Bleeding heart winter care

Winterizing A Bleeding Heart Plant – How To Overwinter A Bleeding Heart

Bleeding heart plants are a wonderful addition to the perennial garden. With their extremely distinctive heart-shaped flowers and low maintenance growing needs, these bushes bring a colorful and Old World charm to any garden. But what should you do when temperatures start to drop? Keep reading to learn more about bleeding heart winter care and how to protect a bleeding heart during winter.

How to Protect a Bleeding Heart During Winter

Bleeding heart plants are perennials. Their roots will survive cold winter temperatures, but their foliage and flowers might not. This isn’t usually too much of a problem, as the plants bloom in the spring and early summer, fading and dying back naturally in high summertime. Because of this, bleeding heart winter care technically starts months before the first fall frost.

When the flowers of your bleeding heart plant fade, cut back their stems to an inch or two above ground. Keep watering the foliage. Eventually, the foliage will die back too. This might happen naturally in the summer, or it might happen with the first frost, depending upon how short your summers are. In any event, when this happens, cut the entire plant down to an inch or two above the ground.

Even though the foliage is gone, the underground rhizomes of a bleeding heart plant are alive and well in the winter – they’re just dormant. Bleeding heart winter protection is all about keeping those rhizomatous roots alive.

When the cold temperatures of autumn start to set in, cover the stumps of your plant stems with a thick layer of mulch that spreads out to cover the area. This will help insulate the roots and make winterizing a bleeding heart plant much easier.

This is pretty much all that is required to overwinter a bleeding heart. In late winter or early spring, the plant should start putting up new shoots again.

The Bleeding Heart Plant, Dicentra spectablis is also known as Lamprocapnos spectabilis.

It has delightful, heart-shaped shade flowers measuring about an inch in size, displayed in rows of stems which proudly arch above verdant and inviting fern-like foliage.

Bleeding Heart is classified as one tough plant according to the USDA (United States Agricultural Department), so you won’t have to worry much about missing this colorful shade plant’s feeding time every now and then.

Do not confuse with the bleeding-heart vine (Clerodendrum thomsoniae) which comes from a different family.

The Bleeding Heart’s bloom time comes in the summer and its flowering time is quite short.

The plant produces pretty, iconic flowers from late spring to early summer, and could lie entirely dormant during the other seasons.

You may see the Bleeding Heart “die out” during mid-summer, miraculously coming back to life during springtime!

Traditionally, its flowers are painted white and pink; there are a few bleeding heart plant varieties that deviate from the original hue. It also resembles the flowers of dicentra formosa, also known as the pacific bleeding-heart plants.

The “Alba”, or Lamprocapnos ‘Alba’ produces only white blooms, while the “Gold Heart”, or Lamprocapnos ‘Gold Heart’ produces rose-colored flowers atop a golden foliage.

Both plants are also considered hardy via USDA standards, so it’s simply a matter of preference on which colored blooms you prefer.

Bleeding Heart Care

The Bleeding Heart plants love partial or deep shade and a consistently wet soil.

You may prepare a mix of humus-rich, moist soil consisting of peat moss and compost in an appropriately-sized pot to accommodate the Bleeding Heart.

The soil and pot should have good draining properties before potting the plant. The “Dicentra spectabilis” may live in a pot with soil that is slightly alkaline.

If you have a traditional garden, plant the Bleeding Heart 2 feet apart from each other starting in the early spring season.

Mix the compost well with the soil before planting. Mulch it occasionally, during fall and more during spring time using, leaf mold or compost.

They are a hardy bunch, the Bleeding Heart can survive direct sunlight in the winter as long as they are adequately moistened.

During summer, keep them well-shaded and away from the summer sun’s rays. You may also keep it away from strong winds and winter frosts as dictated by the seasons.

Regular fertilization is one requirement that’s needed by the Bleeding Heart plant during its growth period.

As the soft, fern-like foliage emerges, owners may put in time-release plant food or added compost around the soil to encourage its growth.

The better the preparation, the more beautiful the heart-shaped flowers and the longer these blooms last!

