Dicentra eximia: The Fern-leaf Bleeding Heart
By: Lauren M. Liff for Dabah Landscape Designs
In almost every cottage style garden you see, there is one breathtaking plant that rules over all others: the fern-leaf bleeding heart. A true shade garden staple, this stunning perennial offers beautiful blooms almost all summer long unlike its cousin Dicentra spectabilis. The fern-leaf bleeding heart tends to stay on the dwarf side and rarely grows more than 15 inches in height. It will bloom all summer long without going dormant and it comes in a range of foliage and bloom color, providing gardeners everywhere with many options for the shady spots in their landscape.
A North American native, the fern-leaf bleeding heart has been used by breeders to develop a number of different varieties that come in a wide range of colors from the cherry red flowers of the ‘Luxuriant’ to the pure white flowers of the ‘Snowdrift’. The ‘Bacchanal’ variety offers the deepest red bloom of them all and is adorned with foliage that is almost a silver-blue shade. All varieties are low lying and slow spreading and require little to no maintenance all season long. Dicentra eximia features hearth shaped flowers hanging from long arched stems slightly resembling the look of a dangling bouquet. These incredibly recognizable blooms sit atop finely cut foliage that is typically a blue-green shade.
The fern-leaf bleeding heart can tolerate very cold winters and don’t tend to be too picky when it comes to soil type, however they do thrive in moist, fertile soil. They can be planted in the sun however they do best in a part to full shade area. Too much shade will lessen the number of flowers. When planting your bleeding heart, avoid placing it where it will be in competition with tree roots – lack of water and available nutrients will greatly shorten its lifespan. To keep it as healthy and happy as possible, it should be divided every 3 or 4 years in early spring and the soil should be amended with organic matter (compost will work the best). Once it is established, the fern-leaf bleeding heart is disease and insect resistant and will flower continuously from spring to fall year after year without needing to be deadheaded or pruned.
Thanks to its dwarf habit, the fern-leaf bleeding heart is perfect as a front border plant in a shady garden. You can also use it in a shade-rock garden or woodland garden along the rocks. Its beautiful foliage makes it perfect as an edging plant as well. The blue-green color of the leaves contrast beautifully with the purple-red leaves of Heuchera or the gold leaves of the Hosta variety ‘Daybreak’. You can also plant it along side Hakonechloa as well as many fern varieties. The fern-leaf bleeding heart in combination with these companion plants will give your shade garden an incredible range of colors and textures to provide you with season long interest.