Bleeding Heart Plants 101

Written by Hannah Miller. Reviewed and Fact Checked by Elizabeth Smith. Published to Spring Plants. Updated: 21st February 2023.

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I grew bleeding hearts at my previous home and they proved to be a delight. The arching stems support hanging iconic heart-shaped blooms, each with a droplet of colour at the base.

Are bleeding heart plants attention-grabbing?

You bet.

I found them easy to grow and they performed well in my UK garden, with little effort from me.

Here’s what I feel you can expect from bleeding heart plants:

  • They bloomed in April and May and sometimes into June.
  • Expect truly unique flowers, no other plant creates blooms like this.
  • They die back to ground level in the summer and autumn before reappearing in the spring.
  • You can choose from the classic pink and white, deep red or all-white cultivars.

Size

Height: Up to 1.2m (4′)

Spread: Up to 50cm (1.65′)

Type

Type

Herbaceous perennial – dies down after flowering and reappears the following spring

Growth icon

Growth

Moderate growth rate. Time to max size: 3-4 years

Difficulty

Easy to grow, even for beginners

Native

Siberia, northern China, Korea and Japan

Location

Middle of a border. Where the soil is kept moist. Where the fading foliage can be hidden by other plants

Sunlight

Best in partial shade but can grow in full sun provided the soil is kept reliably moist

Hardiness

US zone 3-9 and hardy in all parts of the UK

Water & Feed

Keep the soil reliably moist. A yearly mulch and a good dose of fertiliser in the spring will benefit

Companions

Ferns, grasses, hostas, heuchera, pulmonaria, hellebores

Planting

Plant in the spring, add leafmould or other soil improver as required

Flowering

Mid to late spring

Bleeding herat plant with pink and white blooms
Bee on bleeding heart plant flower

Bleeding Heart Plants: My Answers to Questions

Here I’ll answer questions you may have about bleeding heart plants and how to grow them:

How Are Bleeding Heart Plants Sold?

Bleeding heart plants are usually sold in spring as pot plants or large plugs but you can pick them up in winter as bare roots. Not every garden centre will sell them, but I have seen them more in recent years.

I’ve grown them from pots and bare roots, and they all grew without any issues.

What is the ideal location to grow bleeding heart plants?

Bleeding hearts are herbaceous perennials meaning they will die back to the ground after flowering. However, I’ve found that the fading foliage can look unattractive, so I’m careful where I plant them and which plants I locate nearby.

I’ve seen other gardeners grow bleeding hearts in the middle of a border but from my experience, I feel they will perform best in a spot with a little protection from the harsh midday sun, whether that’s in a border or anywhere else.

If you grow them in full sun, make sure you keep the soil moist as they dislike dry ground conditions.

Are bleeding heart plants full hardy? Can they survive the summer heat and winter frosts?

Bleeding heart plants are winter hardy in US zones 3-9 and all parts of the UK. I’ve never had any issues with them in the garden at my previous property, and they always bounced back in spring.

Are bleeding hearts plants invasive?

No, and while this perennial sets seeds, the success rate is fairly low, and the plant is easy to control and remove.

I’ve seen a few seeds germinate, but it was never an issue, and the plants didn’t spread very far in my beds.

What soil conditions are best? Do they require fertliser?

From testing and my experience, I feel that fertile, reliably moist soil is best for bleeding hearts.

Consider adding leafmould or another soil improver at the time of planting, I do this and it’s good practice for woodland-type plants.

I suggest you avoid growing them in overly heavy clay or dry soils.

I used to apply a yearly mulch in the spring but I never felt the need to apply high-dose fertilisers.

When and how should bleeding hearts be planted?

I planted the bare roots in late autumn/winter and the potted bleeding hearts in the spring – both grew without issue.

I found the best approach was to space them around 50cm apart but consider up to 40cm if you want a more compact appearance.

As per my usual tactics, I always dig in compost and leafmould or similar, to give the plants a headstart.

Are they prone to pests and diseases?

Few pests caused problems when I grew bleeding hearts, although slugs and snails were an issue when the plants were young and had tender leaves.

(see how to get rid of garden slugs here)

I’ve heard from other gardeners that aphids may attack young stems and leaves, but gardeners can treated them with a fungicide soap or sticky pads.

When do bleeding hearts produce blooms and how long do they last?

In my Surrey garden at my previous home, this perennial produced dainty heart-shaped blooms in mid to late spring, and they lasted for several weeks and sometimes longer, depending on the weather conditions.

Can bleeding hearts be grown in a container?

While gardeners can grow bleeding hearts in a container, consider that:

  • They dislike dry soil, so containers should be kept in the shade or part shade and watered frequently.
  • They die back after flowering, and the foliage turns an unsightly yellow colour.
  • They don’t like being transplanted and moved around.

I feel that you’ll get better results if you grow them in a border, but with extra care and attention, they can survive in pots.

Are bleeding heart plants toxic or harmful to humans and pets?

Bleeding heart plants are toxic to humans and pets and may cause skin irritation, so take extra care when handling them.

Are bleeding hearts beneficial to wildlife?

As far as I know, bleeding hearts provide no known benefit to wildlife in the UK.

I have never seen bees or other pollinators pay attention to them.

