Bleeding Heart Plant Profile

Lamprocapnos spectabilis

Spring blooming bleeding hearts, known as Dicentra spectabilis

Marie Iannotti

It is no wonder how the old-fashioned bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) got its name. The pillow-like flower is heart-shaped with a single dangling pendulous drop. Bleeding hearts are shade-loving woodland plants that bloom in the cool of spring. Although they stay in bloom for several weeks, the plants often become ephemeral, disappearing for the rest of the summer, if exposed to too much sun or heat. The roots are still alive and it will regrow in the fall or the following spring. The fringed-leaf varieties will repeat bloom throughout the summer.

  • Botanical Name: Lamprocapnos spectabilis
  • Common Name: Bleeding heart, formerly known as Dicentra spectabilis
  • Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Mature Size: 6 inches to 3 feet tall and 1 to 3 feet wide.
  • Sun Exposure: Part sun to shade
  • Soil Type: Rich and moist
  • Soil pH: Slightly acidic to neutral
  • Bloom Time: Spring
  • Flower Color: Pink, red, white
  • Hardiness Zones: 2 through 9
  • Native Area: Siberia, northern China, Korea, and Japan 
bleeding heart flowers (syn. Dicentra spectabilis Alba) Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Alba' - Arching sprays of delicate, heart-shaped white flowers
Dicentra spectabilis - Alba. Jacky Parker Photography/Getty Images
Dicentra Spectabilis Gold Heart
Melissa Fague/Getty Images 

How to Grow Bleeding Hearts

The biggest foe of bleeding hearts is summer heat. Gardeners in warmer zones will have a tougher time establishing their plants than those in the colder zones. Leaves are susceptible to leaf spot. The easiest solution is to shear back the affected foliage. Although bleeding hearts like moist soil, it cannot tolerate heavy, wet soil and may get root rot if left with wet feet too long.

Light

Bleeding hearts do best in partial shade. Since it is such an early bloomer, planting near a deciduous tree is a good spot. The plants will be up and growing before the tree leaves out and when the bleeding heart needs protection from the summer sun, the tree will provide it.

Soil

Bleeding hearts prefer humus-rich, moist soil, with lots of organic matter, but are not particular about soil pH. Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, over the existing soil. Work it in to improve aeration and create a loose soil that allows the roots to grow.

Water

Keep plants well watered throughout the summer, especially in warmer weather. Even then, they may disappear until the fall or next spring. If you recently planted your bleeding heart, it would be wise to mark the spot, so you do not accidentally dig in the area while your bleeding heart is dormant. Western bleeding heart is a little more drought tolerant than the other species, but it is still best to treat them all as woodland plants and provide a moist—but not wet—environment.

Temperature and Humidity

A bleeding heart plant begins to yellow once the summer heat ramps up. This is perfectly normal, as it is a sign that it is storing away energy for the winter. Its ideal temperature is 55 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. It can tolerate humidity.

Fertilizer

Bleeding hearts are not heavy feeders, so when to fertilize depends on the quality of your soil. If you have rich, organic soil that is amended every year, you will not have to feed at all. Bleeding hearts are woodland plants and do especially well with a top dressing of leaf mold.

Pruning

No pruning or deadheading is required since it will bloom again. Leave the flowers, if you want it to go to seed. You can trim back the foliage when it starts to turn ugly. Fringed-leaf varieties will eventually get a little ragged looking and can be sheared back to their basal growth. They will re-leaf and rebloom.

Propagating Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding hearts can be started from seed, division, cutting, or seedling. To start seeds indoors, place seeds in a pot of soil. Put the pot in a plastic bag and place in the freezer for 6 to 8 weeks. Remove the pot and all to germinate and grow in regular seedling conditions.

  • Divisions: It is very easy to divide bleeding heart plants. Bleeding hearts should be divided after flowering, so you do not sacrifice bloom. The fringed-leaf varieties divide nicely early in spring, as they are emerging.
  • Seed: Bleeding heart can also be started by seed or stem cuttings. Plants very often self-seed throughout your garden, although not to the point of being a nuisance. Sow seed outdoors in the fall; the seeds need a period of freezing temperatures.

Varieties of Bleeding Hearts

  • Lamprocapnos spectabilis Alba: Pure white flowers
  • Lamprocapnos spectabilis Gold Heart: Pink flowers and yellow-gold foliage; a little flashier, but the gold punches up a shady garden
  • Dicentra eximia, fringed-leaf bleeding heart: Northeast American native with delicate ferny foliage that will repeat bloom throughout summer
  • Dicentra formosa, western fringed-leaf bleeding heart: Pacific Northwest native, more drought tolerant than D. eximia and with showier flowers
  • Dicentra cucullaria, Dutchman's breeches: Very similar to bleeding heart, with flowers like little white pantaloons

Landscaping

Bleeding heart usually blooms about the same time as pulmonaria, brunnera, and hellebores, all of which make a wonderful woodland cottage effect.

Bleeding hearts will stay in bloom for several weeks, but the foliage tends to go downhill after flowering. Plan to have late emerging plants nearby, to fill in the hole if your bleeding heart goes dormant and disappears. Coral bells, ferns, foam flower, hosta, and monkshood are good companions.