Growing bleeding hearts from seed

Bleeding Heart is a common garden ornamental.

Valentine’s day brings hearts of all kinds, but in the Midwest you have to wait a little longer for the popular garden ornamental known as common or old-fashioned bleeding heart to come into bloom. Dicentra spectabilis, native to eastern Asia (northern China, Korea and Japan), won’t start blooming until late spring. This perennial in the fumitory family (Fumariaceae) is hardy in zones 2-8.

D. spectabilis was brought to England in 1810, but didn’t get established. It was introduced again after a Royal Horticultural Society plant exploration trip to the Far East in 1846, and soon it became a common garden plant. Some other less-common common names for this plant include Chinese Pants, Lady’s Locket, Lyre Flower, Our-Lady-in-a-Boat, and Tearing Hearts.

D. spectabilis emerges in early spring with red stems.

This herbaceous plant forms loose, bushy clumps up to 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide from brittle, fleshy roots. The reddish new foliage emerges from the ground in very early spring, and plants grow quickly to be one of the first flowering perennials in the spring, combining nicely with tulips and Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica). T

Dicentra spectabilis begins to senesce in summer, unless it’s cool and moist.

he green to pink stems are very fleshy. The powdery-green leaves are divided into three leaflets. Although they are attractive when not in flower, the plants usually start to senesce by August and go dormant in the summer. The leaves turn yellow and wither sooner in hotter or drier weather (but sometimes last through the season in cool, moist conditions). Cutting the plants back hard after flowering may delay senescence (as well as promote another flush of flowers). When the stems die back completely to the ground they can be pulled out and discarded.

Bleeding heart flowers.

The unique 1-2 inch long, delicate-looking pendant flowers are vaguely heart-shaped. Each puffy bloom has two rose-pink outer petals and two white inner petals, with a white stamen protruding from the bottom. The pouched outer petals have strongly reflexed tips from which the inner petals protrude slightly.

Flower buds (L); individual flower showing reflexed outer pink petals and white inner petals (C); and raceme with open flowers (R).

Each inflorescence has several flowers dangling in a row in a one-sided horizontal raceme on the end of an arching, leafless stem. Plants flower from late spring to early summer, and the entire stems can be used for cut flowers, lasting up to 2 weeks in a vase. Flowers are followed by elongate seed pods.

Seedling D. spectabilis.

Plants will often self seed, but do not do so readily enough to be considered invasive.

Bleeding heart grows best in light shade, although it will tolerate full sun in moist and cool climates. In most locations plants prefer morning sun and afternoon shade. They also need well-drained soil and will rot if the soil remains too soggy. Humus-rich soil is best, but D. spectabilis will tolerate both clay and sandy soil if given proper moisture.

Plant bleeding heart in light shade for best results.

Use bleeding heart in cottage gardens, wildflower gardens and in shady spots throughout the landscape. These elegant plants work well in shaded borders and woodland gardens, but should be positioned so that other plants will obscure the dying foliage when the bleeding heart begins to senesce later in the season. In a shade garden it can be combined with ferns, hosta, hardy geranium, and astilbe which come out later in the spring to fill in as the bleeding heart declines. Other ways to deal with such gaps include planting annual impatiens underneath, to grow up as the bleeding heart dies back, or placing containers with blooming annuals in the area after the foliage dies back.

Bleeding heart has few pests, although aphids may occasionally infest particularly the inflorescences and slugs may feed on the leaves.

There are a few cultivars of bleeding heart including:

  • Dicentra spectabilis Gold Heart.

    Flowers of Dicentra spectabilis Alba.

    ‘Alba’ – with white flowers comes true from seed. This cultivar seems to tolerate summer heat better than the normal pink type, but is not as vigorous a plant.

  • ‘Gold Heart’ – with bright golden-green leaves.

Dicentra exima.

Other species of Dicentra often grown as ornamentals include: D. exima, eastern or fringed bleeding heart, native to eastern North America, which grows only about a foot tall, with more finely divided leaves and smaller flowers; and D. formosa, western or Pacific bleeding heart, a northwest U.S. woodland native more suited to the climate there than in the Midwest. Both of these have a longer blooming season and retain their leaves through the growing season.

Dicentra cucullaria, with flower closeup (inset).

D. canadensis (squirrel corn) and D. cucullaria (Dutchman’s breeches), from eastern North America, are smaller species with white to yellow flowers that are suitable for woodland rock gardens or wild gardens. D. chrysantha (golden eardrops) reaches 5 feet tall and has bright yellow flowers, but is not common in cultivation as it does not grow well outside its native environment.

Bleeding heart is propagated by division in late fall or very early spring, or from fresh seed. Seeds are slow to germinate and require moist stratification. Self-seeded plants will bloom in 2-3 years if not disturbed (transplanting may delay flowering for another year or more, although plants can be moved easily).

