Bleeding Hearts Planting Guide

Years ago, a close friend went through a divorce and moved to a small house of her own. The first spring she threw herself into fixing up the neglected garden, digging, trimming and planting. With her own bruised heart, bleeding heart plants seemed fitting. She planted a dozen on the shady side of her garage. The following spring arching stems of delicate heart-shaped flowers greeted her in May. Simple. Beautiful.

Now, years later, those bleeding heart plants are full and lush, and the friend wouldn’t replace them for the world. In spring, she shares fistfuls of cut stems with neighbors and is reminded of how far she’s come.

Regardless of what state your heart is in, plant bleeding hearts. There’s never a time when simple beauty is unwelcome.

Choosing a Site for Your Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding hearts prefer some shade and are happy with a range of light from dabbled sunlight to moderately shady to the shade that’s found on the north side of buildings. These plants are also well suited to areas that receive a few hours of morning light as is often found in east facing beds.

Soil Preparation

Moderate feeders, bleeding hearts grow well in average, well-drained soil and don’t require rich, perfect loam. Compost, dug in when planting or added as a top dressing later, provides a welcome supply of nutrients. Keep in mind that composts' NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassuim) ratios vary greatly form product to product. Don't assume that adding more is better. 

When to Plant Dormant Bleeding Hearts

Plant outdoors when frost danger has past. Bleeding hearts are hardy perennials and can take freezing without ill effects, once they are established.

How to Plant Bare Root Bleeding Hearts

Your bleeding hearts will be shipped bareroot, in a dormant state. Dormancy means the plant is not in actively growing; it’s been held in a cool, dark setting similar to winter garden conditions and is “sleeping”. The bareroot term means that the soil has been washed from the roots; there is no risk of introducing any soil-borne diseases into your garden, and the plants are lighter and cleaner to ship. When you plant your bleeding hearts, adding light and moisture, they’ll wake up. Roots will start growing in a few days and top growth will be visible in 1-3 weeks. 

Dig a hole 8-10” across and deep, and mix in a couple scoops of compost. Fan out the roots in your planting hole and place the crown (area from which leaves will sprout) an inch below soil level. Refill around plant with soil, tap down to eliminate any big air pockets and water well to settle the soil around the roots.

Bleeding Heart Plant Spacing

In the garden, space your plants so they have enough room to grow without crowding. Allow 30-36” between plants; mature bleeding hearts grow big and full.

During the Growing Season

Bleeding hearts require little care during the growing season. During their first season while they are settling in, make sure they receive 1-2” of water, from rain or irrigation, per week. From their second season on, they’ll be fine with about the same or a little less. Feel free to snip flowers; this won’t hurt the plants.

Bleeding heart plants typically die back after flowering. At that point the yellowed foliage can be trimmed to the ground. It's often helpful to mark the spot where the plants are to avoid accidentally cutting into the dormant crown. Planting partners for bleeding hearts include ferns, astilbes and hostas. These are all active growers during the mid to later part of the season when the bleeding hearts have relinquished their space. These plants offer a great opportunity to have twice as much happening in the same garden spot.

Insider Tips

  1. Bleeding heart plants sprout and flower in the spring. Then the leaves yellow and die. The plants sleep through the summer while the rest of the garden is in its glory and wake up again come spring. Don’t be concerned if you see yellow leaves in late June; this is an indication that your plant is slipping into heat induced dormancy, not that it is ailing.
  2. Deer tend to avoid bleeding heart plants. If hungry deer and/or rabbits are a problem in your area, bleeding hearts could be the perfect solution.
  3. Where happy, bleeding hearts will readily grow into sizeable clumps. The plants do not need to be divided to remain robust but you may divide every 3 to 4 years if you choose. To divide, lift in the spring when you see new growth and pull/cut apart sections. Replant the new bleeding hearts at soil level and water to settle in. Or share with friends!
  4. Bleeding hearts are long lived perennials. Added to your garden this season, they’ll improve spring for many years.
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Success Snapshot

Light: Light to moderate shade

Soil: Fertile and well drained

Depth: Plant clumps at ground level

Water: Average moisture

Uses: Beds, accents and woodland gardens

Tip: Use where deer are a problem

GUIDE: Bleeding Hearts Planting Guide

They Start Out Looking Like This: