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Flowers

Bleeding Heart Flower Care: Growing Dicentra Spectabilis


21 min read

Ever wondered if there was a heart-shaped flower that you could give to your loved one? Well, look no further, because bleeding heart flower produces strings of up to twenty of them at a time!

Dicentra spectabilis is now known officially as Lamprocapnos spectabilis. But it’s also referred to by its original taxonomical name. I’ll be referring to the plant called bleeding heart as both in this piece, as the two names are synonymous.

If that’s not confusing enough, bleeding heart is also called Cyanaeorchis spectabilis, Corydalis spectabilis, Diclytra spectabilis, and Dielytra spectabilis. But let’s keep it simple, and stick with bleeding hearts!

In common names, bleeding heart is referred to as Asian bleeding heart, lyre flower, and lady-in-a-bath. It’s popular because of its beautiful, drooping heart-shaped pink, red and white flowers.

But how do you grow bleeding heart? Is there a good way to harvest seeds from the bleeding heart flowers? Does it like sun or shade? And how do you encourage it to produce those unusual flowers all summer long?

Want to know how to raise your own heart-shaped garden filled with love? Let me show you how!

Good Products At Amazon For Growing Bleeding Hearts:

Bleeding Heart Overview

Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Valentine'
Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Valentine’. Source: Karen Row
Common Name(s)Bleeding heart, Asian bleeding heart, lyre flower, old fashioned bleeding heart
Scientific NameLamprocapnos spectabilis
FamilyPapaveraceae
OriginJapan, northern China, Siberia, Korea
Height1-3 feet, 12-36 inches tall
LightFull shade to partial shade
WaterRegular watering to keep soil moist
Temperature55-75 degrees Fahrenheit
HumidityCan tolerate humidity
SoilRich, organic soil, holds water well, drains excess, pH 6.0-6.5
FertilizerAll-purpose 15-30-15 slow-release fertilizer in spring
PropagationRoot division, seed
PestsAphids, scale, snails & slugs. Also subject to fungal diseases.

Types of Bleeding Heart Plant

There are potentially hundreds of varieties of bleeding heart out there. Different hybrids of bleeding hearts produce different flowering patterns. Some bleeding heart plants produce spread-out hearts along long arching stems, where others produce flower clusters. Some have white flowers, and others have variations of red and pink.

We’re focusing on the traditional bleeding heart types today, but most hybrids are cared for exactly the same way. That means you’re bound to know how to care for hybrids and old-fashioned bleeding heart plants too.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis  ‘Alba’, ‘Pantaloons’

Lamprocapnos spectabilis  'Alba'
Lamprocapnos spectabilis  ‘Alba’. Source: Kerry D Woods

Both Alba bleeding heart plants and Pantaloons have white flowers, and they behave similarly. They grow to 36 inches tall, and just as wide.

Pantaloon bleeding hearts tend to be a bit more tolerant of direct sun, where Alba prefers full or partial shade. Both varieties are among the most popular ones commercially available today.

This bleeding heart creates a white heart-shaped flower with white or cream droplets underneath.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’, ‘Golden Bleeding Heart’

Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart'
Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ has yellow-green foliage. Source: scostello22

Gold Heart, or Gold Bleeding Heart, is a bit of a misnomer for this particular variety, as they all have rose-pink and white flowers!

The foliage is what gives this varietal its name, as it’s a vivid gold with an underlying greenish tinge. These bleeding hearts make a striking display in the garden, especially as it tends to be a larger variety with a mounding habit. They grow 24 to 36 inches tall.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Valentine’

This interesting bleeding heart varietal has grey-green foliage that springs from vivid red stems. It produces long sprouts of crimson heart-shaped flowers with tiny white-tinged droplets.

