Whenever I see the old-fashioned bleeding heart on floral arrangements and late spring gardens, I can never help myself from taking close-up photos of that pink-red bloom of the flowers.
Set among lush green foliage, the arching stems, and heart-shaped flowers instantly add charm to any garden. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting many public and private gardens throughout my time, and I’ve always enjoyed seeing and easily identifying the bleeding hearts.
Whatever garden style or variety there is, whether I’m enjoying the work of an expert gardener or a novice beginner, I always often find the bleeding hearts to be among their prized possessions.
With good reason, of course! One that we will find out today. Bleeding heart plants are some of the easiest flowers you can grow.
Bleeding hearts are easy to grow in shade and come up in early spring… they have different varieties, but all have distinctly heart-shaped flowers.
Common bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis, formerly Dicentra spectabilis) are considered spring ephemerals and will die back after flowering. The fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) is a smaller plant with a longer bloom time and won’t go dormant.
In This Article
Why Grow Bleeding Hearts?
Very few plants can claim the distinct, unique, and symbolic shape the dicentra spectabilis or bleeding heart plant has. That’s why more and more bridal bouquets, valentine’s day gifts, and floral arrangements include the bleeding heart in their roster of flowers. Its heart-shaped flowers are instant visual representations of your affection for a loved one.
However, it’s been noted by Martha Stewart Living that bleeding heart plants aren’t easy to find in traditional flower markets. Not all flower farms have been growing this gem. Which is really a missed opportunity.
Growing bleeding hearts is a rewarding project to do. The plant itself is quite prolific. They are even capable of self-seeding if they are not deadheaded.
If your garden has plenty of shade, this is the perfect environment to grow the old-fashioned bleeding heart. The dicentra is a shade-loving woodland, herbaceous perennial. That’s a mouthful that actually means that these flowers grow back every year from early spring to early summer.
The bleeding heart attracts bees and other pollinators to your garden, which is beneficial for all your other plants. You can enjoy pink flowers, red flowers, and white flowers, and more come spring to early summer with this beauty.
The Basics of the Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos Spectabilis)
Common Name: Fern-Leaf Bleeding Heart, Common bleeding heart, Western Bleeding Heart
Botanical Name: Lamprocapnos Spectabilis
Former Name: Dicentra spectabilis
Zones: 3-9 (some varieties differ in hardiness zones)
Height: 6 inches tall to 3 feet tall
Spread: 1 to 3 feet wide
Bloom Time: You can expect most common bleeding hearts to bloom early to late spring. Varies between varieties.
Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade
Soil Type: Rich and moist soil are ideal.
Soil pH: Provide slightly acidic soil. The bleeding heart may tolerate neutral soil.
Toxicity: Mildly toxic to animals and humans. If you have sensitive skin, be careful when handling it.
Planting The Bleeding Heart
For expert gardeners, growing anything from seed is an experience like no other. Sure it’s a lot of work, but the results are worthwhile. For beginners or even intermediate gardeners, growing the dicentra spectabilis from seed is not recommended. Again, it’s possible, but we don’t want you to toil away on this stage when there’s still so much work to be had.
The bleeding heart plants do not transplant well when they’ve emerged as seedlings. Germination alone is already a challenge!
But if you really want to challenge yourself, here’s how you can grow and plant the bleeding heart plants from seed.
Purchase your seeds and get ready to start them indoors. Plant the seeds in a pot, put the pot in a plastic bag. Place it in the freezer for 6 to 8 weeks.
After that, you can remove the pot from the fridge and allow it to germinate in normal conditions. When there are seedlings, very carefully dig them up and transplant them.
An easier way would be to purchase stable live plants that are ready for you to transplant!
During early spring or even up to late spring, you can divide or transplant your bleeding heart. Another best time to do this is during the fall after the foliage dies back.
The bleeding heart best thrives in zones 3-9. That said, if you live in warmer southern zones, find a spot that has partial shade to full shade. Make sure it’s a cool location, too!
For those farther north, your old-fashioned bleeding heart can be planted in partial shade to full sun! Whichever from zones 3-9 you are in, remember that the bleeding heart cannot stand in waterlogged soils.
Before planting the bleeding heart, work in some compost. Plant seeds one-half inches deep. Keep a moist soil until the sight of the first frost. The bleeding hearts are capable of self-sowing if the seed pods are allowed to open while on the plants.
If you bought or got your bleeding heart as a root stock or divided plant, place them in your ground with the roots pointed down. Avoid planting too deeply, doing this will hinder flowers from growing and blooming.
To see them grow to mature size, give them a space of at least 2 feet apart. Always water well.
For the bleeding heart, it’s all about the location. You need to provide the best spot, away from the heat of summer for the bleeding heart to thrive and survive. You also need to protect the bleeding heart plant from strong winds because of how delicate its green foliage is.
Having said all that, the bleeding heart is still a fairly easy plant to grow. Plan your garden around this knowledge and you will enjoy flowers from the bleeding heart and then other flowers throughout the season.
I suggest planting bleeding hearts with some late-emerging plants such as the coral bells and monkshood. This way, when your bleeding heart dies back, you will have other beautiful blooms to color your garden.
Let’s take a look at all the requirements the lamprocapnos spectabilis needs to beautify your garden.