Dicentra spectabilis Bleeding Heart Rose Pink Flowers Perennial Plant 1 Litre Pot
3 x Pink Bleeding Heart Plants (Supplied as Budding Sections of Bare Roots) (Dicentra spectablis) Free UK Postage
Dicentra spectabilis Bleeding Heart Rose Pink Flowers Perennial Plant 1 Litre Pot
3 x Pink Bleeding Heart Plants (Supplied as Budding Sections of Bare Roots) (Dicentra spectablis) Free UK Postage
Dicentra spectabilis Bleeding Heart Rose Pink Flowers Perennial Plant 1 Litre Pot
Dicentra spectabilis Bleeding Heart Rose Pink Flowers Perennial Plant 1 Litre Pot
3 x Pink Bleeding Heart Plants (Supplied as Budding Sections of Bare Roots) (Dicentra spectablis) Free UK Postage
3 x Pink Bleeding Heart Plants (Supplied as Budding Sections of Bare Roots) (Dicentra spectablis) Free UK Postage

How to Care For Bleeding Heart Plants After They’ve Finished Flowering

What goes up must come down, and while bleeding hearts looked delightful in my garden from mid to late spring, their downfall was always sudden and regrettably, quite unsightly. 

As soon as the summer heat kicks in, their foliage turns yellow and fades, leaving the plant a mere shadow of its former self; hence why I suggest growing this perennial in the middle of a border or near other plants that will smother the fading foliage.

After flowering, you may wish to:

Pruning and Deadheading

As far as I know and based on my experience, there is no benefit to pruning or deadheading bleeding hearts.

I suggest growing plants with lots of foliage nearby to hide the fading bleeding heart leaves.

Feed and Fertiliser

I used to apply and dig in a thick layer of organic material each spring, rather than using high-dose fertiliser, and I had excellent results from this.

Propagation

I tried moving bleeding heart plants before, and I’ve learnt that they don’t like being disturbed during the growing season, so I suggest lifting them in late autumn every few years and splitting the roots.

Companion Plants

The classic combination is with pulmonaria (lungwort), hostas, ferns or ornamental grasses and heucheras:

Also Consider

As bleeding heart foliage needs to be masked as it fades and wilts, I always grew them close to some classic space-filling plants; hardy geraniums are my go-to plants for this.

Hardy geraniums (not to be confused with bedding plants of a similar name) spring to mind as they grow quickly and fill voids in a week or two.

Tiarella is a popular late spring and early summer perennial known for its ground-covering foliage.

I’ve seen some interesting varieties in garden centres over the last couple of years, consider these:

Burning Hearts – A low-growing variety reaching no more than 30cm high with a spread of up to 45cm. Expect deep red with a tinge of pink and off-white droplets.

Alba – Pure white blooms adorn this taller variety, reaching up to 1.2m with a spread of up to 45cm.

King of Hearts – This is the one I grew, and it’s a classic bleeding heart plant with deep pink blooms complemented by soft white edges. Growth: 90cm x 90cm.

8 Key Points

If you’ve never grown bleeding hearts before, consider my 8 tips for beginners:

  1. Choose a spot where the soil stays reliably moist but not soggy.
  2. Based on my testing, they should be grown in partial shade but will tolerate full sun, provided the soil is kept moist.
  3. Only grow in containers if the soil can be kept moist; I suggest keeping pots away from hot patios.
  4. They thrive in most soil types except very heavy clay.
  5. Add leafmould or similar soil improver as required when planting; it’s worked for me.
  6. A yearly mulch and/or a spring feed with slow-release fertiliser will benefit.
  7. Choose your spot and companion plants carefully as the foliage on bleeding hearts turns yellow and fades in the summer, and it’s best kept hidden.
  8. Use gloves when handling as bleeding hearts may irritate the skin (although I have never experienced this).

Problem Solving

My bleeding heart plants were trouble-free but were grown in a suitable location.

Here are solutions to common problems:

Bleeding Hearts Not Flowering

This can be due to several reasons:

  • It’s not unusual for this perennial to take a year before it produces blooms, so wait until year 2 before taking any further steps.
  • I’ve seen bleeding heart flowers grow very small and fewer in number when they’re grown in dry soil.
  • Established plants that suddenly produce fewer flowers may need dividing; I did this when the plant was 4 years old.
  • Aphids are a pest, but I’ve never seen them prevent bleeding hearts from flowering. I’ve previously kept them at bay with commercial products, including traps such as sticky pads.

Leaves Not Flowering

This perennial dies back to ground level in the summer, and in my garden, the leaves started to turn yellow as soon as the temperature rose.

Overwatering can also lead to a yellowing of the leaves. Bleeding hearts like reliably moist but not waterlogged soil.

Daniel’s Take on Bleeding Hearts

Here is a quote from Daniel Woodley, our co-founder:

The blooms on bleeding hearts are truly unique and my personal favourite is the “burning heart” in deep red.

These perennials are easy to grow as long as the soil is kept moist, they won’t perform in dry soil.

Consider growing near summer space fillers that will quickly fill the void left behind when the bleeding heart fades in early summer. 

More Photos

Bleeding heart blooms on a stem
Bleeding heart flowers on an arching stem
Pink bleeding heart flowers
Pink and white bleeding heart flowers

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This guide was reviewed and fact-checked by qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith.

Explore: Elizabeth's profile and qualifications.

Meet The Author: Hannah Miller

Hannah is a keen gardener who grows organic fruit and vegetables in her Surrey garden and is moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. 

She is also the proud grower of a dahlia and herb garden.

Hannah worked for the NHS for 12 years but also has a level 3 qualification in horticulture and is currently studying for her level 4.

More About Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller

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