These particular red-flowered bleeding hearts can be hard to find at times, as it’s a patented cultivar. But they are incredibly beautiful in a garden setting.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Fire Island’

This bleeding heart cultivar grows up to 20 inches tall with blue-green fern-like leaves and pink-red heart-shaped blossoms, making it a fern leaf bleeding heart. The tips fade into a purply-tinged droplet.

Fire Island bleeding hearts prefer full-shade environments. They produce bright shows of color throughout the summer months.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘King of Hearts’

Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'King of Hearts'
Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘King of Hearts’. Source

Did you want hot pink hearts? King of Hearts bleeding hearts can provide them!

This semi-dwarf bleeding heart variety produces vibrantly pink flowers that have a hint of white at the base. They grow on stems that reach 10 to 12 inches tall.

King of Hearts likes a dappling of sun in its shade, which makes them a great choice for part-sun locations.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Burning Hearts’

Burning Hearts is a dwarf bleeding heart varietal. It only grows to be around 10-12 inches tall at maximum height, and about the same width across.

It has an extended blooming cycle, producing flaming red flowers in early spring throughout the summer. This red-flowered type is perfect for container gardening.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Fringed Leaf’

Growing to a height of about 15 inches tall, the fringed bleeding heart leaf variety is also a dwarf cultivar.

Native to the Appalachian mountains, these fringed bleeding heart plants have delicate, lacy leaves which look fringed. Like Burning Heart, they do extremely well in containers.

Some other species of plants are called fringed bleeding heart, but are actually false fringed bleeding heart plants.

Dicentra formosa, ‘Pacific Bleeding Heart’

The Pacific Bleeding Heart with its lovely pink flowers is native to the Pacific Northwest, namely Washington. It’s another dwarf species that grows 10 to 20 inches tall.

The leaves of Pacific bleeding heart are lacy, looking somewhat like rose geranium. Its nodding pink flowers are somewhat less heart-shaped than other species, but they make an excellent hummingbird attractant for your garden.

Bleeding Heart Plant Care

Overall, care for bleeding heart plants is quite simple to care for. But there’s a few key things you should know about how to grow these plants with their pink or white flowers. Let’s go into those in detail now!

Light & Temperature

Pink bleeding hearts
They do best in partial sunlight to shade. Source: bigmike

Some bleeding heart varieties appreciate lots of sunlight. But most, like old-fashioned bleeding heart, prefer shade or partial shade. Zones 3-9 are ideal for these.

If you’re in the far northern United States, it may be possible to grow bleeding hearts in full sun. I still recommend tucking them under trees or bushes for a little protection! Fringed bleeding heart plants, for instance, do best in partial shade.

Did you plant bleeding heart in containers? Place the container in a location where it can’t get scorched by the afternoon sun.

While your bleeding heart flower is an early spring perennial, the blue-green foliage and flowers may not survive frosts. The roots will continue to survive as long as they’re protected from extreme cold.

A winter mulch that’s at least 4″ deep over the root mass will provide ample warmth for bleeding heart in cool months. As early spring approaches, thin out the mulch over the roots to allow fresh greens to spring forth.

Water & Humidity

Bleeding Heart plants love their water and thrive in cool environments with moist soil. Wet soil is too much for these plants, though.

Provide a half inch to an inch of water weekly throughout the growing season. Using a drip irrigation system or soaker system allows for ground-level watering.

Mulch around the base of the bleeding heart plant to keep the soil from drying out too fast. This is a plant that tolerates acidic mulches like pine needles.

If you water well in spring, you can delay old-fashioned bleeding heart dormancy to late summer or early fall.

Soil

A rich organic soil is ideal for bleeding heart. Do not plant bleeding heart in soils that will go boggy and muddy. You need good water retention, but it also needs to drain off excess water. A quality potting mix blended with compost is great! Any humus-rich soil works just fine.

Mildly-acidic humus-rich soil is acceptable for bleeding heart, too. Aim for a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5. It can survive up to 7.0, but prefers less alkaline soil.

