This plant, with its iconic flowers, easily gives away the origin of its common name, “Bleeding Heart.” Scientifically known as Lamprocapnos spectabilis, this plant does cause some confusion amongst those wanting to purchase it, as the plant is still widely labeled as Dicentra spectabilis. The plant underwent a formal name change in 2010, but not everyone has caught up. If you find yourself with a plant named either Dicentra spectabilis, or Lamprocapnos spectabilis, they are the exact same plant.
Bleeding Heart Plant Overview
|Origin||Japan, China, Korea|
|Scientific Name||Lamprocapnos spectabilis|
|Common Names||Bleeding Heart|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people and pets|
|Watering||Maintain moist soil|
|Humidity||Moderate to high|
Caring for Your Bleeding Heart Plant
This plant natively lives in woodland environments and so, likes to be in continually moist soil. For this plant to thrive, you will need to emulate the natural conditions of its habitat by watering it frequently, particularly in warmer weather. Ensure that soil is well-draining so that you can water the plant freely, without running into trouble with root rot. Though the Bleeding Heart likes to live in moist soil, it does not like to have wet feet, so avoid watering to the point where the soil becomes soggy and heavy.
The Bleeding Heart plant is a cool weather plant, with ideal temperatures ranging from 55º F to 75º F. Hot weather is the arch-enemy of this plant, and anyone growing a Bleeding Heart in warmer climates will have a harder time getting it to thrive. Try to protect the plant from high levels of heat by positioning it in a shaded spot where the temperature will be a few degrees lower. Having shade in the intense heat of the afternoons is particularly important.
As the temperatures begin to rise in the middle of summer, you will find that your Bleeding Heart turns yellow. This isn't caused for concern and is a normal part of the plant's life cycle. Yellowing of this plant indicates that it is storing energy for the coming winter and preparing itself for next years growth. You generally won’t need to worry about low temperatures affecting the plant; as a perennial plant, it will usually die back to the ground before the first frost, and the roots will lay dormant underground until next spring arrives. If temperatures get particularly low, you can help to protect the roots from freezing by adding mulch over the top of the soil to provide insulation.
Partial shade is the ideal lighting scenario for a bleeding heart. Providing that you choose a good spot for the Bleeding Heart to grow in, you’ll find that it is an easy plant to care for. It doesn’t like to be kept in too much direct sun or high levels of heat, but other than this, it isn’t particularly fussy about its care.
An ideal home for the plant is under the shade of a tree, where dappled sunlight can get through to the Bleeding Heart, but the canopy of leaves overhead protect the plant from the full glare of the sun. If you keep the plant in a container pot, you will have the benefit of it being portable. In this instance, you can allow the plant to sit in full sun during early spring to help with the production of flowers, but as temperatures increase and the sun's light gets stronger with the approach of summer, you can move the potted plant to a more protected position out of direct sunlight.
The Bleeding Heart plant prefers a humus rich soil. Add compost to your soil and mix it well before planting your Bleeding Heart, to ensure a well-draining soil rich in organic matter (Country Living Magazine). The plant will also benefit from periodically adding a top layer of compost or well-rotted manure on top of the plant's soil. The Bleeding Heart isn’t fussy when it comes to pH, though a slightly alkaline soil would be preferred if you are interested in creating the absolute perfect conditions for your plant.
It’s essential that the soil around your Bleeding Heart can drain well, whether it is growing in a pot or directly in the ground. As the plant enjoys consistently moist soil, a poor draining soil could result in root rot and cause the demise of the plant. You can improve the draining qualities of the soil by adding builders sand to the mix. Also, keeping the soil well aerated will contribute to good draining and will encourage roots to grow and spread.
The Bleeding Heart plant can tolerate high humidity though it doesn’t need moisture in the air to thrive. It will fare perfectly fine in most typical humidity environments.
As a plant that is grown primarily for its impressive display of blooms, vital nutrients are essential to the plants care. Whether or not you need to use fertilizer to feed your Bleeding Heart will be largely dependent on what type of soil it is in. If you have plenty of organic matter in your plant's soil, then this will likely supply enough nutrients to your plant so that you won’t need to fertilize it. Adding a compost mulch over the top of your plant's soil will also provide it with nutrients so that fertilizer is unnecessary.
If your soil is not high in nutrients, then you will need to supply your soil with theses through the use of fertilizer. Select a fertilizer high in phosphorus as this will help with flower development. A slow-release fertilizer will be most appropriate, mixed into the top layers of soil. You can give your plant its first feeding of the year when its first shoots of foliage appear. Continue to feed it frequently until the plant returns to its dormant state and then, cease feeding during winter.
The heart-shaped flowers of this plant bloom in rows along stalks rising above the foliage below. Lined up neatly along each stalk, the sheer weight of the flowers cause the stalk to arch under the pressure, resulting in an attractive and elegant display. They appear in several different color variations, though most are typically shades of white or pink. The Bleeding Heart plant is quite an early bloomer, with flowers making their appearance in spring and early summer. The iconic flowers last only a few weeks at a time.
In mid-summer when the flowers have died off, the rest of the plant will die back and recede to ground level where it will remain dormant until the next spring arrives. If you want to encourage your plant's flowers to last for a little longer, the best way to do this is with regular fertilizer feedings or by dressing the soil with compost.
Growers who like low maintenance plants will be pleased to discover that the Bleeding Heart requires absolutely no pruning. You will not even have to deadhead the spent flowers from the plant as these will naturally fall from the plant when they are dead and not bloom again until the following year. Deadheading can be done if you don’t like the look of dead flowers in your garden, but if you want the flowers to turn to seed and potentially spread, then you will need to leave them to their own devices without interference.
