The bleeding heart is a captivating perennial plant renowned for its unique heart-shaped flowers. Besides adding charm and elegance to gardens, these heart-shaped flowers also serve as a symbol of romance and passion.
Moreover, these flowers complement a variety of shade-loving plants, such as hostas, ferns, and astilbes. When planning a garden, consider mixing them with other shade-tolerant species for the perfect combo.
Bleeding heart, common bleeding heart, fern-leaf bleeding heart
Type of Plant
1–3 ft. tall, 2–3 ft. wide
USDA Growing Zone
Moist, well-drained/ Acidic, neutral
What Is A Bleeding Heart?
In botanical terms, "bleeding heart" often refers to the plant species Lamprocapnos spectabilis (formerly known as Dicentra spectabilis). This plant is renowned for its heart-shaped flowers that hang gracefully from arching stems. The flowers typically have pink or white petals with a distinctive inner petal that resembles a drop of blood, hence the name "bleeding heart."
Bleeding heart plants are primarily outdoor plants. They thrive best when grown outdoors in garden beds or containers in partial to full shade. Indoor environments may not provide the ideal growing conditions for bleeding hearts, as they require ample space, proper ventilation, and access to natural light.
They typically appear in spring, lasting into early summer. In some cultures, the flower symbolizes romantic love, making it a popular choice for gardens and floral arrangements during the spring season.
Despite being prized for its beauty, all parts of the plant, including the foliage and roots, contain toxic compounds, making it a poisonous plant. Exercise caution when handling the plant, especially if you have pets or small children, and avoid ingestion.
Bleeding Heart Care
Mature bleeding heart plants grown in ideal environments with proper care and maintenance can produce a profusion of flowers, often forming multiple clusters or racemes of blooms along the arching stems.
A single mature plant can produce dozens of flowers during its blooming period, creating a stunning display in the garden. Once established, bleeding hearts are relatively low-maintenance, requiring minimal care and attention.
Bleeding heart plants prefer partial to full shade, especially in regions with hot summers. While they can tolerate some sunlight, particularly in cooler climates, too much direct sunlight can cause their delicate foliage to scorch or wilt.
Ideal locations include areas under deciduous trees or along the north or east side of buildings, where they receive filtered or dappled sunlight throughout the day.
Bleeding heart flower thrive in soil that provides adequate moisture, good drainage, and rich organic matter. The ideal pH level for soil is slightly acidic to neutral, ranging from around 6.0 to 7.0. While bleeding hearts can tolerate a range of soil pH levels, they may exhibit optimal growth and performance within this acidity range.
Overwatering turns the soil soggy and can lead to root rot. Keep the soil consistently moist, especially during dry periods. Water deeply but infrequently, allowing the soil to dry slightly between waterings. Mulching around the base of the plant can help retain soil moisture and regulate temperature.
Growing bleeding heart, one should be careful about their specific temperature requirements. Generally, they prefer cooler temperatures, making them well-suited for growing in temperate climates.
Ideally, daytime temperatures should range between 60°F and 70°F (15°C and 21°C), while nighttime temperatures can dip slightly lower, down to 50°F (10°C) or even cooler.
When growing these plant indoors or in regions with dry climates, they prefer moderate to high humidity levels. In indoor environments, where humidity levels may be lower, consider placing a humidity tray filled with water beneath the plant or using a room humidifier to increase moisture in the air.
Outdoors, providing a consistent supply of water to the soil can help create a microclimate with slightly higher humidity around the plant.
These heart-shaped plants benefit from a balanced, slow-release fertilizer applied in early spring, following manufacturer instructions for dosage. A fertilizer with a balanced N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) ratio, such as 10-10-10, provides essential nutrients for healthy growth and flowering.
It's important not to over-fertilize, as excessive nitrogen can lead to lush foliage at the expense of flowers.
Mulching is beneficial for bleeding heart plants as it helps conserve soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Mulch around the base of the plant with a layer of organic mulch, such as shredded bark or compost.
By insulating the soil, mulch also helps regulate soil temperature, keeping it cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold weather, which is beneficial for the roots of bleeding heart plants.