Avoid pooling water at the base of your plants. They love the moisture, but they aren’t water-dwellers.

Fertilizer

Bleeding heart plant
High phosphorous fertilizers will help the plant bloom heavily in early spring. Source: Rachel Ford James

Rich compost worked into the soil in the spring will provide good soil consistency for bleeding heart. It also provides easily-absorbed nutrition for your plants.

I also like to use slow-release organic fertilizers which are high in phosphorous. The added phosphorous will stimulate bleeding heart flower production, giving you a brilliant show!

Aim for a 15-30-15 slow-release granular fertilizer in the spring. Work it in at the base of the plant to provide long-term feeding.

If you can’t find a good 15-30-15, use a balanced fertilizer and add some bone meal to the soil. There are many types that work for bleeding heart, but I prefer fish bone meal as it breaks down consistently.

Propagation By Division

You can easily grow a bleeding heart plant from seed or propagate via root division.

Two times of year are optimal for dividing your bleeding heart plant. You can wait for the flower to die back in the fall and go dormant. Alternately, wait for the spring and the first new shoots to appear before dividing.

Provide extra watering for your bleeding heart plants for at least two days before beginning. This makes sure the plant’s roots are easy to separate.

If you’re dividing old fashioned bleeding heart in the fall, loosen the soil around the plant and scoop out enough to expose the side of the roots. You can use a spray bottle to rinse off excess soil to see the roots better.

Pick a segment that’s 2-3″ long with at least two “eyes” or growth nodes. Use a utility knife and cleanly cut that from the rest of the plant. Fill back in the soil around the in-ground segment.

Rinse off the bleeding heart root cutting, and prepare a pot with three parts coarse sand to one part peat. Be sure it’s well-mixed! Lay the root segment lengthwise in the pot and cover with 1″ of coarse sand. Use proper modes of caring for your plant cuttings here.

Water your potted segment when 1/2″ of the sand feels dry, and keep an eye on it. Keep it in a shady place out of the wind.

Within 4-6 weeks, there should be some top growth on your old fashioned bleeding heart. Repot it into regular potting soil at that time, and in the spring or the following fall, plant it out in a bed.

Spring separation is easy when it comes to bleeding heart. Again, water for a few days in advance. Gently loosen the soil and remove the entire plant once it starts to show signs of growth. Dust off or spray off the roots to get a good look.

With your fingers, tease apart 6″ root segments. You should be able to do this without making cuttings. If the roots are very tangled, use a sterile utility knife only as needed.

You can then take the bleeding heart segments and plant directly into prepared beds. Be sure you’ve already worked compost and fertilizer into the soil before planting.

Propagation From Seed

Bleeding heart plant seeds
Some not-quite-ready bleeding heart seeds. Pods should be completely dry to harvest. Source: Erutuon

If you’re propagating bleeding heart from seed, it’s easiest to plant bleeding heart seeds right after harvesting them. Seeds need a period of 40 degree weather for at least six weeks to propagate. They’ll get that directly in their beds.

Want to wait until the spring? Place your bleeding heart seeds in a plastic bag with some moistened growing medium and put them in the freezer for six weeks. Once six weeks has passed, remove from the freezer and keep them in 55-60 degree temps until planting time.

It takes about a month for bleeding heart seeds to germinate in the spring. Once they do start to germinate, you should be able to gently separate plants from the growing medium. Place them in pots and allow them to get a little larger before planting out in late spring or early summer.

In fall when the bleeding heart plant dies back, you should see seed pods amongst the fading flowers. If you want to collect your own seeds, leave them in place until they completely dry out. The pods should be brown, with black seeds inside.

I find it easiest to tie a paper bag over the bleeding heart seed pods while they’re drying. This ensures that if the pods split open, you don’t lose the seeds in the soil. The paper allows the pods to continue to cure until the seeds are ready.