You may include general-purpose fertilizer during spring to provide the essential nutrients for your Bleeding Heart’s growth. Add it in when you start to see shoots emerging from the Bleeding Heart plant.

It’s a herbaceous perennial, so don’t be surprised if your plant dies to the ground in the midst of the summer season. Simply remove the dead foliage, and allow further resting until the time to bloom comes again.

Should you wish for a suitable plant companion to replace the quick flowering plants blooming season of the Bleeding Heart plants, here are some suggestions.

Add some similar shade-loving plants which may remain green throughout the growth seasons, or put in some plants or ferns that complement the Bleeding Heart plant.

Hostas are low-growing perennials that are a perfect compliment for Bleeding Hearts. They come in a wide variety of different leaf shades and patterns, and are almost as hardy as the Bleeding Heart as rated by the USDA zones.

The Alaskan fern, Soft Shield Fern or the Polystichum setiferum, is also good companions for Bleeding Hearts, and they rate high in the hardy zones as well.

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Bleeding Heart Maintenance and Propagation

What’s the cost of having beautiful, heart-shaped flowers decorating your house and brightening up the rooms? Not so much, it seems.

A bit of shade, ensuring the soil has all the necessary nutrients and protection from the harsh elements is all you need to keep in mind when caring for the Bleeding Heart plant.

The Bleeding Heart bush is much like other herbaceous perennials in that it grows from underground roots in many seasons, but its specific life cycle is much more unique with other perennials.

Others die back after the growth season, which is usually during early winter or late fall.

The Heart Flower plant dies right in the middle of summer after it produces its beautiful flowers.

After the flowers are gone, it lies dormant and returns to growing again in early spring or late in the winter, reaching maturity after around 2 to 5 years.

Its rhizomatous roots form new shoots during the late winter or early in spring as the climate allows. The roots are rhizomatous, fleshy and quite thick. It stores nutrients that get passed on from one season to another.

The soft, leafy foliage grows in a mounding shape around 2 to 3 feet tall. The beautiful heart-shaped flowers emerge from the verdant foliage during mid-spring.

Each stalk holds a number of lovely flowers which line up in a row. The weight of the flower cluster causes the stalks to arch, lending more aesthetic appeal to the viewer.

Bleeding Hearts or lamprocapnos spectabilis can last for years and grow so much that it can cause overcrowding, especially when grown as potted soil plants. You’ll need to separate and divide plants every 3 to 4 years as part of the propagation process.

Wait until late autumn or winter to divide the clumps. Dig up the Bleeding Heart’s roots carefully, remove the dried ones and plant them into similar type soil and shaded parts of your house.

Remember, Bleeding Heart flowers have quite a large network of thick roots, and you should take extra precaution in not damaging the brittle roots and the root ball while in transit.

There’s also the planting of the Bleeding Heart’s seeds as another way to propagate. Seed should be planted as soon as they come off the mother plant. Prepare an adequately sized pot with moist, well-drained soil, then freeze it for about six weeks.

After that, you can put them in a room temperature of anywhere between 55 to 60 degrees until it germinates, which should take about 50 days maximum.

Note: The bleeding heart plant was formally called Dicentra spectabilis and the name was changed to Lamprocapnos spectabilis in 2010.

Dicentra gold heart is now called Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’

Dicentra cucullaria is still in the Dicentra genus. Also check out Dicentra eximia (Wild Bleeding Heart).

Bleeding heart is a sumptuous perennial bearing elegant and colored flowers.

Basic Bleeding heart facts

Name – Dicentra spectabilis
Family – Papaveraceae
Type – perennial

Height – 8 to 24 inches (20 to 60 cm)
Exposure – part sun
Soil – ordinary, well drained

Flowering – May to August

Caring for this from planting to blooming is quite easy and its decorative impact is exceptional.

Planting bleeding heart

When to plant bleeding heart

Equally good are spring and fall for bleeding heart plants purchased in pots.

However, it is slightly better to plant in fall to favor root development before winter hits. If you plant during spring, avoid days of frost and freezing.

How to plant bleeding heart

If properly settled in, bleeding heart requires very little care. It is thus important get the planting step right.

