If you’ve ever seen a shade or woodland garden full of beautiful pink heart shaped flowers and wanted the same blooms for your yard, you’re in luck. Bleeding heart flowers, known as Dicentra species in Latin, are relatively easy to grow if you follow a few important rules.
These specatular looking plants blossom in late spring and early summer, with mounds of green leaves that look a bit like parsley and arching, leafless stalks bearing the “bleeding hearts” that give the plant its name. They can be grown in many places throughout the US, from zones three through nine.
They are fairly disease-free, especially when watered correctly, and bleeding hearts are deer resistant as well. To enjoy this popular species in your garden, read on to learn ten important tips for bleeding heart plant care.
Planting bleeding hearts is largely a matter of selecting the right location in the yard. Other than in very cool areas where they can tolerate a little more sun, bleeding hearts need partial to full shade. They are ideal for those woodsy corners of the yard that might be too dark for other species.
Bleeding hearts also like rich, humus soil. The ground should be well drained but able to stay moist between waterings. If the soil quality is poor where you want to plant a bleeding heart, improve it first with some compost or very weak fertilizer.
Make sure the soil is loose enough to provide proper drainage; it should be loamy, with not too much sand and not too much clay either. The addition of peat moss can help you maintain the right moisture balance. Once you find the perfect spot, plant each bleeding heart approximately two feet apart to allow for adequate root expansion and for adult plant growth.
You might want to call the bleeding heart flower “Goldilocks” because it likes its moisture levels “just right.” If the soil is too dry, the plant won’t flower or the foliage will die off early in the season. If it’s too wet, the roots can rot, causing the entire plant to die.
Ideally, you want want to water your bleeding heart plant several times to get a feel for how long you need to water for the moisture to penetrate to the root level and how long the ground stays moist. Once you figure out your plant’s water needs, put it on a regular watering schedule whenever there is no rain.
Early morning or late afternoon are good times to water, as the moisture won’t evaporate too quickly nor will it pool too long and increase the risk of root rot.
Mulching is a great way to protect your bleeding heart bushes and enrich the soil at the same time. As the mulch breaks down, it adds nutrients to the soil and feeds the plants. You can mulch your bleeding hearts in both the fall and the spring with compost, leaves or other garden debris.
As an herbaceous perennial, the Dicentra species undergoes a series of natural transformations throughout the year. Foliage for the plant will start to appear in early to mid spring, and the plant flowers from late spring through the early summer.
On rare occasions in cool climates, a bleeding heart may flower twice, but in general, this species only blooms once, so there is no need for deadheading, or removing spent blossoms.
Depending on the amount of sun the plant receives and how dry it is, the greenery and stems will start to turn yellow and brown once the flowering period has passed. At this point, you can cut the plant to the ground if it becomes unsightly. If you do nothing, the bleeding heart will usually just die back completely by the end of autumn.
While you can grow bleeding hearts from seed or propagate them by root cuttings, the easiest way to create more plants from your existing ones is to divide them periodically, about once every three or four years. Bleeding hearts develop thick roots at the base called “rhizomes.” You can dig up a plant, split the rhizomes with a garden spade or fork and create two or more plants from one.
The best time to do this is in the fall, after the foliage is done. If you have a neighbor with different varieties of bleeding hearts (see below), you can trade split plants to try out each others’ variations.
Although pink is the classic color for “King of Hearts” bleeding hearts, there is also a white bleeding heart plant called “Alba.” The two colors look lovely when planted adjacent to each other. White bleeding hearts are also a smart way to brighten up dark corners in the yard.
Another way to brighten the forested or shady parts of the garden is to use the “Golden Heart” bleeding heart flower. This variety has striking yellow-green foliage, which is a nice counterpoint to the more common “King of Hearts.”
In addition to pairing different types of bleeding hearts to accentuate them, you can select other species that will also showcase your heart shaped flowers. Bleeding hearts look splendid next to ferns and hostas, which also thrive in shady locales. Trillium and astilbe make good companions for bleeding hearts too.
Try to choose neighboring plants that will fill in the space a bit when your bleeding hearts die back later in the season. If you’re left with a gaping hole, you could also fill the space with shade-loving begonias or impatiens. If you’re worried about inadvertently damaging the roots of your bleeding hearts, you can always stick a potted shade plant in their empty space post-bloom.
Because bleeding hearts can completely disappear by the end of fall, it can be easy to accidentally dig them up when planting fall bulbs or transplanting other perennials. If you’re worried about doing this, put a marker in your garden where every bleeding heart is rooted, so you’ll remember where it is.
As beautiful as the Dicentra species is, it can be deadly, and all parts of the plants are poisonous. Take care to keep kids away from bleeding hearts, and it may be best to plant this flower where your pets can’t get at it either. Keep it out of the part of your yard where your dog romps, and take care to omit it from your horse pastures.
Just touching the plant can be an irritation to humans too, so wear long sleeves and gardening gloves when planting or transplanting bleeding hearts.
If you don’t have a yard, or if ameliorating the soil in your garden isn’t possible, you can still grow bleeding hearts in containers, provided you have sufficient shade. A sheltered balcony, stoop or terrace makes an ideal place to enjoy your bleeding hearts in pots.
While Dicentra spectabilis is the normal garden variety, Dicentra formosa only grows to about twelve inches tall, so it makes the perfect bleeding heart for a container garden.
Dicentra, with its gorgeous heart flowers and delicate foliage is a wonderful addition to many yards. Once you get the hang of how to care for bleeding hearts, you’ll be able to have many thriving plants in your yard, and you can divide and share them at will. Follow the advice above, and you too can enjoy these winning perennial favorites.