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Whether you’ve got a green or black thumb, bleeding hearts are easy to grow. Besides, it’s got a really unusual shape–and its weird name is a conversation starter.

To grow bleeding hearts, plant them in spring or early summer in a partly shady area. Make sure the soil is rich in organic matter, and kept moist–so make sure to water them regularly. The plant dies back in midsummer, but since it’s perennial, will grow back each spring.

It’s simple to grow and care for bleeding hearts, but there are still some things you should be aware of before you begin.

Bleeding hearts background

Although you wouldn’t guess it to look at bleeding hearts, they’re actually related to poppies. Most cultivars are originally native to Siberia & northern China, but there are several related species native to North America

A couple interestingly-named related species are Dutchman’s Breeches, Squirrel corn, and short-horn steer’s head. Those are certainly easier to remember than their Latin names!

Bleeding hearts are perennial plants. So, cared for properly, you can enjoy its beauty year after year! The bleeding heart plant grows small, droplet type blossoms (hence the name, bleeding heart) that hang from the foliage.

The common bleeding heart is great for shady areas for border and any woodland settings. In fact, for the native North American species, you’ll typically find them blooming as spring woodland wildflowers.

Where to plant bleeding hearts?

In general, bleeding hearts prefer some shade, and moist, rich soil that contains lots of organic matter (humus). So, if you live further north, it’s OK to plant them in full sun. But if you’re in a hotter climate zone or higher up in elevation where the sun is stronger, bleeding hearts will do better planted in a part-shade area.

Bleeding hearts in flower arrangements

The bleeding hearts are an aesthetically interesting flower. They come in a few varieties and colors, and they’re sometimes used to compliment pansies, lily of the valley, coral bells, sweet woodruff, columbine, and dwarf daffodils.

To cut bleeding hearts (sorry, bad pun…) for a cut flower arrangement , choose stems with newly opened blossoms, then after cutting, immediately put them in cool water.

Dangers and Medicinal Properties

If handled, the bleeding heart may give people who have sensitive skin some irritation. They also may look delicious to a child–which could pose a threat that they may be ingested.

Bleeding hearts contains soquinoloids alkaloids, which is poisonous to cats, dogs, and humans. Symptoms of poisoning include tremors, vomiting, and diarrhea. Call poison control immediately if you suspect your child or pet has eaten bleeding hearts–it’s a serious problem.

The entire plant is poisonous, so make sure you’re cautious of this!

The bleeding heart does have some medicinal properties as well–which isn’t surprising, given its toxicity. In the form of root tincture or hot compress it can be applied externally to bruises or sprains. Internally, the tincture of bleeding heart can calm frazzled nerves; however, I would NOT recommend taking it internally–there’s too much risk of poisoning.

Bleeding hearts also attract and nurture many different kinds of butterflies.

Basics of growing bleeding-hearts

Growing healthy, beautiful bleeding hearts isn’t quite a science, but there are definitely a few things you should know before you start. The pretty heart-shaped petals appear at the beginning of spring. They can grow to 2-3 feet in height and have up to 20 blossoms on each stem.

They require shade, or at least part shade, and consistently moist, rich soil.

Planting from Seed

When planted from seed, make sure to plant a half inch into the soil. Seeds require a period of cold temperature (41F or colder) for at least 6 weeks to 3 months for germination.

Also, if you’re planting from seeds, you must keep the soil moist until the first frost.

Make sure you water regularly, and if you’re planting more than one, leave about 24-40 inches between each plant.

Planting from bulbs

If you’re planting your bleeding heart from a bulb, then plant with the roots pointed downward, and spread the roots out wider so they can have access to more nutrients. Once you plant the bleeding heart, make sure you soak the soil so it can be at its healthiest.

Because bleeding hearts require shade, or at least part shade, you need to make sure the plants you’re planting with it in the same garden require the same. This way they can grow beautifully together!

Complimentary Plants

Some plants that grow great with bleeding hearts are:

  • brunnera macrophylla (Jack Frost),
  • heucheras, and
  • foam flowers.

Brunnera macrophylla blooms at the same time as bleeding hearts, but it’s foliage remains nice all summer, which could divert away from the yellow-ish foliage from the bleeding heart after it’s finished blooming.

The heucheras and foam flowers are plants that do well in shade, and part shade, and therefore would be an excellent choice to plant with bleeding hearts.

Winter Care

If you live in a place where there’s snow. then there are a few things you should know about caring for this plant during the winter season.

As a perennial, bleeding heart roots will survive the winter. The winter care for this plant begins before winter actually comes. The blossoms will fall, and the foliage yellows and browns, and then the plant is ready to be cut back. You can cut it to an inch or two above ground.

When the cold actually begins to come, cover the small remainder of the plant with mulch. The mulch will help to keep the roots warm throughout the winter and helps give the plant a better chance of surviving through the season.

The most important thing during the cold season is to keep the roots viable.

When their growing season comes again, you’ll see the plant begin to sprout shoots once again, and you’ll soon enjoy their beautiful blossoms.

Varieties of Bleeding Hearts

First, I want to tell you that the bleeding heart plant is actually from the poppy family. It’s native to Siberia, northern China, Korea, and Japan.