  • Bleeding heart revels in part sun and like being sheltered from cooler winds.
  • Space plants at least 16 inches (40 cm) from one to the next.
  • Prefer rich soil like soil mix, ensure it drains well.
  • Keep the soil cool with mulch, especially in summer. This is the key to extending the bloom.
  • Remember to water regularly spring and summer for the 1st year after planting.

You can easily propagate your bleeding heart through crown division in fall.

Pruning and caring for bleeding heart

Bleeding heart is easy to care for and shouldn’t give you any problems, even for beginning gardeners…

  • Cut wilted flowers regularly in order to boost flower-bearing.
  • Add fertilizer in spring.
  • Water in case of dry spells or strong heat waves.
  • Protect your bleeding heart from winter frost spells.

Learn more about bleeding heart

This magnificent bulb perennial is mysterious and enchanting even for its name.

Indeed, along a floral scape 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) long, very beautiful pink, white or red hearts appear, each about 1 inch (2 to 3 cm) long.

The bleeding heart, also called Mary’s heart, is a classical elegant ornamental plant and will grow and shine just fine in a flower bed, along edges or in a garden box.

This plant is marvelous all summer long, in the garden or on your terrace!

Lastly, note that bleeding heart is poisonous and should be handled with gloves to forego any risk of skin rash.

Species and varieties of bleeding heart

Although most bleeding heart varieties bear pink flowers, some are white-flowered such as Dicentra cucullaria and Dicentra formosa aurora.

Among the interesting pink-flowered varieties, Dicentra eximia and Dicentra ‘Firecracker’ stand out.

Smart tip about bleeding heart

Early spring, spread mulch around the plant to avoid weed growth and keep water from evaporating.

Read also:

  • Propagating perennials through crown division

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Picked bleeding heart flowers by Wokandapix under license
Bleeding heart flower scape by Anja under license
White bleeding heart variety by Susanne Jutzeler under license

a bleeding heart

  • a black mark against someone
  • a black mark against them
  • a black mark against us
  • a black mark against you
  • a black mark beside (one’s) name
  • a black mark beside her name
  • a black mark beside his name
  • a black mark beside my name
  • a black mark beside name
  • a black mark beside one’s name
  • a black mark beside our name
  • a black mark beside our names
  • a black mark beside their name
  • a black mark beside their names
  • a black mark beside your name
  • a black out
  • A Black Rose Burial
  • a black sheep
  • a black spot
  • a black-collar worker
  • a black-out
  • a blackboard jungle
  • a blackout
  • a blade
  • a blanco
  • a blank check
  • a blank cheque
  • a blanket drill
  • a blast from the past
  • a blaster
  • a bleeding heart
  • A Blesovsky
  • a blessed event
  • A Blessing in Disguise
  • A Blessing in Disguise
  • a blight on the land
  • a blighty one
  • a blind alley
  • a blind bit
  • a blind bit of
  • a blind bit of (something)
  • a blind bit of something
  • A blind boil
  • a blind date
  • a blind man could see
  • a blind man could see it
  • a blind man could see that
  • a blind man could see this
  • a blind man could see this/that/it
  • a blind side
  • a blind spot
  • a blindside
  • a blinker
  • a blip
  • a bliss ninny
  • a blister foot
  • a blister-foot
  • a blisterfoot
  • a blivet
  • a blivit
  • a blizzy

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding hearts, the poetically named perennials, have heart-shaped pendant pink or white flowers with spurs at the base and fernlike attractive foliage. Dicentra spectabilis is the showiest, but its flowers finish in spring and its foliage disappears in midsummer. Other species continue to bloom all summer.

How to grow: Bleeding hearts need open or partial shade with an evenly moist, slightly acidic soil. Plenty of peat moss must be used when planting. Pine needles or pine bark are good for mulching.

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Propagation: By division in early spring or from seed; roots are fleshy and sold by the number of eyes present on plant starts. Transplant self-sown plants.

Uses: This plant is a lovely sight when planted in a shady bed or woodland border.