Repotting

Dicentra spectabilis Gold Heart
A closeup of the leaves of ‘Gold Heart’, a pale yellow-green foliage variety. Source: proteinbiochemist

Want to keep your old fashioned bleeding heart plant large? No problem. If you’re growing in a container, you want enough space for the roots to continue growing. Repotting may occasionally be necessary.

Select a container that’s 1-2″ wider than your existing pot. Prepare your preferred potting blend in advance, ahead of hotter temperatures in early summer.

With care, remove your bleeding heart plant from its old pot. You can dust soil off the roots to check their size and confirm there’s no rot issues. Then plant bleeding heart into its new soil at the same height it was planted before.

Fill in the soil around the plant and water to moisten the soil completely. Then return your plant to its normal location!

Pruning

As the heat of the summer wears on, bleeding heart flowers tend to yellow. This is just a sign it’s past its normal flowering season, so don’t panic!

Once the bleeding heart is completely yellowed or browned, that’s when it’s best to prune the plant. If you’re going to save seeds, you’ll need to wait until the seed pods have dried first.

Aggressive pruning is best for bleeding heart plants. Cut the blue green foliage off 1-2″ above the ground once it’s completely yellowed or browned. If there’s any green foliage left, wait to prune it until later in the season.

Problems

Yellowed leaves in the spring? Wilting plants? Here are the most common problems you’ll face when you care for bleeding heart plants and how to combat them.

Growing Problems

A bleeding heart plant begins to yellow once the early summer heat ramps up, unless we’re talking about a fringed bleeding heart, which likes heat. This is perfectly normal, as it’s a sign that it’s storing away energy for the winter.

But what if the bleeding heart yellows in the spring? There are a few potential issues that could be the culprit.

Watering issues are usually to blame. While bleeding heart plants love moist soil, standing water causes problems. The soil should drain well to prevent standing water. Limp, yellowed leaves may look like a sign of dryness but are often from overwatering.

Underwatering can be a problem too! This tends to cause a complete wilting of the stems and leaves, not just yellowing. Be sure the soil remains evenly moist.

Too much light can also become a problem. If your plant is in direct light for too much of the day, it can develop sunburn and turn yellow or brown. The plant is preserving its energy already, storing it away for the winter.

If your plant’s receiving too much light, move it to a more shaded area when you notice the yellowing. Trees or bushes can provide dappled light to filter to the plant and prevent direct sun.

Soil that’s too alkaline can also spur yellowing. Aim for a pH range of 6.0-6.5. You can use a digital pH meter to check, or send a soil sample to your local agricultural extension. Adding sulfur to the soil will increase soil alkalinity.

Pests

Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba'
This white bleeding heart is the cultivar ‘Alba’. Source: wallygrom

The dreaded, deadly aphid is so common they’re called plant lice. Sometimes they’re carried in by ant farmers who’re caring for them for their honeydew. Other times, they appear on their own from who knows where! But they’re dangerous sucking pests who spread disease.

Yellowing or twisting leaves, or leaves which drop off, are signs of aphid infestation. You’ll be able to easily tell as the aphids will be on the underside of the leaves. Use an insecticidal soap spray or neem oil to wipe them out.

Slimy slugs and snails will snack on the blue green foliage of your plants. These are a bit more difficult to combat as they often appear at night. By the time you get up in the morning, leaves already have been munched.

Lure snails and slugs away with a good organic snail bait. This is often more appetizing to the pests than the plant itself. Once they’ve consumed the bait, they’ll become poisoned and die.

Finally, while it’s less common, scale can appear. These small insects look like bumps on the stems of the plant. Like aphids, these feed on the plants by sucking the juice out of them. And also like aphids, they can cause leaf drop and twisting or yellowing.

Because they hang on stubbornly, scale can be hard to combat. It will fall victim to insecticidal soaps. Neem oil can be used to keep scale insects at bay.

