Planting bleeding heart roots

Bleeding Heart Rhizome Planting – How To Grow Bleeding Heart Tubers

Bleeding heart is a favorite plant in partially shaded to shady cottage gardens throughout North America and Europe. Also known as lady-in-the-bath or lyreflower, bleeding heart is one of those beloved garden plants that gardeners can share. Like hosta or daylily, bleeding heart plants can easily be divided and transplanted throughout the garden or shared with friends. Just a small tuber of a bleeding heart can eventually become a beautiful specimen plant.

If you happen to be a lucky recipient of a piece of a friend’s bleeding heart, you may question how to plant a bleeding heart rhizome. Continue reading to learn about growing bleeding hearts from tubers.

Bleeding Heart Rhizome Planting

Bleeding heart plants are usually sold as growing container perennials, bare root plants or in packages as tubers. As growing container plants, they are already leafed out, may be flowering and you can plant them in the garden

whenever you purchase them. Bare root bleeding heart and bleeding heart tubers are the dormant roots of the plant. They both need to be planted at specific times in order to eventually leaf out and bloom.

You may wonder which is better to plant, bleeding heart tubers vs. bare root bleeding heart. Both have their pros and cons. Bleeding heart bare root plants should only be planted in spring and require special planting. Bleeding heart tubers can be planted in fall or spring. In the proper site, with proper spacing, planting bleeding heart tubers is as easy as digging a hole an inch or two deep, placing the tuber inside and covering with soil. However, bleeding heart tubers generally take longer to establish and flower than bare root bleeding hearts.

How to Grow Bleeding Heart Tubers

When bleeding heart plants are divided in fall or spring, sections of their rhizomes can be used to grow new plants. Garden centers and big box stores also sell packages of bleeding heart tubers in spring and fall.

Like all bleeding heart plants, these tubers will need to be planted in a partially shaded location with rich, well-draining soil. Bleeding heart plants cannot tolerate heavy clay, or other poorly draining soil, and their young tubers will quickly rot in these sites. Amend the soil with organic material if necessary.

When you purchase or are given bleeding heart tubers, plant only the pieces that are fleshy; dried up brittle pieces will most likely not grow. Each piece that is planted, should have 1-2 eyes, which will be planted facing upward.

Plant tubers about 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm.) deep, and about 24-36 inches (61-91cm.) apart. Water the plants well after planting and be sure to mark the site so they don’t accidentally get dug up or pulled out as weeds.

Dormant Bleeding Heart Plants – How To Plant A Bare Root Bleeding Heart

An old-fashioned favorite of many gardeners, the bleeding heart is a reliable, easy-to-grow perennial for zones 3-9. Native to Japan, bleeding heart has gone in and out of popularity for hundreds of years throughout Asia, Europe and America. With newer flower color, foliage textures and reblooming varieties widely available, it is once again a popular addition to partially shaded gardens.

Thanks to the World Wide Web, getting your hands on the latest trending variety of bleeding heart is easier than ever. However, gardeners who are used to purchasing growing plants at nurseries or garden centers might get quite a shock when the bleeding heart plant they ordered online arrives as a bare root plant. Continue reading to learn how to plant a bare root bleeding heart.

Dormant Bleeding Heart Plants

Online nurseries and mail order catalogs usually sell bare root bleeding heart plants. While bleeding hearts purchased as container grown plants can be planted almost anytime, bare root bleeding hearts should only be planted in springtime.

Ideally, you’ll order from a reputable online nursery or mail order catalog, which will only have these plants available

for sale during the appropriate time to plant them. However, if you do receive your bare root bleeding heart plants early enough to plant them, you can keep them cool and moist in the refrigerator for a few weeks until you are able to. Another option would be to plant them in pots and transplant in the garden later.

How to Plant a Bare Root Bleeding Heart

Bleeding heart grows best in a location with light shade. They do well in any average garden soil, though they prefer it to be slightly acidic. They cannot tolerate heavy clay or soggy soil, and are susceptible to root and crown rots in these conditions.

Keep these things in mind as you select a site to plant bleeding heart with bare roots. Unlike container bleeding hearts, they will be directly and immediately exposed to whatever soil you place them in and more susceptible to rots.

Before planting bare root bleeding heart, soak them in water for an hour to rehydrate them, but do not let them soak any longer than four hours. In the meantime, loosen up the soil in the planting site at least a foot deep and wide.

Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the bare root plant. This won’t need to be very deep. When you plant a bleeding heart with bare roots, the plant crown should stick slightly above the soil level and the roots should be spread out. The best way to accomplish this is to create a cone or mound of soil in the center of the hole you’ve dug.

Place the bare root plant crown on the top of the mound so that its plant crown will stick out slightly above the soil. Then spread the roots so that they spread over and down the mound. Slowly refill the hole with soil, holding the bare root plant in place and lightly tamping down the soil as you refill it to prevent air bubbles.

Give it some water and soon enough you should begin to notice new growth. That’s all there is to bare root planting of bleeding heart.

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

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 Prep

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.

When to Plant

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

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.

Bleeding Heart 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.