Related species: Dicentra eximia, the fringed bleeding heart, will bloom until frost if given protection from the heat. Dicentra formosa is a rose-colored species and is about 18 inches high. Dicentra spectabilis is the garden favorite with deep pink or white flowers blooming from May to June on arching 24-inch stems. Dicentra scandens is a climber with yellow flowers.

Scientific name: Dicentra species

Want more information? Try these:

  • Perennial Flowers. Fill your garden with beautiful perennial flowers. They are organized by height, soil type, sunlight, and color.
  • Perennials. There’s more to a perennials garden than gorgeous flowers. Learn about all of the perennials that can complete your garden.
  • Annual Flowers. Complement your perennials with these great annual flowers. We’ve organized them by color, sunlight, soil type, and height to make it easy to plan your garden.

Stay in Touch!

Westbrook Pegler with Eleanor Roosevelt.Franklin D. Roosevelt Library/NARA 195810

Westbrook Pegler was extremely good at calling people names. Particularly politicians. In his syndicated newspaper column, he called Franklin D. Roosevelt “Moosejaw” and “momma’s boy.” Truman was “a thin-lipped hater.”

Pegler was a bit of hater himself. He didn’t like the labor movement, Communists, fascists, Jews, and perhaps most of all, liberals. In one 1938 column, he coined a term for liberals that would eventually come to define conservative scorn for the left. Pegler was the first writer to refer to liberals as “bleeding hearts.” The context for this then-novel insult? A bill before Congress that aimed to curb lynching.

Before the 20th century, the phrase “bleeding heart” was popular in the religious-tinged oratory of 19th century America. Throughout the 1860s, it comes up often in poetry, essays, and political speeches, as an expression of empathy and emotion. “I come to you with a bleeding heart, honest and sincere motives, desiring to give you some plain thoughts,” said one politician in an 1862 speech. The phrase comes from the religious image of Christ’s wounded heart, which symbolizes his compassion and love. It was a common enough phrase that London has a “Bleeding Heart Yard” (featured prominently in the Dickens novel Little Dorrit) which is named after a long-gone sign, once displayed at a local pub, that showed the Sacred Heart.

Near Bleeding Heart Yard.Ewan Munro/CC BY-SA 2.0

By the 1930s, though, the phrase had fallen out of common use and Pegler, who one politician called a “soul-sick, mud-wallowing gutter scum columnist,” recruited it into a new context, as a political insult. He was a master of this art. As a contemporary of his wrote in an academic article on political name-calling, “Pegler has coined, or given prominence to, a fair share of unfair words.” (Pegler also called the AFL a “swollen national racket,” economics “a side-show science,” and Harold Ickes, who ran the Public Works Administration, “Donald Duck.”)

Pegler first used “bleeding heart” in a column castigating liberals in Washington for their focus on “a bill to provide penalties for lynchings.” Pegler wasn’t for lynchings, per se, but he argued that they were no longer a problem the federal government should solve: there had only been eight lynchings in 1937, he wrote, and “it is obvious that the evil is being cured by local processes.” The bill, he thought, was being “used as a political bait in crowded northern Negro centers.” And here was his conclusion, emphasis ours:

“I question the humanitarianism of any professional or semi-pro bleeding heart who clamors that not a single person must be allowed to hunger but would stall the entire legislative program in a fight to ham through a law intended, at the most optimistic figure, to save fourteen lives a year.”

Pegler was apparently pleased enough with this use of “bleeding heart” that he kept it up. He later wrote of “professional bleeding hearts” who advocated for “collective medicine” after a woman couldn’t find a doctor to help her through labor, and lobbed the insult of “bleeding heart Bourn” at a rival, left-leaning columnist. By 1940, he had condensed the phrase down to “bleeding-heart humanitarians” and “bleeding-heart liberals.”

Pegler’s usage did not immediately catch on, though. (Perhaps that’s because he went on to become so right-wing that he was asked to leave the John Birch Society.) If the New York Times’ archives is any indication, through the ‘40s and ‘50s, “bleeding heart” was most often used to refer to the flower Lamprocapnos spectabilis, which grows rows of pretty pink blossoms, and occasionally sports.