The varieties of bleeding hearts make the plants differ in color and bloom time. Bleeding hearts are known by other names as well. Some of these are showy bleeding heart, dutchman’s breeches, chinaman’s breeches, locks and keys, lyre flower, seal flower, or just plain old-fashioned bleeding heart.

Below are a few notes about some of the varieties so you can ensure you pick the perfect one for your garden.

  • Lamprocapnos Spectabilis, Alba – These plants have pure white flowers on them. This plant may bloom again in a cooler autumn.
  • Lamprocapnos Spectabilis, Gold Heart- This variety has pink flowers, and yellow-goldish foliage. A beautiful plant to brighten a darker and shadier garden!
  • Dicentra Eximia, Fringed-leaf bleeding heart- This special variety repeats it’s bloom throughout the summer. It’s most often found on forest floors. They naturalize by self-seeding but are not considered to be aggressive or invasive.
  • Dicentra Formosa, Western Fringed-leaf bleeding heart- This specific variety is more tolerant to lower moisture levels in soil. If you think you may forget to water, this might be the variety to look for. It also has more elaborate flowers. The foliage sports a bright blue-green color.
  • Dicentra Cucullaria, Dutchman’s Breeches- This variety is very similar to the typical bleeding heart but with white flowers.

Can you grow bleeding hearts in a pot?

You can grow this plant in a pot, but you have to make sure that the pot is large enough for it to grow healthily–at least a 2-5 gallon pot. Make sure that the pot is in a place where it misses the intense heat of the sun. For smaller pots, plant a dicentra formosa, which is a smaller bleeding heart.

You can transplant bleeding hearts safely in the fall after the plant has gone dormant. If you miss this time, you’re also able to do it in the spring, but transplant it before the new shoots start to sprout.

Where to start

First off, decide if you’re planting from bulbs or seeds. The bulbs average about $10.00 each and the seeds average about 10 for $7.00. (This is just an average, and all stores differ as do their sales.)

Make sure to find an area of your garden that is shady, or at least partly shady.

Check the moisture level in the soil, as bleeding hearts require moisture. If you’re planting with companion plants, only use companion plants that thrive in a similar part-shade, woodland environment.

Recommended Tips

Bleeding hearts grow best in rich, organic soil, and need to have consistent water.

Ensure the space you have chosen to plant in has at least partial shade. You don’t need to prune them, but they can be trimmed back when the foliage starts to turn ugly.

Another little tip for you is to mulch around the base of the plant to help keep the soil from drying out too fast.

Prepping the garden

Make sure you choose an area of your garden that doesn’t get water-logged. Use compost, and mix it into the soil. Then, plant bulbs half an inch into the soil.

If planting using seeds, then plant 1 inch into the soil.

Water as soon as they are planted, and make watering a priority for taking care of them. Excellent moisture is a must to see the full extent of beauty in these plants!

How to grow, and general care during growing season

If you’re growing the plant in a pot, which is completely fine, you need to make sure it’s large enough and has good drainage.

If you have a garden, and are planting in the ground, plant them about 2 feet apart, and be sure to plant them in the early spring.

Regular fertilization is something you need to do during its growing time. You could also use time-release plant food to help with its growth and health.

Common Problems

There are some common problems that may develop with bleeding hearts that you should be aware of:

  • Root rot is what happens if the soil is kept too wet for too long. Putting a layer of mulch at the base of the plant will help with keeping the soil moist. Check the soil to make sure it’s not getting too wet though.
  • Aphids feed off plants that are stressed and delay the plants growth. A few of these aren’t too bad, but an infestation could weaken or kill the plant.
  • Scale bugs can be another issue for bleeding hearts. These are waxy, tan, or brownish bumps on the stems and leaves of the plant. It’s fairly simple to control both of these pests by using insecticidal soap spray which can be purchased at a store or made at home.
  • Slugs/snails are another common problem. If you notice ragged holes in the leaves of the plant, this is most likely the cause. To get rid of slugs you can go hunt for them at night time (wearing gloves of course). You can also use slug bait which can also be purchased in store. Oh, and they also love beer, and will drown in it if you put a tray or jar out for them.

Related Questions

Do bleeding hearts come back every year?

Yes they do! After your bleeding heart has finished it’s blooming, it will die back and go dormant until the next growing season. Once the foliage starts to look ugly, cut the plant down about an inch or two above the ground and the plant will grow again during its next growing season.

Can you grow bleeding hearts indoors?

Yes, you can. However, you can only if you can duplicate their outdoor growing conditions indoors: especially part-shade, and moist soil that’s rich in organic matter.

Should you deadhead bleeding hearts?

 No. You don’t need to deadhead bleeding hearts, nor do you need to prune them. Once it starts looking ugly at the end of its growing season, it can be trimmed back. However, you can cut the bleeding heart shoots to take indoors for arrangements or just to enjoy its beauty. Make sure to cut a shoot that has new blossoms on it.

Greg Volente

Greg Volente holds a Naturalist Certificate from the Morton Arboretum, worked for The Nature Conservancy leading environmental education programs and doing natural areas restoration, and worked in the soil science research & testing lab at Michigan State University. Besides gardening, he's an avid wildflower enthusiast, and loves botanizing, hiking, and backpacking.