How to Grow Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart

The old-fashioned bleeding heart has been a favorite flower for generations of gardeners. In fact, your mother or grandmother probably had bleeding hearts growing in their gardens. A perfect perennial for the shade. Its long arching stems of elegant, heart-shaped flowers dangle gracefully over mounds of dark, blue-green leaves. If you're considering adding this spring blooming beauty to your garden this year, here are some tips for growing them.


How Bleeding Hearts Got Their Name

One look at bleeding hearts' flowers will tell you how these plants got their name. The pink or white-colored flowers are shaped like hearts with small drops of blood at the tips. These popular ornamental flowers have collected many common names throughout their long history. Some gardeners know them as 'Lady's locket', 'Lyre-flowers', 'Venus's car', 'Valentine flowers', 'Dutchman's breeches', or 'Naked lady-in-the-bath'. (Psst: If you turn a flower upside-down and gently pull the sides apart you'll expose the lady sitting in her bath.)

Growing Facts

Bleeding hearts are easy-to-grow and once established offer an abundance of low-maintenance color season after season.

Common name: Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis).
Hardiness: Zones 2 to 9.
Bloom time: Late spring to early summer. Flowers will stay in bloom for several weeks, but plants generally go dormant by mid-summer. Fringed-leaf varieties have longer-lasting foliage and may repeat blooming throughout the summer.


Flowers: Racemes of heart-shaped flowers in pink, white, cherry, or red; and white inner petals that appear to "bleed" from the tip.
Foliage: Dark blue-green; heavily lobed or lacy and fern-like. The foliage dies back after flowering.
Height/spread: 24-36 inches tall; 36 inches wide.

Site: Tailor made for shade gardens. Prefers partial to full shade. Will tolerate more sun as long as the soil remains moist.
Soil: Moist, fertile, and well-draining.
Planting: Potted plants can be planted anytime during the growing season. Handle the roots carefully as they are brittle and will break off easily. Unless fresh, the seeds can be difficult to germinate. Plant them in the spring after the danger of frost passes, or allow to self-seed in the fall.

Maintenance: No pruning or dead-heading required. Trim back foliage once it starts to decline.
Watering: Keep plants well watered throughout the summer, especially during dry periods.


Propagation: By seeds, cuttings, or division. Division is easiest and can be done every 2-3 years using a sharp spade. Divide plants in early spring, or as soon as the foliage dies back.
Popular cultivars: 'Alba' grows 2-3 feet tall with white flowers; 'Goldenheart' grows 2-3 feet tall with pink flowers and golden yellow foliage.

Tips for Maximizing Performance

  • Mulch plants during the first winter and annually after they emerge in the spring.

  • Bleeding hearts prefer moist (but not wet) soil. Avoid planting them in hot or windy areas of the garden. In extremely hot or dry conditions, the plants will go dormant by midsummer. When given less sun and moist soil, the blue-green foliage remains attractive longer in the season.

  • Mark the spot of newly a planted bleeding heart so you can locate it (and avoid injuring it) after it goes dormant.

  • Always use gloves when working with bleeding heart. The leaves, stems, and flowers contain a milky substance that may irritate the skin.

  • Bleeding hearts don't like to be disturbed once they are planted, so take time to prepare the site ahead of time. If you do have to move them, dig them up in early spring or in later summer after the foliage has died back.

  • Disease and insect problems are not usually a serious problem with bleeding heart. Aphids can be easily controlled with a fine spray of water. Stem rot and wilt can be avoided by providing plants with plenty of air circulation and making sure the soil drains properly.

  • Growth with no blooms usually translates into one of two problems - too little light or too much nitrogen in the soil.

  • Use bleeding heart as feature plants, or in the middle to back of borders. They are perfect partners to hostas, ferns, columbines, astilbe, and spring bulbs. Use impatiens or begonias to fill in gaps after the foliage dies back.

  • For plants with leaves that don't die back in summer, try fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia). Its lacy foliage stays green nearly all summer long.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at


June 11, 20110 found this helpful

I love these plants, but have not had luck with them. Thanks for the does make more sense now. I do know that they need lots of water and its difficult to keep up with it when drought conditions roll in. Maybe I need a DIY sprinkler system?

Here are some gardening tips for drought conditions.

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