The old-fashioned “bleeding heart” flower has long been a favorite perennial of the shady flower garden. This hardy plant blooms prolifically in early spring and finishes its growing cycle when warm weather sets in. Learn when to plant bleeding heart, how to care for it, and other tips in our growing guide.
About Bleeding Heart Flower
Once called the finest hardy plant of the 19th century, bleeding heart soon became as “common as a wallpaper pattern.” Today, this perennial is in favor because it is easy to grow and nothing surpasses its attention-getting form: graceful arching, 3-foot stems adorned with dangling pink, red, or white flower hearts. The hearts appear to be dripping (hence its most common name).
Blooming in the spring, bleeding heart will grow up to 2 feet high and up to 30 inches wide. It finishes its growing cycle when warm weather sets in. The flowers fade, the leaves die back, and the plant goes dormant in late spring or early summer.
Bleeding Hearts are woodland plants so they enjoy the partial shade of spring-flowering trees such as dogwoods and serviceberries. They won’t flower in deep shade. Near the house, mix with hostas and lamium for texture.
Bleeding heart is hardy in Zones 2 to 9. Choose a site with part sun or light shade. Soil must be fertile like their woodland environment; add organic matter such as decayed leaves (leaf mold) or good compost. Ensure soil is well-draining but generally moist, never dried-out.
When to Plant Bleeding Heart
Plant tubers in spring after the threat of frost has passed or in the early fall. (See local frost dates.)
How to Plant Bleeding Heart
Space old-fashioned bleeding hearts about 24 inches apart.
Loosen the soil to 1 foot deep, mix in organic matter, and plant tubers about an inch below the surface; backfill and firm soil.
Water to soak the soil after planting.
Spread mulch (such as decayed leaves) around the plant to keep moisture in and weeds out.
In spring, apply a thin layer of compost, followed by mulch, to help retain moisture (and deter weeds). Soil rich with organic matter is all the fertilizer this plant needs.
Keep soil moist, but not soggy. If you plant is new, we would suggest watering weekly during the first season. But once established, only water if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week.
Deadheading faded flowers can prolong bloom of some varieties.
When the plant goes dormant, you may cut back the leaves and stems when they begin to yellow and wither away. Leave 1 inch of the stalk to protect the crown during the winter months.
Bleeding heart does not like being moved. It will thrive for years without being divided or replanted. If transplanting is necessary, do it as soon as the first leaves poke out of the soil in early spring.
Propagate by division in early spring, just before growth starts or by root cuttings in autumn. Bleeding heart also self-sows prodigiously.
Plant shade-loving annuals like begonias or impatiens in the garden space where the bleeding heart grew.
Mix in shade-loving perennials that bloom in mid- to late summer to fill the space as bleeding heart goes dormant. Hosta and coral bells are examples.
There are more than 20 species of Dicentra. Many new hybrids have been developed to increase heat tolerance and vigor.
D. spectabilis ‘Valentine’: white-tip cherry-red blooms on burgundy stems
D. eximia ‘Zestful’: native to North America; “fringed” (fern-leaf) foliage, with pale pink flowers; 12-18 inches tall
D. extimia ‘King of Hearts’: small, fern-leaf foliage, with rose-red flowers.
D. eximia ‘Aurora’: small, fern-leaf foliage, with white blooms.
D. cucullaria (aka “Dutchman breeches”): native to North America; fragrant, yellow-tip white flowers resembling pantaloons; 4 to 12 inches tall
Image: The delicate pantaloon-shape blooms of Dutchman’s Breeches. Credit: Mike Truchon/Shutterstock
Entire stems of bleeding heart can be used as cut flowers. Vase life is up to 2 weeks.
The bleeding heart is lovely as a pressed flower. Pick flowers early in the morning after the dew has dried. Put them between two sheets of paper and place this bundle between the pages of a thick book. After a couple of weeks you’ll have perfect flat, papery hearts. See how to press flowers.
Wit and Wisdom
This early-spring bloomer is also known as lady’s locket, lady’s heart, and lyre flower.
Dicentra spectabilis is native to northeastern China, Japan, and Korea.