Division is a horticultural practice where a mature plant is carefully separated into smaller sections, each with its own set of roots and shoots. For bleeding heart plants, division is typically done to rejuvenate overcrowded clumps, promote healthier growth, and propagate new plants.
It is best done in early spring before new growth emerges or in the fall after the plant has gone dormant. To divide, carefully dig up the entire root ball, then gently separate the rhizomes into smaller sections, ensuring each section has several healthy roots and at least one growing shoot or bud.
Replant the divided sections in suitable locations with well-draining soil and partial to full shade, and water them thoroughly to help them establish roots.
Pruning bleeding heart plants is not necessary or compulsory for their survival, but it is highly beneficial. It is essential for maintaining the appearance of the plants and encouraging continuous blooming. Deadheading spent flowers regularly promotes prolonged flowering and prevents the plant from diverting energy into seed production.
Additionally, pruning back the foliage after the plant goes dormant in late fall or early winter helps tidy up the plant and remove any dead or damaged growth, promoting fresh growth in the following growing season.
Propagating Bleeding Heart
Bleeding heart shrub can be propagated through several methods, such as seeds, stem cutting, and division. Among them, division is the most common and reliable technique. Propagation allows you to increase the number of plants in your garden, creating more visual interest and diversity.
Here's how to propagate a bleeding heart through stem cutting and division methods:
This method involves separating mature plants into smaller sections, each with its own set of roots and shoots. The best time to do this is in early spring or fall, when the plant is dormant. This method provides faster results than seed propagation, but it requires disturbing the established plant and is suitable for mature clumps only.
Carefully dig up the entire plant with a shovel.
Use a sharp knife or spade to divide the clump into 2-3 sections, ensuring each division has healthy roots and buds.
Replant each division in a prepared hole with well-draining soil, spacing them as per their mature size.
Water well and keep the soil moist.
Stem-cutting propagation is another method used to propagate bleeding heart plants, although it is less commonly practiced compared to division. The best time to do it is in early spring (after flowering) or early summer (when new growth is soft and pliable). This method preserves specific plant characteristics and produces faster results than seeds. However, it requires more care and attention than other methods, and the success rate can vary.
Take 3-5-inch cuttings from healthy stems.
Remove the lower leaves and dip the cut end in the rooting hormone (optional).
Plant cuttings in a pot filled with a well-draining soil mix, ensuring at least one node is buried.
Cover the pot with a plastic bag to create humidity.
Place it in bright, indirect sunlight, and keep the soil moist.
Rooting should occur within 4-6 weeks.
Once roots are established, gradually remove the plastic bag and harden off the cuttings before transplanting them to the garden.
How to Grow Bleeding Heart From Seed
To grow bleeding heart plants from seeds indoors, start seeds in late winter or early spring, about 8–10 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Fill pots or trays with moist potting mix, then sow the seeds on the surface and lightly press them into the soil. Place the pots in a bright location with indirect sunlight, and keep the soil consistently moist.
Once the seedlings have developed several sets of true leaves and are large enough to handle, transplant them into individual containers filled with potting soil. Harden off the seedlings by gradually acclimating them to outdoor conditions before transplanting them into the garden after the last frost date.
If sowing seeds directly outdoors, wait until late spring or early summer when the soil has warmed up and there is no longer a risk of frost. Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball and place the plant in the hole, making sure the crown (where the stems meet the roots) is at ground level. Backfill the hole with soil, and water thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots.
Potting and Repotting Bleeding Heart
Bleeding heart plants grow well in a container, but the ideal conditions must be met. When potting, choose a container with adequate drainage holes and a size that accommodates the plant's root system with some room to grow. Look for a potting mix that is formulated with a blend of peat moss, compost, and/or aged bark. These organic materials provide a lightweight, airy texture that promotes good drainage and aeration for the roots. Gently remove the plant from its current pot and place it in the center of the new container.
In general, bleeding heart plants may outgrow their containers every 2-3 years as their root systems expand and the plant becomes pot-bound. To repot, choose a slightly larger pot than the current one to allow for continued growth. Place the plant in the center of the new pot and fill in the sides with fresh potting mix. Repotting bleeding heart plants is best done in early spring before new growth emerges or in fall after the plant has gone dormant.
