Horticulture Magazine

Lamprocapnos Spectabilis ‘Bleeding Heart’ Plant Care

dicentra bleeding heart flowers running along a branch

Lamprocapnos Overview

Official Plant NameLamprocapnos (formerly Dicentra)
Common Name(s)Bleeding Heart
Plant TypePerennial
Native AreaEast Asia & North America
Hardiness RatingH5
ToxicityToxic
FoliageDeciduous
FlowersHeart-shaped flowers – commonly pink or red
When To PlantMarch, April, May, June
Flowering MonthsApril, May, June
Sunlight

Preferred
Full Sun or Partial Shade

Exposure
Sheltered

Size

Height
0.1 – 0.5M

Spread
0.1 – 0.5M

Bloom Time
April – June

Soil

Preferred
Chalk, clay, loam

Moisture
Moist but well-drained or poorly drained

pH
Alkaline / Neutral

Bleeding heart is a popular garden plant named for its heart-shaped flowers. Learn how to grow and care for it in this guide.

This is a well-known garden plant – but if you have never grown it before, you may need more information to understand whether this is the right choice for your garden, and if it is, how you should plant it and take care of it over time.

Read on to get the basic information you need:

What is Bleeding Heart?

Bleeding heart is the name given to a herbaceous perennial, Lamprocapnos spectabilis, formerly known as Dicentra spectabilis, as well as a number of other species in the Dicentra genus. In this article, we will focus on the most common ‘bleeding heart’ grown in gardens: L. spectabilis.

If you are already familiar with this plant then you will not find it difficult to see how it got its common name. Each of the flowers is shaped like a heart, with a single dangling drop beneath.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis flowers

This plant is native to Siberia, Korea, Japan and China and is a member of the Papaveraceae, or poppy family. Though this plant is still often sold and referenced under its old name, this is now categorised as the only species within the Lamprocapnos genus.

The first specimens of this plant were introduced from Asia to the British Isles by Scottish botanist and plant hunter Robert Fortune in the 1840s. Since then, the plant has become a popular plant for temperate climate gardens.

Why Grow Bleeding Heart?

Bleeding heart is most commonly grown for its ornamental appeal.

The dangling hearts hanging from the stems are delicate and attractive, brightening up a partially shaded spot in a garden, bringing interest to woodland fringes or charming in more sunny borders.

The plant is in bloom between April and June.

Commonly Grown Varieties

The typical L. spectabilis is fuchsia pink and white, though there are other cultivars.

white Bleeding Hearts 'Alba' flowers
Bleeding Hearts ‘Alba’

‘Valentine’ has red and white flowers. And an all-white variety called ‘Alba’ is also available. Both of these, along with the species type, have an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Another cultivar, ‘Gold Type’ has yellow leaves.

One thing to note if you are considering growing this plant in your garden is that the plant can be toxic to both people and dogs.

Some people can get a skin reaction when handling this plant. So this is something to bear in mind before you choose it for your space.

red dicentra flowers

Where to Plant Bleeding Heart

Bleeding heart can be planted in a sunny spot when sufficient moisture is available. However, it will generally do best in dappled or partial shade.

It has a hardiness rating of H6 and will cope with a range of soil types and conditions.

The most important thing this plant requires is a moist, fertile soil, with plenty of organic matter. A moist but well-drained, or even poorly drained soil can allow it to thrive.

It can cope with other conditions but does best in soils with a neutral or somewhat alkaline pH.

A sheltered spot is best.

Planting Bleeding Heart

Bleeding heart is usually planted between March and June.

Care should be taken when planting because the roots are brittle and these are plants that do not like disturbance.

When planting, and developing a scheme for a certain part of your garden, it may be helpful to know that bleeding heart typically grows to around 60cm high, and has a spread of 45cm.

If you only have a small garden, you may also be interested to learn that this plant can also be grown in a container as long as its environmental needs are met.

Companion Planting Suggestions

Bleeding heart works very well in an informal or cottage garden style space. Some other plants which work well alongside them include:

Bleeding heart can also work well as underplanting for roses and other shrubs in a romantic cottage garden scheme.

Of course, since they can do well in dappled shade, they can also work well around deciduous trees in a woodland garden.

Caring For Bleeding Heart

Bleeding heart is a relatively low maintenance perennial plant which will not require a lot of ongoing care.

However, there are certain considerations to bear in mind:

Watering

When L. spectabilis is grown in dappled or partial shade, in a suitably moist or damp soil, it should only need to be watered during prolonged dry spells.

However, it is important to pay attention to soil moisture – especially if you are growing this plant in a sunnier spot, or in a container.

If you are growing bleeding heart in a container, it is important to water regularly.

Feeding

Your bleeding heart will do best if grown in fertile soil, rich in humus.

An organic mulch each spring should provide all the slow-release fertility it requires throughout the year.

Since this is naturally a woodland plant, a mulch of leaf litter/leaf mould is ideal.

Pruning / Cutting Back

No deadheading or pruning is typically required.

That being said, if you wish to keep your garden looking neat, you can prune the ragged foliage of this herbaceous perennial back to the ground in the late autumn.

Division

Bleeding heart does not need to be divided to ease congestion since it usually remains pretty compact over a number of years.

This is a good thing since these plants, as mentioned above, have brittle roots and are not good with disturbance.

Propagation

As long as care is taken not to damage the existing roots, clumps of mature bleeding heart can be propagated by means of division.

Without slicing the roots, carefully take a portion of the clump, and this can then be replanted elsewhere.

a young Dicentra Bleeding Heart plant
A young Bleeding Heart plant

Bleeding heart can also be propagated by means of root cuttings taken in spring, or early summer just after flowering. Or it can also be propagated by seed if you wish to propagate new plants from an existing specimen.

To take root cuttings:

  • Make sure that the plant is well-watered and property hydrated the night before you collect root divisions.
  • Prepare a container with a moist yet reasonably free-draining medium.
  • In the morning (ideally) remove the soil gently around the plant to reveal roots.
  • Using a sterile gardening knife, cut the root, leaving at least two nodes.
  • Rinse the root cutting with clean water and place it in your container, covered by a couple of centimetres of the free-draining medium.
  • Water the cutting when it is dry, but do not allow waterlogging to occur.
  • Place your root cutting in a lightly shady spot out of direct light.
  • New growth should appear after 4-6 weeks or so. Let the new plant grow on, potting up as required over the summer, then transplant it carefully into a new spot in your garden in early autumn.

To sow bleeding heart seeds, sow in January in an unheated greenhouse:

  • Place seeds collected from your plant into small pots (3-4 seeds in each one, around 1cm deep.)
  • The seeds need a period of cold to germinate successfully so place them in the freezer for around 6 weeks.
  • When you remove them from the freezer, place them by a sunny window, in a location where temperatures between around 15-18°C can be maintained.
  • Water when the growing medium is dry at the top, but take care not to overwater or create soggy conditions.
  • Be patient, as it may take 2-6 months for germination to take place.
  • When seedlings appear, thin these to one per pot.

Propagating L. spectabilis might not be the easiest job.

But if you love an existing plant in your garden and want to make more, then propagating your own plants is always something to consider.

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