When the plant dies back to the ground in summer, you can at this point cut off the dead foliage if you wish to maintain a neat and tidy appearance, though this isn’t necessary for the health of the plant.
If you are growing your Bleeding Heart plant in a container, then you will need to repot it every one to two years. This plant quite quickly develops a large root system, with roots that are chunky and brittle. To ensure your plant has adequate space to continue growing healthily, you should repot it into a container the next size up when roots become too tight in its current pot. To do this, carefully remove the plant from its pot by squeezing the plastic pot and gently lifting the plant out.
In your new pot, fill the base with a pre-moistened appropriate soil mix, then lower the root ball into the pot and fill around the edges with fresh soil. Ensure the plant is at the same height in the pot as it was in the last pot. Once the plant is secure, water it well and continue care as normal. Around every three years, you will likely need to divide your plant during the repotting process. This is because Bleeding Hearts tend to become overcrowded and too big to continue life in a pot.
To divide them, remove the plant from its current pot and carefully separate the plant in two from the root ball. Be careful not to harm any of the root network, though some damage will be tolerated and is often unavoidable. Select two smaller pots for your newly created Bleeding Hearts and continue to repot as you usually would.
Bleeding Heart plants have a habit of becoming overcrowded, so they will need to be divided every few years. This is a good idea because it will give your plants the space they need to grow so that they can thrive, and it is also a means of propagation to create new Bleeding Heart plants for you to enjoy or to gift to friends or family members.
To divide potted Bleeding Hearts, you should do this in early spring and follow your usual repotting method, with the addition of separating one plant into two before placing into new pots. Dividing Bleeding Hearts that are growing in the ground might be slightly more challenging, but it is an essential step in caring for your plant. You should dig around the base of your Bleeding Heart in early spring, gently feeling around the roots and digging up the plant with the intention of keeping as many roots intact as possible.
Once removed from the ground, carefully separate the roots of your plant to create two or three new plants. Place one plant back into the hole in the ground, taking the opportunity to supply the plant with new nutrients by using fresh soil. Your remaining plants, which are a result of the division, can be potted up in containers or planted into the ground elsewhere in your garden. If you are lacking in space, these plants make unique easy-care gifts for loved ones.
Another way to propagate this plant is by seed. This sometimes happens without you needing to do anything to encourage it, as seeds will fall from the flowers and land on soil nearby in your garden, from which new plants will grow. To intentionally propagate from seed, collect the seeds from the mother plant and tuck them into moist soil in a small pot. Cover the pot with a plastic bag or container and put the whole thing into the freezer for six to eight weeks.
Following this time period, remove the container from the freezer and place the pot with seeds in on a windowsill in room temperature. In around six weeks, germination should have occurred, and you will have little sprouting seedlings. Once they are mature enough to survive being moved, you can repot them in a bigger pot, eventually moving the containers outside or planting the Bleeding Hearts directly into the ground outside in early spring.
If you would prefer to sow your seeds outside, you can do this in the fall. The freezing temperatures will help the germination process begin, just as putting the planted seeds into the freezer does. Sowing seeds outside is usually fairly successful but can take longer to produce seedlings than sowing seeds indoors.
The Bleeding Heart plant is a perennial plant, which essentially means the roots can survive all year long, while the rest of the plant cannot. Because of this, the Bleeding Heart is good at taking care of itself over winter, storing up energy in summer before it dies down to ground level and becomes dormant through the colder months.
When all the flowers and foliage have died, you can cut the plant back to just an inch or so in height. Though at this point it may look like your plant has completely died, the roots beneath the soil are very much alive. They will typically fare well underground over winter, but if you live in an especially cold climate, then you could provide some protection for the roots by adding a layer of mulch over the top of your plant's stump and the surrounding soil. This will add some insulation, ensuring the cold weather doesn’t harm the roots through winter. Nothing else needs to be done over winter, and come springtime, you should see new shoots starting to emerge from the same spot.
As a cautious measure, you might want to mark out the position of your Bleeding Heart before you cover it over with mulch. This will ensure you don’t accidentally dig it up when planting other plants.
The Bleeding Heart is toxic. Contact with the foliage can cause skin irritation, while all parts of the plant can give you a stomach ache if you ingest them. Keep the plant away from curious children or pets who are likely to nibble on the plant for this reason (Royal Horticultural Society).
Varieties of Bleeding Heart Plants
Bleeding Heart plants are typically found in two varieties, with either pink or white flowers. However, some other plants exist that appear similar and also go by the name of Bleeding Heart. More information on these variations can be found below.
Lamprocapnos spectabilis Alba
This variety of Bleeding Heart produces solidly white flowers, and as such, has a very pure look about it.
Lamprocapnos spectabilis Gold Heart
This pink flowering variety is a real showstopper. As a brightly colored shade loving plant, this variety of Bleeding Heart is perfect for adding a splash of vibrancy to darker corners of gardens. The foliage of this plant is also different from the others, with leaves having a golden tone to them.
Commonly known as the Western Bleeding Heart or Pacific Bleeding Heart as it originates from the Pacific Coast, this plant is a little more tolerant of drought-like conditions than other Bleeding Hearts, though it does still prefer to have continually moist soil. The foliage of this plant looks like a fern, and the flowers tend to look more dramatic than other varieties. If watered enough, the plant will resist going dormant (Better Homes and Gardens).
A relation of the Western Bleeding Heart, this plant is native to Northeastern America and has similar fern-like foliage. The flowers typically last for longer than other Bleeding Hearts, blooming continuously through summer.
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