How and When to Prune Bleeding Heart Plants

Not sure when you should prune your bleeding hearts this season? These picky plants can benefit from a good pruning when the timing is right. In this article, gardening expert Paige Foley shares her top tips for both how and when to prune bleeding heart flowers this season!

prune bleeding hearts

Contents

Bleeding heart plants are springtime perennials that grow distinct heart-shaped blooms. They are a great way to add some cottage charm to any shady area. They are native to woodland areas and like moist, cool, shady environments. It’s best to mimic their native environment to have beautiful, robust bleeding hearts for many years.

Their pillow-like heart-shaped blooms and lush green foliage are a great addition to any flower bed, landscape, or container.  One of the greatest features of a bleeding heart is how little attention they need. As long as they have enough shade, well-draining soils, and some light pruning, bleeding hearts will be a consistent bloomer all spring.

A little bit of care will go a long way regarding bleeding hearts. The right growing environment and cleanup will yield numerous blooms and lush foliage all season. Some lite pruning is beneficial to the overall health of your bleeding heart. So do you actually need to prune your bleeding hearts, and what are the benefits of pruning? Let’s take a deeper look and find out!

When to Prune Bleeding Hearts

Close-up of blooming bleeding hearts in a sunny garden, against a blurred green background. This is a perennial plant with heart-shaped flowers with a small teardrop-shaped protrusion at the bottom. Flowers hang from curved stems in clusters, creating an elegant and whimsical look. The flowers are small, bright pink with white inner petals. The leaves are green, have deep lobes, reminiscent of a fern.
Prune bleeding hearts after spring bloom for more flowers and when the foliage turns brown due to mid-summer dormancy.

First, let’s discuss when you should be pruning. Because bleeding hearts are perennials, their foliage will die back during the season. Bleeding hearts season is shorter than most and usually ends when others are just beginning.

The rhizomatous roots lie dormant in the soil during the winter. Once temperatures begin to rise in the spring, bleeding hearts will wake from their long winter sleep. They are one of the first springtime flowers to bloom.

Once the flowers bloom in early spring, cutting the blooms before they produce seeds is beneficial. The plant will focus more on blooms than seed production by pruning when they are spent. Doing this may extend the bloom window if temperatures stay cool.

If you’re interested in collecting seeds but still desire an abundance of flowers in the garden, consider collecting seeds later in the season. Deadhead spent flowers as they start to fade. Once you notice the flowering process slowing down, avoid deadheading the plant to allow it to produce seed.

The next time you should prune your bleeding hearts is when the foliage has turned brown and died. It’s natural for the bleeding heart plant to go dormant mid-summer. Dormancy can occur earlier and later, depending on your region. This summer dormancy occurs when the temperature becomes too hot for the bleeding heart.

How To Prune Bleeding Hearts

Deadheading Spent Flowers

Close-up of a Dicentra spectabilis plant with withered flowers in a sunny garden. The plant is young, has vertical curved stems of a pinkish red-brown hue. Clusters of pendant-like flowers hang from the stems. The flowers, pink in color, consist of outer petals that form a heart shape, with an inner tear-shaped part that gives the impression of a "bleeding" heart. Some flowers are dry and wilted. The leaves are fern-shaped, finely dissected, bright green.
Check bleeding hearts every few days, and prune spent blooms to encourage more flowers.

You will want to check your bleeding hearts every few days. This will allow you to catch any blooms before they go to seed. You can pinch off single spent flowers or wait until the whole arched stem of the flowers is finished. Cutting finished flowers tells the plant to focus on more blooms and can extend the blooming window.

At some point in the summer, your bleeding heart will stop flowering but will still be green and lush. Do not prune yet! The plant gathers energy via photosynthesis through its leaves to store in its root system. If you cut back the plant when it’s still green, it may be stunted in the spring.

Collecting seeds is a great cost-effective way to grow your garden. It can also be a great gift for a friend, family member, or other gardening enthusiast. If you want to gather seeds from your bleeding hearts, do not prune once the flowers are spent. The seeds will form where the heart-shaped flowers once hung.

