How to grow Dicentra cucullaria
|Delicate filigree foliage emerges in early March|
|Dicentra cucullaria tubers revealed when I have scraped away alpine mulch in June. Best to plant the complete tuber rather than divide into scales|
This rare dicentra dies down to charming tiny pink clustered tubers, which if left in the ground return in abundance each year. Peter planted some in his woodland garden and forgot they were there. When he later disturbed the soil he inadvertently broke up the tubers and propagated them around. Next year he had a wonderful display! Note this would not happen to the digger or regular soil stirrer who would kill them!
In the wild they grow in a leaf-mould rich soil in light shade. This woodland fringe plant also grows in the cracks of bare rocks. They seem to enjoy my own gravel mulched areas. Many of mine receive full sun for much of the day. If you think this sounds all too perfect you are right! Slugs and snails love them and this year some of my precious pink Dicentra cucullaria ‘Pittsburg’ were grazed to the ground by mice!
|eaten by a mouse|
As holder of the National Dicentra Collection I need to keep my stock secure and I grow many of my plants in pots. This small delicate plant lends itself to this technique and although my pots of cucullaria are normally outside all year round, I sometimes bring a few inside as they burst into flower to make a March/April greenhouse display. Groups of pots can also be plunged in large tubs for outdoor display. I remember many years ago a magnificent display of my cucullaria at Harrogate Spring Flower Show. Plunged in a large salt and algae encrusted clay pot it was the highlight of the Plant Heritage stand.
Dicentra cucullaria varieties in the National Collection
I have three distinct varieties…
|Dicentra cucullaria common form|
|Dicentra cucullaria ‘Pittsburg’|
|Dicentra cucullaria ‘Pink Punk’|
Growing in pots.
Thirty years ago I was thrilled when a lady gave me a large pot of strong tubers. I had previously struggled with pathetically weak nursery bought plants. My purchased plants had been propagated by breaking up the tuber cluster to pearl-barley-like scales. What is wrong with this is it that it takes years to build up a strong plant.
I find it quite sad that when I divide pots of valuable vigorous plants ‘in the green’ to sell on my Open Day, if they are not in full flower, nobody buys them at all! It’s a complete waste of time!
Although I use my own sandy-soil compost, for most people, a soil based mix like John Innes 2 is best. To develop new stock I crumble out dormant undivided tubers, usually about June. I plant about ten tubers at about an inch depth in a deep 2 litre pot. The pots are then parked well out of the way at the base of a hedge!. If I remember, I lightly top dress with an NPK general fertilizer in October and again in January. Apart from keeping them weed free I do nothing else.
|Delicate foliage emerges in March|
Rain provides the only watering the pots need until shoots emerge in March. They then rapidly make luxuriant, yet delicate, growth. This strong head of foliage is very susceptible to drying out when strong late Winter winds blow. By the time of full flowering the plants might need generous watering every day. On the other hand if it is wet and windless, they need no watering at all. That’s gardening for you! I only repot my plants every other year.
Plants in the ground need no watering or fertilizer at all.
Dicentra canadensis, squirrel corn, a similar tuberous plant.
I grow it in exactly the same way as cucullaria. Sadly it is endangered in the wild.
|Dicentra canadensis, squirrel corn|
Dicentra canadensis can never be misidentified, the root tubers of squirrel corn look even more like maize seeds than my own sweetcorn!