Diseases

Closeup of bleeding heart droplet
A closeup of the ‘droplet’ at the base of the bleeding heart flower. Source: Le No

Fungal infections are the most likely diseases to strike. These fungal diseases can appear on the plant’s leaves, or can strike directly at the roots.

Powdery mildew on leaves can be whitish, greyish, or even faintly pink in color. It looks like a dust, but it’s actually a fungal infection. Spraying all plant surfaces including the arching stems with neem oil will quickly clear it up.

Brown or black dots on the leaves can signal that you have a fungal leaf spot problem. The most common is alternaria leaf spot, but there’s other fungi that cause spotting too. This will gradually destroy the leaves and prevent photosynthesis.

Treatment of fungal leaf spots is usually done with a copper-based fungicidal spray. It may take more than one treatment before you wipe out the spotting.

The gray mold known as botrytis cinerea is another problem. Plants will turn mushy or soggy, and masses of gray or silvery spores may be visible. While copper fungicides may work, prevention is better than curing! Keep plants dry to prevent fungal development.

Finally, there’s a triad of fungal problems that are soilborne.

Verticillium wilt is a fungal problem that strikes the plant’s leaves and stems. Fusarium can cause damping off in seedlings and root rot. Pythium causes roots to rot and turn to mush.

All three of these latter fungal diseases have no real cure. Affected plants should be removed and destroyed. For prevention, use a product like MycoStop that protects roots from fungal disease. Healthy plants have a better chance of avoiding diseases.

Frequently Asked Questions

Red bleeding hearts
Aptly named, don’t you think? Source: Paul Appleton

Q: Is bleeding heart a native plant?

A: Well, that really depends on where you are!

Some dicentra species are indigenous to the northwestern United States. Lamprocapnos spectabilis is not. It can be found wild in Japan, northern China, Siberia, and Korea.

Bleeding heart plants found in the United States may be cultivated here. These plants began as imports, but are popular enough to merit local cultivation.

Q: Trying to collect seeds, but paper bags aren’t working. Help?

A: Bleeding heart seed pods need to completely dry on the plant. As those pods open up the minute they fully dry, this is a common issue!

Your best bet is to get some form of containment overtop the pods before they can open. Paper bags breathe well, but old nylon stockings or cloth bags can also catch the tiny black seeds.

Avoid plastic bags, as they prevent the pods from completely drying out and popping open.

Q: Are there yellow, lavender, or blue bleeding heart flowers?

A: There’s a lot of people claiming to sell bleeding heart plants in unusual colors. But many of them are fake.

Right now, the only colors of bleeding heart flowers are red, pink, or white. Both yellow and lavender are within the realm of possibility, but aren’t available yet. It’ll take years of careful cultivation and breeding to produce those.

People claiming to have blue, black, or purple bleeding heart flowers don’t, as they don’t exist. These are unfortunately scam artists, and you should avoid purchasing those seeds.

Q: Are there any good companion plants for bleeding heart plant?

A: Good companions for bleeding hearts should fit a few criteria. They need to look good even after the bleeding hearts have yellowed in the summer. They’re also going to need to be shade-lovers, and they must tolerate moist soil.

Hostas are probably the most popular choice, but many ferns will also work. I’m particularly fond of bird’s nest ferns. Brunneras can also look great with their blue flowers and white-dappled leaves. These go well with a fern leaf bleeding heart.

Q: What’s the meaning behind the name?

A: Like so many other plants, these flowers are ascribed certain meanings. There’s quite a few variations out there!

The majority of these meanings centers around love, given the bleeding heart flower’s shape. To some, they signify a deep and abiding love, or one which even continues after death. Others see unconditional love in their heart shaped flowers.

Yet other stories are more wistful. In the Eastern cultures where bleeding heart flowers grow wild, they may signify spurned or lost love. They can also signify being overly sensitive or reactive to the world around you.

Their colors follow traditional flower meaning lines. White is linked to purity, while pink or red tend to be identified as love.

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