Bleeding heart plants are generally hardy perennials that can survive the winter season in many regions, especially if they are provided with proper care and protection. However, certain parts of the plant may be more susceptible to winter damage. The foliage of bleeding heart plants may die back naturally as the plant goes dormant in late fall or early winter.
Similarly, the roots of bleeding heart plants are sensitive to freezing temperatures, especially if the soil becomes waterlogged or if the plant is exposed to rapid temperature fluctuations.
To protect the plants during the winter season, consider the following measures:
Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as shredded leaves or straw, around the base of the plant to insulate the soil and protect the roots from freezing temperatures.
After the plant goes dormant in late fall or early winter, cut back the foliage to ground level to tidy up the plant and remove any dead or damaged growth.
If growing bleeding heart plants in containers, consider moving the containers to a sheltered location, such as a garage or shed, to protect them from freezing temperatures and harsh winter winds.
In regions where snowfall is common, natural snow cover can provide insulation and protection for bleeding heart plants.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
While generally resilient, bleeding hearts can still encounter a few pest and disease challenges. Aphids suck sap from leaves, causing curling, stunting, and yellowing. Use insecticidal soap or neem oil sprays for control. Slugs and snails munch on leaves, leaving slimy trails. To prevent them, hand-pick them at night or early in the morning and dispose of them, or use traps and barriers. Scale insects are other pests that attach themselves to stems and leaves, draining the plant's juices. Scrape them off with a knife or use horticultural oil sprays.
Moreover, a bleeding heart is susceptible to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew and leaf spots. These fungal diseases cause the wilting and yellowing of leaves, eventually killing the plant. To prevent such diseases, improve air circulation, avoid overhead watering, and use fungicide sprays if necessary.
How to Get Bleeding Heart to Bloom
Bleeding heart plants typically bloom once a year, with the flowering period usually occurring in spring to early summer. Blooming usually occurs in the spring, typically from late April to early June, depending on the climate and location. In cooler climates, flowering may occur later in spring, while in warmer regions, it may begin earlier.
Insufficient sunlight, poor drainage, overcrowding, and environmental stress are some of the factors that hinder the bloom. One of the most effective techniques followed by many people to encourage bleeding heart blooms is regular deadheading. Deadheading involves removing spent flowers as they fade, which stimulates the plant to produce more blooms. By regularly removing faded flowers, you not only maintain the plant's appearance but also redirect its energy towards producing new buds and extending the blooming period.
Types of Bleeding Heart
Several bleeding heart varieties share similar growing and caring conditions, making them suitable companions in the garden. Some of these varieties include:
Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Alba': This variety of bleeding hearts produces elegant white flowers and has similar growing requirements to the traditional pink bleeding heart.
Lamprocapnos spectabilis, 'Gold Heart': Known for its striking golden foliage, it prefers the same growing conditions as other bleeding heart varieties.
Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Valentine': With deep red flowers, 'Valentine' offers a vibrant alternative to the traditional pink bleeding heart.
Lamprocapnos spectabilis, 'Burning Hearts': This variety features bright red stems and white flowers with pink accents.
Dicentra formosa: Also known as western bleeding heart, this species is native to North America and produces delicate pink or white flowers.
When planting these shade plants together or nearby, ensure that they receive adequate moisture and are protected from the harsh afternoon sun, especially in warmer climates.
Common Problems With Bleeding Heart
While bleeding heart plants are generally not considered problematic, they may encounter some growing issues under certain conditions. Here are a few potential challenges to be aware of:
Wilting of the bleeding heart is due to underwatering, overwatering, root rot, verticillium wilt, or fusarium wilt.
Check soil moisture and adjust watering accordingly.
Improve drainage if needed.
Choose resistant varieties for verticillium and fusarium wilt.
The yellow leaves indicate a nutrient deficiency, excessive sunlight, underwatering, overwatering, or leaf spot disease.
Fertilize lightly with a balanced fertilizer.
Provide shade or dappled sunlight if necessary.
Remove infected leaves and use a fungicide for leaf spots.
Generally, stunted growth is the result of nutrient deficiency, inadequate sunlight, root rot, or pests like aphids.