“I was quite the bleeding-heart liberal once.”Ronald Reagan Presidential Library/NARA 198603

“Bleeding heart” was revived in a political context in 1954, by another infamous right-winger, Joe McCarthy, who called Edward R. Murrow one of the “extreme Left Wing bleeding-heart elements of television and radio.” It wasn’t until the 1960s that it really started to come into common use, though. In 1963, the satirical columnist Russell Baker put it on a list of political insults: “If one is called a ‘phoney,’ about the only thing he can do is come back with some epithet like, ‘anti-intellectual’ or ‘bleeding-heart liberal’…or ‘you must be one of those peace nuts.’” By the end of the decade, Ronald Reagan, then newly elected governor of California, had picked it up as a way to describe his political trajectory. “I was quite the bleeding-heart liberal once,” he told Newsweek. By 1970, he was known as a “former ‘bleeding heart’ Democrat.”

After that, the phrase was fully ensconced in political short-hand and quickly claimed by liberals as a positive trait. “You are called a bleeding heart liberal because you have a heart for the poor,” one told the Times. “Count me with the bleeding heart liberals,” an NAACP lawyer wrote in a letter to the editor.

Bleeding Hearts are dainty, but hardy

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The common Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is an herbaceous perennial flower with dangling, dainty pink, red, or white heart-shaped blooms. The Latin name is as descriptive as the English name. Dicentra translates to “two spurs” which can be easily seen on the bloom. Spectabilis means “spectacular”, an understandable description. The blooms may be dainty, but the plant is quite hardy, making this spring bloomer a long-time garden favorite.

Bleeding heart is native to eastern Asia, including northern China, Korea and Japan. Legend states that a young man fell in love with a beautiful maiden. He made her a series of gifts, each depicted by a different part of the bloom. When she rejected all of his gifts, he ended his life by piercing his heart with a sword. In American and British culture, the blooms have come to represent a symbol of true love.

Bleeding Heart grows well in zones two through nine. They require partial shade, well-drained, damp, but rich soil. The plants will grow two to four feet tall and will spread one to two feet. They are non-aggressive, although some will self-seed in very moist areas. They are deer and rabbit resistant. They have few pests, although aphids will occasionally feed on the flower stems. These can easily be removed with a strong spray of water. Slugs may also find the foliage a tasty treat. Pulling mulch away from the base of the plant will help deter these critters.

In late spring the new foliage will sprout with a reddish color that deepens to a medium green as it matures. The leaves have a fern-like, medium texture. Heart shaped blooms with pink outer petals and white inner petals that form the heart’s point appear on arched stems in late spring.

As the summer progresses, especially when temperatures climb and moisture drops, the leaves will wither and die. It is then time to cut back the plant. As the stems die, remove them from the garden. This will leave a gap in the landscape. To counter this problem, pair this plant with something that blooms later in the season such as ferns, hosta, or astilbe. Alternatively, annuals can be used to fill in the void, or potted plants can be moved in to enhance the area.

Propagate new plants by taking stem or root cuttings after flowering. If the plant itself needs to be transplanted, do so with care in the fall. Water regularly for the first month to establish the new plant.

In addition to the elegant pink blooms and fern like foliage of dicentra spectabilis, bleeding heart is available in a few other varieties. ‘Alba’ has all white blooms that tolerate the heat better than its pink cousin. However, the plant itself is not as hardy. ‘Pantaloons’ also has white flowers and is hardier than ‘Alba’.

‘Gold Heart’ has the same pink blooms as other dicentra spectabilis, but has unique bright gold foliage. This foliage does, however, fade in the summer sun as well.

Another species available is Eastern or fringed bleeding heart, dicentra eximia, native to eastern North America. It is smaller and more delicate, growing only about a foot tall. It has a longer growing season and will retain leaves longer.

Such a well-behaved, easy-care, spectacular plant has a place in nearly every garden. A bit of afternoon shade, some extra moisture and this representation of true love can be right at home.

Carol Shirk is a Certified Master Gardener

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