The bleeding heart plant (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) gets its common name from its puffy, heart-shaped pink flowers that dangle from long, arching stems. Beneath the heart shape is a protruding white petal that looks like a drop—hence the "bleeding" in bleeding heart. In fact, the bleeding heart flower's meaning is said to be about unrequited or rejected love, as well as love and romance in general.
Bleeding hearts are shade-loving woodland plants that bloom in the cool of spring. After flowering for several weeks, the plants often become ephemeral, disappearing for the rest of the summer if exposed to too much sun or heat. But the roots stay alive, and bleeding heart will come back every year—regrowing either in the fall or next spring.
Bleeding heart’s size ranges from around 1 to 3 feet high with a similar spread. The plant has a moderate growth rate, reaching its maximum size in around 60 days. Be mindful about where you plant it, as bleeding heart is toxic to people and pets.
Click Play to Learn How to Grow and Care for Bleeding Hearts
|Common Name||Bleeding heart, common bleeding heart, fern-leaf bleeding heart|
|Botanical Name||Lamprocapnos spectabilis (formerly Dicentra spectabilis)|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||1–3 ft. tall, 2–3 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Partial, shade|
|Soil Type||Moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Flower Color||Pink, white, red|
|Hardiness Zones||3–9 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people, toxic to pets|
Bleeding Heart Care
In a typical growing season, a bleeding heart plant will produce around 20 small flowers on its stems in the spring that stay in bloom for several weeks. Its foliage usually depreciates and enters dormancy in the midsummer heat. This sensitivity to heat makes establishing new plants more challenging in warmer zones than in colder areas.
In addition, the flowers are delicate and require protection from strong winds. The best place to plant a bleeding heart is in an area that has a windbreak as well as some sun protection.
Once established, it's fairly easy to take care of a bleeding heart plant. It's not overly prone to pests and diseases. And it has a bit of drought tolerance, though it still prefers moist soil for the healthiest growth. Plus, bleeding hearts will self-seed as long as the blooms remain on the plants. So bleeding hearts can live indefinitely in your garden, yet they don't tend to spread uncontrollably.
Bleeding heart does best in partial shade but also can handle full shade. Direct sun can cause the plant to go dormant early, cutting its blooming period short.
Bleeding heart prefers humus-rich, moist, well-draining soil with lots of organic matter. A slightly acidic to neutral soil pH is best. Prior to planting, it's ideal to work a few inches of compost into the soil, especially if you don't have organically rich soil.
Bleeding heart likes a lightly moist soil. It doesn't tolerate soggy or dry soils very well. Water throughout the growing season when the top inch of soil has dried out, even during summer dormancy to keep the roots hydrated. But make sure the soil doesn't stay waterlogged, which can lead to root rot.
Temperature and Humidity
This plant's ideal temperature is between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and it has good tolerance for high humidity. As the summer heat ramps up, you'll likely see the foliage yellowing. This is a perfectly normal sign of the plant going dormant to store its energy.
Bleeding heart plants are not heavy feeders, so when to fertilize depends on the quality of your soil. If you have rich, organic soil amended every year, you likely won't have to feed at all. If you have poor soil, you can apply an all-purpose, slow-release fertilizer in the spring. Also, as a woodland plant, bleeding heart does well with a top dressing of leaf mold.
Types of Bleeding Heart
There are several bleeding heart varieties with similar growing characteristics, including:
- Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Alba': Pure white flowers
- Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Gold Heart': Pink flowers and yellow-gold foliage
- Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Valentine': Bright cherry-red blooms with white tips and burgundy stems
No major pruning is required, though you can trim back the foliage as it becomes brown and unsightly prior to dormancy. Fringed-leaf bleeding heart varieties can sometimes get a little ragged-looking and can be sheared back to their basal growth; they will re-leaf and rebloom. Refrain from deadheading (removing the spent blooms) if you want the flowers to go to seed.
