Bleeding Heart – Dicentra spectabilis

Bleeding Hearts are ideal subjects for those who want to establish permanent flowering plants on their patio or balcony that need only the minimum of attention.

The botanical name Dicentra comes from the Greek words dis, meaning twice, and kentron, meaning spur. It refers to the plant’s floral spurs.

The distinctively heart-shaped outer petals enclose a ring of inner petals, stamens and anthers. The feathery, fernlike foliage ranges from grey-green to bright green, depending on the variety.

The first delicate growth appears above the ground in early spring, and by late spring or early summer the plant should be in full bloom. The foliage withers and dies back in midsummer after flowering.

The varieties vary in height from 8-15cm (3-6in) for the smallest, to 45-75cm (1½-2½ft) for the tallest. The flowers can be 1-2.5cm (½—1in) long.Bleeding Heart - Dicentra spectabilis

The best-known and most popular variety grown in Britain is Dicentra spectabilis which originated in China and Japan. It has rosy-red flowers with glossy white inner petals that protrude below the outer petals. There is also a white form,

D. spectabilis ‘Alba’. The flowers of these plants appear from May to June. Both have grey-green leaves and are quite large and bushy plants that grow to a height of about 75cm (2½ft).

D. formoso grows naturally in moist woodlands along the west coast of North America. Deep pink, slender flowers appear in May and June through the bright green

Once your plants become established, they will form large clumps of foliage, from which the flowers appear.

Foliage. D. formoso ‘Pearl Drops’ has white flowers that are tinged with pink; D. formosa ‘Luxuriant’ has very pretty red flowers.

All of these varieties look splendid when grown with early spring bulbs, or in tubs planted with late spring flowering plants.

Pests And Diseases

Bleeding Hearts are very hardy and are generally very healthy as well. Given a nourishing compost, good drainage and sufficient light they will grow well.

The plants are almost trouble-free, as they are only rarely attacked by insect pests or by plant diseases.


Bleeding Heart is easy to propagate, either by dividing the roots at any time between October and March, or by taking cuttings.

The best time to take cuttings is in early May.

Carefully snap off some new shoots and plant them in moist, coarse, porous rooting compost. Cover the pot with glass or polythene. Plant out in tubs or boxes in 4-6 weeks.

Looking after your plant

Bleeding Hearts come up every year without fail, flowering in summer, withering and remaining dormant from autumn to spring.

You may be able to bring your plants into bloom twice in one year. As soon as the first crop of flowers show signs of fading, cut the whole plant back. Sprinkle a complete fertilizer on the compost. If the winter does not arrive too early, you may be able to enjoy a second flowering towards the end of the autumn. Cut back the stems when flowering is finished.

You should lift your plants and replant them every 3-4 years to maintain good growth, removing the oldest parts of the plant.

You can force these plants by lifting them in autumn and moving them into large pots. Place in a frost-free cold frame or greenhouse. In January, raise the temperature to 15°— 21°C (60°-70°F). Flowers should appear within 6 weeks.


This is a very easy and quick-growing plant needing little attention. The plant is a hardy perennial; once you have planted it out it can remain in its position through the winter without any special protection.

  • Potting: Plant in rich, moist well-draining compost. Transplant every 3-4 years.
  • Water generously in the summer. Water moderately in the winter when the compost is dry.
  • Feeding: Feed with a small amount of standard liquid fertilizer once in the spring and again in the summer when the plant is in good growth.


  • Light: The plant will thrive in full sun, but it can also be grown in a partially shaded position.
  • Temperature: Bleeding Heart will tolerate normal summer temperatures and frosts in winter.

Buying Tips

  • The plant is available throughout most of the year from garden centres and nurseries, although it is best bought and planted between October and March.
  • Make certain the roots are firm and undamaged. If buying plants with new growth, choose those with lots of healthy-looking leaves.
  • Bleeding Heart will live for many years. Divide and replant the roots from October to March to increase your plants.

Planted in an outdoor tub, the Bleeding Heart will flower year after year. The lovely flowers hang gracefully from arching stems, high above the feathery foliage.

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