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison

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Planting Bleeding Heart Seeds: When To Sow Bleeding Heart Seeds

Bleeding heart is a classic shade plant that produces gorgeous flowers, and it can be propagated in several ways. Growing bleeding heart from seed is one way to do it, and although it takes more time and patience, you may find that starting with seeds is a rewarding process.

Can You Grow Bleeding Heart from Seeds?

There are several ways to propagate bleeding heart, including division, cuttings, separation, and seeds. Bleeding heart is not considered invasive because, although it is not native to North America, it does not self-seed very vigorously.

Propagating or starting by seed can be done successfully, though, and may be the best choice because bleeding heart does not transplant well. It takes time for the seeds to germinate, but once they do, they will grow well in the right conditions.

When to Sow Bleeding Heart Seeds

It is best to sow bleeding heart seeds soon after harvesting them from the plant, which is done in late summer. This gives the seeds plenty of time to germinate and provides the cold period they need for several weeks.

If you cannot sow your seeds right away, you can germinate them indoors and sow in spring. To do this, store the seeds in the freezer for several weeks for the cold period and then allow them several weeks to germinate in a moist medium at temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 Celsius).

How to Grow Bleeding Heart from Seed

You can store and germinate your bleeding heart seeds as described above, but it is best if you can harvest and then sow the seeds right away in late summer or early fall. When planting bleeding heart seeds, make sure you find a spot in a partially shady location with well-draining soil. This plant does not grow well in soggy soil.

Plant the seeds about a half inch (1 centimeter) in the soil and keep the area moist until the first frost arrives. From that point on you need only wait on your seeds to develop and sprout. Be aware that you may not see blooms on your plant for the first couple years.

Bleeding heart is a great choice for wooded gardens that have a lot of shade. Unfortunately, these pretty bushes do not always transplant well, but if you have the patience for it, you can successfully grow them from seeds.

Dicentra Seeds – Fringed Bleeding Heart – Dicentra Eximia Flower Seeds

Flower Specifications

Season: Perennial

USDA Zones: 3 – 8

Height: 12 inches

Bloom Season: Early summer to fall

Bloom Color: Pink

Environment: Partial shade

Soil Type: Rich, organic soils, pH 5.8 – 6.2

Planting Directions

Temperature: 64 – 72 for 2 – 4 weeks, followed by 4 – 6 weeks of 25 – 39F

Average Germ Time: 56 – 70 days

Light Required: Yes

Depth: Cover seed with vermiculite, sand or substrate after sowing

Sowing Rate: 4 – 6 seeds per cell

Moisture: Keeps seeds moist until germination

Plant Spacing: 18 inches

Care & Maintenance: Dicentra Eximia

Fringed Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Eximia) – There are not too many plants grown from flower seeds that have beautiful flowers for the shade garden; however, Dicentra Eximia is a tremendous performer. The leaves are deeply cut, grey green and fern like. The pink flowers are heart shaped with an inner petal that drips from the outer petals creating the appearance that the heart is bleeding. The Dicentra Eximia flowers are smaller and longer than the old-fashion bleeding heart, but still put on a show.

Fringed Bleeding Heart is growing in popularity with its heart-shaped flowers. Commonly called Fringed Bleeding Heart, Fern Leaf Bleeding Heart or Wild Bleeding Heart, the plants are more oblong and smaller than the old-fashioned bleeding heart. The Dicentra Eximia Fringed Bleeding Heart plant repeats bloom through the summer and reaches 12 inches in height. Bleeding hearts should be grown from flower seeds in moist, well-drained sites. They do not tolerate wet winter soils well. Heart-shaped flowers set above mounds of usually grey-green ferny foliage. Great creeping perennial for shade to semi-shade in humus-rich soil. Very easy and satisfying to grow from flower seeds. The main bloom period occurs in early summer but with good moisture and deadheading it will continue to bloom into the fall. The foliage of Dicentra Eximia will not die back like that of old-fashioned bleeding heart.

How to Transplant Bleeding Heart Plants

Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is a graceful woodland beauty with heart-shaped blooms dangling like jewels from arching, pale green stems. Although pink bleeding hearts are most common, bleeding hearts are also available in shades of red, yellow and white. Bleeding heart can be transplanted in early spring before new growth emerges, or after the foliage dies back in autumn.

Prepare the ground where the bleeding heart will be transplanted. Cultivate the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches, then work 2 to 3 inches of compost into the top of the soil. Remember that bleeding heart should be planted in partial shade where it will be protected from hot afternoon sunlight.

Cut the bleeding heart’s foliage down with garden shears, leaving just a few inches in place. Trimming the foliage will allow the bleeding heart plant’s energy to focus on developing new roots.