Propagating Bleeding Heart
Bleeding heart is usually planted from nursery seedlings, but you can propagate bleeding heart from seeds, clump division, or stem cuttings. Propagation by cuttings is best done in spring to early summer. If you are starting from seeds in the garden, sow them in the fall. Propagation is a good way to rejuvenate older plants that tend to flower less. Here's how to propagate bleeding hearts:
Propagation by division: It is very easy to divide the root clumps of bleeding heart plants. You should divide after flowering is complete, so you don't sacrifice blooms. The fringed-leaf varieties also divide nicely early in spring as they are emerging.
- First, gather your supplies. If the plant is in the ground, you will need a shovel or trowel. Other items you'll need include a sterilized, sharp knife and a flat surface. If you're transplanting into a container, you'll need a pot and potting mix.
- Dig a circle around the crown of the roots, and pull up the root ball. The roots grow horizontally. Do not worry when cutting through the roots.
- Examine the root crown; look for pink buds of growth. Cut through the root ball, leaving at least one bud per sectioned area (two to three buds per section is better).
- Replant the original root ball in its original spot. Plant the new section or sections in new spots or in potting mix enriched with compost or leaf mold. Water thoroughly to moisten the soil, but do not leave it too wet or soggy.
Propagation by cuttings: Bleeding heart can also be started by cuttings rooted in a growing medium. It can take one to three weeks before rooting occurs.
- Use sterilized pruners to take a 3- to 5-inch cutting from a healthy bleeding heart plant. You'll also need to gather a container, soilless potting mix, and a plastic bag. Optionally, you can use a rooting hormone for improving rooting success.
- Take off the leaves from the bottom half of the stem cutting. Fill the container with the potting mix, and poke a hole in the center of the soil. Dip the cut end of the cutting into rooting hormone, and put it into the hole. Firm the soil around the stem.
- Water the soil to the point that it's moist but not soggy. Put a clear plastic bag around the cutting, not touching the plant. If condensation appears on the inside of the bag, poke a hole in the plastic for some ventilation.
- Place the plant in indirect light. A bright windowsill will be too sunny and scorch the plant. Make sure the soil remains moist but not soggy.
- Once you notice new growth, the plant has successfully rooted. Remove the plastic bag.
- Move the bleeding heart plant outdoors once it's rooted well and new growth is more abundant. Harden off the plant in a protected spot for a few days before moving it to its permanent spot outdoors.
How to Grow Bleeding Heart From Seed
To start seeds indoors, place the seeds in a pot of soil. Put the pot in a plastic bag, and place it in the freezer for six to eight weeks. Remove the pot, and gradually reintroduce the plant to light and warmer conditions. The change in temperature and exposure to sunlight will allow the seeds to germinate and sprout.
Bleeding hearts also tend to self-seed in the garden, though not invasively. The tiny seedlings can be carefully dug up and transplanted.
Potting and Repotting Bleeding Heart
Bleeding heart plants do well as container plants, but conditions need to be right. When potting, opt for a large container—at least a 12-inch pot with drainage holes. Unglazed clay is a good material to allow excess moisture to evaporate through its walls. Use a quality, well-draining potting mix.
Bleeding heart can live for four to five years in a large container before becoming root-bound and needing to be repotted. Either divide your plant, or move up to a container that will fit its root ball with a couple inches to spare between it and the container walls. Gently ease the plant out of its old container, and place it at the same depth in the new one. Fill around it with potting mix, and water well.
Bleeding heart will naturally die back during the winter season. But the roots should survive the cold weather, even if the plant appears dead above ground. As the plant depreciates prior to winter, you can cut the stems down to 1 or 2 inches from ground level. Keep watering the soil up until the first frost. At the start of winter, you can protect the roots and help them retain moisture by adding a 2-inch layer of mulch on top of the plant stems. Remove the mulch as the ground thaws in the spring.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
The plant's most significant pest problems are aphids, scale, slugs, and snails. The easiest and least invasive treatment for aphids and scale is using an insecticidal soap or neem oil. Slugs and snails are best remedied by physically picking them off and disposing of them in a bucket of soapy water. They are easiest to find at night and in the early morning.