Pruning During Dormancy

Top view, close-up of a Dicentra spectabilis plant before hibernation in the garden. The plant has short stems covered with lush yellowish foliage. The leaves are finely dissected, fern-like.
Bleeding hearts go dormant when temperatures exceed 75°F.

Once temperatures are consistently above 75°F, bleeding hearts tend to go dormant. Dormancy may occur later in warmer zones versus colder zones. You don’t have to wait till the first frost to prune your bleeding hearts. Bleeding hearts will go dormant once temperatures are too hot and they are finished for the season. This can vary depending on your climate, but you can expect it early to mid-summer.

Once the plant goes dormant, the leaves will be brown, shriveled, or dead. This is when you need to cut the plant back. Cut the foliage to the ground, leaving about an inch or less of stalk sticking through the soil. Be sure to remove all the dead foliage from the garden. This will help control the spread of diseases.

If you are concerned about your bleeding hearts surviving the winter, apply a layer of mulch or straw. This helps the soil retain moisture while protecting the roots from extreme winters. This is definitely not necessary but could be beneficial in colder climates.

Managing Diseases By Pruning

Close-up of a Dicentra spectabilis plant with rotting stems and dry leaves due to disease, in a sunny garden. The plant has fern-like leaves with deep lobes. Leaves yellowish. Some leaves are dry, sluggish, brown. Stems are soft and rotten. The flowers consist of outer pink petals shaped like a heart, and inner white petals shaped like a dripping drop.
Prune bleeding hearts with diseases like rust or fungal leaf spots.

Diseases inevitably find their way into the garden and can be hard to control. Prune your bleeding heart if it develops disease symptoms to help control the spread.

Rusts and fungal leaf spots are common diseases that can be controlled by removing the infected portion of the plant. Be careful when cutting because these diseases produce spores that easily move from plant to plant.

Prune the infested stems and leaves from the plant when you see symptoms. Clean your shears with alcohol between each cutting to prevent the spread of diseases. If you catch these diseases early enough, your plant will still thrive and produce flowers and foliage.

Heavily-diseased plants may not be salvageable. If you remove too much of the plant’s foliage, it may not survive or will be severely stunted. Unfortunately, when a plant is so heavily infected, it’s often better to remove it to control the spread to other plants in the garden.

No Pruning at All

Top view, close-up of a Dicentra spectabilis plant before hibernation in the garden. The plant has short stems covered with lush yellowish foliage. The leaves are finely dissected, fern-like. elegant curved stems with clusters of hanging, pendant-like flowers. The flowers are pink in color and consist of heart-shaped outer petals with a teardrop-shaped inner white part that gives the impression of a "bleeding" heart. The leaves are fern-shaped, finely dissected, bright green. They add a delicate appearance to the plant and provide an attractive backdrop for vibrant flowers. The foliage is usually arranged in a rosette at the base of the plant and along the stems.
Pruning in the fall is common practice for many plants, but bleeding hearts can survive without it.

Since bleeding hearts are done blooming so early in the growing season, you may forget about them. This is easy to do because they get covered up by plants that thrive in mid-summer to late fall. Often, gardeners don’t think about pruning their gardens in the summer heat but instead may choose to prune in the fall. Luckily, bleeding hearts can survive without any pruning as long as the plant remains healthy.

Pruning is a great practice to get into because it’s proven to be beneficial for the plant. It helps control diseases and pests and produces bigger, fuller plants. In addition, your bleeding heart may produce more flowers if you deadhead when flowers are spent.

When I had bleeding hearts planted at the edge of my property, they were in an area with many trees. This area was rich in organic matter from the leaves that fell each fall. I never pruned my bleeding heart; it came back year after year with no problems.

I attribute their great growth to the environment it was grown in. The dead leaves that fell in the fall protected the bleeding heart from the harsh winters of Minnesota. I definitely think pruning my bleeding hearts would have made them bloom more and longer and produce thicker foliage.

Final Thoughts

Although pruning is not necessary for the survival of your bleeding hearts, it is a great practice to get into. Regular pruning will help your plant flower for longer periods, helps to control diseases, and prepares it for a long winter. Thank you for reading, and good luck gardening!

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