Dig up the bleeding heart plant. Start a few inches from the plant, then dig around the perimeter of the plant. Lift the bleeding heart plant, along with the attached soil, and move it carefully to the new planting site. If the bleeding heart plant needs to be divided, this is the perfect time to do it. Bleeding heart plants will benefit from division every three to five years. Just pull the plant apart with your fingers, teasing the roots apart, and re-plant.

Move the bleeding heart plant to the prepared location. Dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the bleeding heart’s root ball, and plant the bleeding heart at the same depth in the soil that it was planted previously. Tamp the soil down around the root ball.

Spread a 1- to 2-inch layer of organic mulch around the bleeding heart plant. Mulch will help to maintain an even soil temperature and will retain moisture.

Water the bleeding heart well, and water it daily for the first month. After that time, resume normal watering.

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Germination Instructions

Sow indoors as soon as possible. Sow under glass in autumn. Indoors, surface sow onto moist, well-drained seed compost. Ideal temp. 18-22°C for 2-4 weeks then cold stratify. Move to -4-+4°C for 4-6 weeks, a fridge is ideal. Then remove to warmth for germination, 5-12°C. Germination takes 30-180 days and can be erratic. If germination does not occur repeated cycles of warmth and cold should offer germination. Under glass, sow and place in a cold frame, autumn warmth, followed by winter cold should offer ideal conditions for germination to occur in spring as the weather warms. Transplant seedlings when large enough to handle to 8cm pots and grow on. Acclimatise and plant out once established.

Growing Instructions

Prefers a moist, humus-rich, neutral or alkaline soil in partial sun. Will tolerate full sun if the roots remain cool and moist.

Cultivation Instructions

No pruning required. Will self-seed freely. Deadhead if you do not want volunteer seedlings next season.

When to Sow

MarM AprA MayM JunJ JulJ AugA SepS OctO NovN DecD JanJ FebF
  • Sow Under Cover/Plant Indoors
  • Direct Sow/Plant Outdoors
  • Flowers/Harvest

A popular plant for the shade garden, very easy and satisfying to grow, Dicentra eximia is a tremendous performer. Long-blooming, with nodding, heart-shaped flowers, the deeply cut, fern-like foliage make this an exceptionally handsome plant.
The pink or flowers of are heart shaped with an inner petal that drips from the outer petals creating the appearance that the heart is bleeding. The main bloom period occurs in early summer but with good moisture and deadheading it will continue to bloom into the autumn.
The flowers are more oblong and smaller than the old-fashioned bleeding heart, they are held on long branching inflorescences above the foliage that encourage a more floriferous species. The foliage persists through the growing season; it does not die back like that of old fashion bleeding heart.
This lovely perennial, mound shaped plant reaches 30 to 45cm (12 to 18in) and prefers a partially shaded site with well-drained soil. Planted with other shade lovers such as ferns, hostas and hellebores, they will add charming beauty to any woodland or shade garden.

Sowing: Sow in spring or autumn.
Sow the seeds as soon as possible, ideally at temperatures around 18 to 22°C (64 to 71°F) Stratification in a moist medium aids germination of seeds (This simulates the seasons going through the cold periods of winter and then warmth of spring)
Sow seeds in a well drained compost, cover lightly with vermiculite, as these seeds need light to germinate. Place the container in a bed of water, ensuring moisture throughout the compost.
Keep at 18 to 22°C for 2 to 4 weeks. Then move seeds to 4°C (39°F) for 4 to 6 weeks (This can be the fridge). Finally bring back into 5 to 12°C (41-53°F) for germination.
Be patient, the seeds can be erratic and sometimes slow to germinate, taking from 30 to 180 days.
Prick out each seedling as it becomes large enough to handle, transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots or trays. Once the plant is established, gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out, space 45cm (18in) apart.

Bleeding hearts prefer a partially shaded site and well-drained soil. Wet soils during the winter and dry soils during the summer lead to plant loss. Remove old flower stems as the blooms fade if you do not want plants to self-seed.
Clumps of Dicentra remain compact for many years and should not need dividing. Once established, they have brittle roots and don’t like disturbance. If you wish to divide the rootball, do so in spring, March to April.

Plant Uses:
Shade/Woodland Garden. Woodland Garden, rock garden, wildflower garden or naturalised area.
It mixes well with other shade lovers such as columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans) and bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa).

Dicentra eximia is native to the eastern United States. It typically occurs on forest floors, rocky woods and ledges in the Appalachian Mountains; New Jersey and West Virginia south to Virginia and Tennessee.

The genus name Dicentra is taken from the Greek words dis, meaning ‘two’, and kentros, meaning ‘spurs’.
The species name eximia is often seen spelt exima, without the second ‘i’.
In the US it is commonly called the Wild Bleeding Heart but is more often known as the Fernleaf or Fringed Bleeding Heart due to its stemless flowers and leaves arising straight from the rootstock. This name is a little confusing because it also refers to the Luxuriant Bleeding Heart, Dicentra Formosa, which is another popular bleeding heart flower.

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