Furthermore, bleeding heart is prone to fungal diseases, including powdery mildew and leaf spot. In most cases, you can treat the plant with a fungicide. But if the plant has turned black and foul-smelling, it's rotting and can infect other nearby plants. So it's best to pull up the plant. If it was in a container, sterilize the entire container and throw out the soil. If the disease occurred in your garden, treat the planting spot with a fungicide.
How to Get Bleeding Heart to Bloom
Bleeding heart is usually a spring-blooming plant and will continue to flower into the summer until it gets too hot. However, note that this plant takes some time to establish and might not flower in its first growing season. Plants that are cramped and need to be divided also might not flower or flower less than what's typical.
To trigger the plant to bloom again in the season, you can stimulate new growth by cutting the plant down to 1 inch above ground level. Also, ensure that the plant stays out of the direct sunlight, which can hinder blooming.
Common Problems With Bleeding Heart
Bleeding heart plants don't tend to be problematic when the growing conditions are right. Most of their common issues stem from inadequate watering or pest and disease problems.
Powdery Patches on Foliage
Spots of black, gray, white, or pink powder on bleeding heart leaves indicate powdery mildew, a treatable disease when caught immediately. A fungicide will remove the problem. To prevent powdery mildew from occurring, make sure plants are watered on the soil (not on the foliage) and that the plants have plenty of aeration and are not too crowded.
Brown or Black Spots on the Leaves
If bleeding heart develops small brown or black spots on the leaves that grow larger with a yellow ring or halo with the center of the ring beginning to rot out, then the plant likely has fungal leaf spot. Treatment with a fungicide or baking soda solution can neutralize the fungus if caught early enough. As the disease progresses, the leaves drop and the plant will die.
Bleeding heart naturally turns yellow and dies as the temperature increases. If that is the case, there is no reason to do anything. The plant is entering dormancy, which is its normal growth cycle.
However, yellowing leaves can also occur if the plant is getting too much water, the soil is too alkaline, or the plant is getting too much sun. Adjust those conditions as necessary.
Also, check the plant for an infestation of aphids. Aphids suck the sap out of plants, depriving them of nutrients, which can cause yellowing leaves. Yellowing can also be a sign of a fungal disease emerging. Verticillium or fusarium are severe fungal infections that start with yellowing. If your plant has this disease, it is not salvageable and should be destroyed before it spreads to other plants.
Browning, Blackening, or Rapid Wilting of the Plant
Diseases like verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, botrytis, and root rot will cause a plant to fail quickly. Initial signs will be wilting, leading to all over browning or the plant beginning to rot. In the case of botrytis, it will appear like a gray mold is overtaking the plant. In most cases, if your plant is infected with these fungal issues and has begun browning or blackening, the plant is too far gone. You can attempt to resurrect it with a fungicide, but it's not going to work in most cases. Remove all of the soil, discard it, and sterilize the container before using it again. Burn or seal the plant in a plastic bag before discarding it.
Are bleeding hearts easy to care for?
If conditions are suitable—mild temperatures, rich and moist soil, and sufficient shade—bleeding heart will likely thrive and be easy to care for. It also will likely self-seed to propagate itself in your garden.
What's the difference between bleeding heart bush and bleeding heart vine?
Bleeding heart bush is the same as common bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis), a perennial plant native to Asia. Bleeding heart vine (Clerodendrum thomsoniae), also known as tropical bleeding heart, is a different species that hails from Africa and differs in looks, growing conditions, and hardiness.
Can you grow bleeding hearts indoors?
If you recreate their ideal growing conditions, bleeding heart plants can grow indoors. It's key to protect bleeding heart from cold drafts and heating vents indoors, as temperature extremes can cause the plant to struggle and potentially not flower.