Bleeding heart – Dicentra species

Romance for the border. The bleeding heart is a distinctive addition to any border. Originally a woodland flower, this graceful and colourful plant is very easy to grow and its various forms suit many spots in the garden.




Best time for taking root cuttings. April: Shoots appear. Rootstocks are particularly threatened by late frost at this time. May: Flowering starts. Stem cuttings can betaken.



End of flowering. July-August:

Leaves begin to fall. Best time to divide plants.

Collect and sow fresh seed.



Time to plant out.

Foliage turns yellow with first frosts.



The plants are fully winter hardy. The soil must not be dug over.

Most other Dicentra species are best grown from root cuttings.

Carefully lift a mature plant and gently remove the soil from the roots.

Locate the tiny buds toward the top of the roots.

Divide up the fang-like structure, with at least one tiny bud on each section.

Plant the sections in a cold frame or a pot in a cool place in February-March.

Plant out permanently in the autumn.

Bigger divisions can be made from July to September and stem cuttings 5-8cm long can be taken in late spring.


Name, Colour, Height (cm) Description bleeding heart, pink, white inner, 70, cottage garden favourite {Dicentra spectabilis), ‘Bountiful’, dark pink, 35, long-flowering May-September

D. cucullaria, white and yellow, 20, alpine; flowers March-April

D. macrocapros, yellow, 300, herbaceous climber; flowers August-September eastern bleeding heart, pink, 45, small flowers in May-August; fine, (D. exiinid), fern-like foliage; good ground cover ‘Alba’ (’Snowdrift’), white, 45, foliage remains green into late autumn Oregon bleeding heart, cream, pink inner, 30, tender; very finely divided foliage; (D.formoso ssp. Oregona), good ground cover wild bleeding heart, dark pink, 35, long-flowering May-September (D.formosa), ‘Luxuriant’, dark pink, 35, prolific, long-flowering May-September

Bleeding heart is native to the forests of East Asia. It arrived in European gardens in the nineteenth century and soon became a sought-after perennial.

Bleeding heart gets its name from its flowers, which resemble a pink heart with a white ‘teardrop’ formed by the inner petals. The flowers grow along arched branches.

Ideal situation

True bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is usually planted individually or in pairs, so its delicate flowers and shape can be appreciated. It thrives in partial shade, quickly dries out in sun, and flowers sparsely in full shade. This perennial also needs a location that is warm and sheltered in spring, as late frost can be damaging.

The bleeding heart begins to shed its leaves in July, creating a gap in the garden. To avoid this, plant it in combination with other shrubs, creating a community which flowers all year round. Good plants to fill the gaps are astilbe, obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) and herbaceous artemisia, which all flower later in the year.

Planting and care

Spring is the best time for planting bleeding heart. Be very careful with the fragile rootstock. Avoid digging around the roots after planting, as this can cause damage which may kill the plant. Bleeding heart prefers fertile soil that is loose and moist.

While the plants are young, weed the area around them carefully and only by hand, to prevent damage to the roots. However, once the plant is well established, its abundant foliage makes it difficult for any weeds to gain a strong foothold. Bleeding heart needs no fertilizer or other special care.


True bleeding heart and the white alba can be grown from seed. Collect it fresh in July-August and sow it immediately in pots or trays. Frost stimulates germination, so keep the containers outside in a shady spot or cold frame (protective outdoor box).

Bleeding heart


Sheltered from wind and frost, in the partial shade of trees or walls. Can be grown as a specimen in shaded borders and beds.


Well-drained, humus-rich fertile soil. Do not allow soil to dry out. Loosen heavy soils and add compost to light ones to improve water retention.


Do not plant too deep. Allow to grow undisturbed and do not damage the roots. No fertilizer needed after planting. Propagate by root cuttings, division or sowing.



Partial shade 70cm.


May-June Fertile, light and moist.


The bleeding heart is vulnerable to disease and pests only if planted in an unsuitable location. Lack of moisture and hard frost are the most common causes of untimely wilting or dying. Do not damage the rootstock by digging around the plant, as harmful organisms could enter through the wound.


The bleeding heart is sold as a pot plant which can be planted out from spring to autumn. Plant with the root ball intact to prevent damage to the rootstock.

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