Bleeding Heart Light Requirements:
As we’ve mentioned the bleeding heart’s sensitivity, the best light you can give it is under part shade. Because this plant can bloom in the early days of spring, the most ideal spot for the bleeding heart is near a deciduous tree. These decadent trees can provide the needed protection of the summer sun, at the end of the growing season, the leaves ‘fall’. When your bleeding heart is just growing, the tree’s leaves aren’t fully out yet. That’s a good pairing if you have these trees in your garden.
For a healthy bleeding heart in your garden, ensure that you have moist soil, with plenty of organic matter. The bleeding heart isn’t fussy about soil pH levels as other plants, just ensure that you work in organic matter over the existing soil.
Because the bleeding heart is native to woodland areas, treat it as a woodland plant. Keep the soil moist, watering it frequently throughout the summer, especially during the warmer days. The bleeding heart sometimes goes dormant. They can disappear only to come back during the fall or next spring. Mark the spot and continue to water keeping the soil moist.
Temperature and Humidity Requirements:
Your old-fashioned bleeding heart can withstand high humidity. If you notice it start to turn yellow as the summer gets hotter, that’s a normal reaction of the plant. The bleeding heart is simply storing all of its energy for the coming winter.
Feeding isn’t necessary depending on the quality of your soil. For most bleeding hearts, a rich, organic soil that gets amended every year needs no feeding.
Pruning and Maintenance:
The dicentra spectabilis or L. spectabilis varieties die back in the midst of sweltering summer. You can expect to see them again by the days of spring.
Some gardeners, especially those who keep the woodland setting in their garden close to the real deal, like to leave the foliage of the bleeding hearts as long as they can do. They’ll let the dead leaves accumulate in the ground. That’s up to you!
You can however opt to deadhead the plant after blooming to keep it clean. When all the green foliage has turned yellow and completely wilted, you can cut back the plant to the ground. It’s important to wait for the right timing on this aspect because you want the plant to store as much food and energy that it can before they go dormant.
The bleeding heart and dicentera plant type have a number of cultivars that are also worthy of your attention. Get any one of these varieties and add them to your garden to see more flower colors bloom.
Lamprocapnos Spectabilis “Alba” – beloved among gardeners because of its elegant white flowers and lime green foliage. It has a distinct droplet at the bottom of each flower bloom.
The Alba can grow a mature size of 24-30 inches tall. It can also spread at 18-36 inches.
L. Spectabilis “Gold Heart” – Before you start picturing out gold flowers adorning your garden, let me just stop you there! It’s the foliage that’s awarded this variety its name. They’re still quite an attraction though with bright yellowish-gold foliage. Once the pink flowers bloom, they will instantly be the star of the show. Think gold foliage with pink accents surrounding the foot of your tree. Isn’t it charming? This variety can grow up to 30-36 inches tall.
L. Spectabilis “Valentine” – If you ever needed a quick flower arrangement for Valentine’s day, this bleeding heart variety has got you covered! This cultivar is slightly smaller, which makes it a perfect addition to spring bouquets. These beauties have burgundy or deeper red flowers, with red stems. Its mature height is 1-2 feet tall.
Dicentra eximia or Fringed-leaf bleeding heart – If you remember the quote above, the dicentera eximia is one of the special bleeding hearts out there. Not only does it have a longer bloom time, but it can also repeat bloom during the summer too! It has notable ferny foliage that adds texture to your garden.
If you want to be surprised with flower color, this bleeding heart can bloom with pink flowers, and sometimes white flowers as well. They can grow to a height of up to 18 inches tall. Another bonus point for this variety: it often attracts hummingbirds to gardens!
Dicentra Formosa – The western bleeding heart – dicentra formosa is another woodland perennial that won’t go dormant during the growing season. The dicentra formosa is sometimes called the Pacific bleeding heart because you’ll most likely find it in the forests of the Pacific coast. With proper watering, you’ll enjoy this bleeding heart for longer.
Where is the best place to plant Bleeding hearts?
The bleeding heart does best and will thrive the most in partial shade. One of the best spots is near a deciduous tree that can provide shade and light depending on the seasons. Be mindful to place these plants away from the heat of summer, and protected them from strong winds.
Do bleeding hearts spread?
These are plants that can spread 1 to 3 feet wide. But they are not aggressive! With their pops of color, they can add variety and beauty to gardens. You can let it spread out for a woodland-type garden.
If, however, you want more uniformity to your garden, you can plot the bleeding heart in tight clumps, be sure to prune and divide when they get unruly, and surround it with companion plants to fill in the gaps when summer comes.
How big do bleeding hearts get?
In its maturity, the bleeding heart plants can grow up to 6 inches to 3 feet tall.
These plants are an excellent choice for container gardening. When they bloom during spring, you can take them out for every body to enjoy. When they die back, you can move them somewhere where they can be safe and out of the way.
There are varieties that grow small like the “King of Hearts” that can go perfectly well in rock gardens.
Can bleeding hearts grow in full sun?
The bleeding heart CAN tolerate full sun, but it is best grown in environments where there is shade. Protect it from the heat of the summer sun!
What are the best plants to grow the bleeding heart with?
Pair the bleeding heart with plants that also enjoy full shade or partial shade. Think of perennials that can fill in when the bleeding heart dies back. Consider the hostas, heart-leaf brunnera, ferns, or astilbe.