dozen per branch and are pink and white in the natural variant.
Due to its origin in the light deciduous forest, the Bleeding Heart prefers a slightly shady or sunny and sheltered location, where it can be a bit cooler. To flower properly, the perennial Bleeding heart needs a frost period.
The soil should be humus and moist, as is typical for forest soils. Low lime soil and additional irrigation in warm summers are recommended.
The Bleeding Heart is planted in spring so that the root of the perennial plant can gain sufficient ground before the first winter. Place several young plants at a distance of 40 to 60 centimeters and not deeper than they have stood in the plant pot. Work some compost into the soil around the plants. Then pour on plenty of water. Caution: The plant sap (especially in the root) contains isoquinoline alkaloids which can irritate the skin and mucous membranes. Therefore, plant the Bleeding Heart out of the reach of children fascinated by the heart-shaped flowers and wear gloves when planting and cutting.
In order to prevent the perennial perennial from being seeded, withered flowers can be plucked out. Every two years, some compost should be worked in around the plant in autumn. This is enough for the Bleeding Heart as fertilizer. On hot days the perennial may need a little watering. After the leaves have been collected in early summer, they can be cut off at ground level. Tip: If the Bleeding heart in the pot is to bloom abundantly in spring, it is best to place it in a frost-free greenhouse during the winter.
If it has grown too big, can be divided in an emergency. However, the perennial shrub grows most beautifully when it can establish itself undisturbed in one location for several years.
The Bleeding Heart is suitable for the planting of tree edges and shadow gardens. Its pastel-coloured flowers shine most beautifully against a dark background in spring. In the (half) shady herbaceous bed, the Bleeding tilts its curved branches forwards. Attention: The Bleeding Heart is a spring bloomer and moves in after flowering. You should combine the plant with summer or autumn flowering plants to avoid unattractive gaps in the perennial bed. Good bedding partners for the tearing heart are especially leaf ornamental shrubs such as Funkien (Hosta), Purpurglöckchen (Heuchera) or the Salomonssiegel (Polygonatum). White varieties harmonise particularly well with the blue flowers of Caucasus forget-me-not (Brunnera) and columbine (Aquilegia). Even in larger pots, the BleedingHeart shows its graceful flowers. The branches are excellent as long-lasting cut flowers.
The long known variety ‘Alba’ displays pure white heart blossoms. There is also a dark red and white variety called ‘Valentine’. It keeps its leaves a little longer after flowering and moves in later. The variety ‘Goldheart’ has exceptional yellow-green foliage.
The propagation of the Bleeding heart takes place either after flowering by division (only older plants), by root cuttings or cuttings. Simply place the cuttings, about 15 centimeters long, in water until they form roots. In the herbaceous perennial bed, propagation by sowing is a suitable method. Collect the seeds after flowering in summer and sow them directly into the bed in autumn. The cold germ uses the winter period to activate germination. In the farmer’s garden you can also leave the sowing to the plant itself.
Diseases and pests
If the Bleeding heart is too dry, dehydration and lice infestation threaten. Snails love the delicate foliage in spring, therefore they should start fighting snails at the beginning of their growth. If the location is too damp (staunassass) and warm, the tearing heart easily gets mildew or stem bottom rot (Phytophtora). Holes in the flower tips do not originate from a pest, but are bitten by bumblebees, which in this way reach the nectar.
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.