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.

shop bleeding hearts

Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)

Dicentra (Bleeding Heart) is a graceful spring-early summer bloomer with sprays of heart-shaped flowers dangling from fernlike leaves. Native to woodlands, this shade loving perennial is an excellent addition to any garden. The common name is in reference to the protruding inner petals of the heart-shaped flower, which has the appearance of a bleeding heart. Except in the far northern part of its range, the foliage usually goes dormant no later than mid-summer. Because its foliage goes dormant, it is best to plant through a loose ground cover or among later developing perennials such as hostas and ferns which will fill in as the bleeding heart foliage begins to die back. It is easily grown in average, well-drained soil in part shade to full shade, and is not tolerant of wet soils in winter and dry soils in summer. It is not recommended for the hot and humid conditions of the Deep South.
Bleeding Heart should be planted in locations that are protected from high winds and early frosts, such as the edges of woodlands or on the north or east sides of buildings. It may be propagated by division in either spring or fall, and should be divided every few years to maintain vigor.
To plant bare root perennials, dig a hole large enough to encompass the roots without bending or circling. Set the plant in place so the crown (part of the plant where the root meets the stem) is about 1-2” below the soil surface. Cover with soil to the original soil surface and water thoroughly.
Supplied as 2-3 eye bare root.

Forcing Bleeding Heart for Spring Sales

Old-fashioned Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) produces sprays of deep pink or white heart-shaped flowers and is a natural for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day sales. Potted plants can be enjoyed indoors, and then planted in a flower garden outdoors after danger of frost for enjoyment year after year.

Growth Habit in the Garden

Outdoors, garden Bleeding Heart is a hardy perennial best grown in well drained soil in partial shady areas. Plants produce feathery foliage and arching stems covered with heart-shaped flowers May to June. Bleeding Heart has a summer resting period and by late summer, the stems die back, often disappearing entirely by August. By that time, the large fleshy roots have stored lots of food and are preparing for the onset of cool temperatures. As the soil temperature drops, “eyes” or crown buds form. From these eyes will come next year’s stems. Several small growing points are within the eye. With time, these meristems become more fully developed, and gain the ability to flower. During this period, cold temperatures are needed to satisfy the winter dormancy requirement. In the garden, this requirement is met by naturally-occurring cold winter temperatures. Plants can be divided in early spring every 3 to 4 years as needed.

Chilling Requirement for Plants Grown Bareroot

Field growers who produce bareroot plants commercially must provide the necessary cold requirement prior to shipping. Although various storage temperatures have different effects on budbreak, stem elongation and flowering, it is suggested that a temperatures of 41º F or less be provided for 16 to 20 weeks to promote growth and flowering. If some chilling has occurred in the field, less time is required in treatment. Failure to provide adequate chilling results in plants that are unable to grow and these crowns usually store poorly.

Forcing Bleeding Heart in the Greenhouse

Although Bleeding Heart can be grown for year-round production, special requirements make this commercially impractical and not cost effective. The crowns however, can be forced economically for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day sales. Dormant, precooled crowns are available from suppliers in various sizes and corresponding price ranges according to the number of crown buds or “eyes” they have. Purchase top quality cold- treated “number 1” divisions containing a minimum of 2 to 3 eyes per crown. Follow procedures for planting crowns as soon as possible upon receiving.


Before planting, soak the root crowns overnight in tap water. This improves the uniformity of emerging shoot development, and the precise timing of B-Nine application.

Prune off up to one-half of the root system if necessary to facilitate potting the crowns. Research has shown that this does not adversely affect plant growth. Plant crowns with the eyes at the soil surface. One 2 to 3 eye division can be planted in a 4- or 6-inch (azalea) pot, one 3 to 5 eye division in a 6 inch pot, or one 5 to 8 eye division in a 1.5 to 2 gallon container. Large containers should be used when planting large crowns or more than one crown per pot. Use a good growing medium, either mineral soil based or a soilless mixture that is light, porous, well-drained, has a moderate nutrient content, and is easy to manage. Firm the soil around the roots and water well. Make sure that there are no air pockets as this can cause the plants to grow poorly.

For Valentine’s Day, 6 to 7 weeks of forcing time are required at 52º F. Less forcing time is needed at warmer temperatures at the expense of quality. For Mother’s Day market 4 to 5 weeks are needed for forcing. While the plants grow and flower well between 50 to 65º F, plants are more robust and of higher quality at 50 to 55º F. Provide full winter light and natural or artificial short daylengths to promote compact growth. Table 1 shows several examples of Bleeding Heart forcing schedules.

Table 1. Forcing schedules for Bleeding Heart *

Valentine’s Day Mother’s Day
December 22 April 1 Unpack cold-stored crowns, soak in tapwater overnight.
December 23 April 2 Plant crowns and grow under short days: natural (Valentine’s Day) or artificial SD (Mother’s Day).
January 7-11< April 12-16 Leaves unfolding apply B-Nine, spray at 1250 to 2500 ppm. Add a surfactant to assure full coverage of the leaf.
January 17 April 21 Inflorescences early visible.
February 7 May 4 Plants begin bloom.
February 14 May 11 Holiday.

*From T.C. Weiler and P.K. Markam

Bleeding Heart has stem internodes that tend to elongate excessively making the plants unattractive. Excessive elongation is most serious in the upper internodes just before the inflorescences enlarge and may cause the stems to lean away from the center of the pot. For this reason, an application of B-Nine is suggested. B-Nine effectively improves plant form. Apply B- Nine plus a surfactant just as the leaves on the emerging sprout begin to unfold, 10 to 19 days after planting at 50 to 55º F night temperature. In experimental studies, 1 part surfactant to 199 parts water was used with 1250 to 2500 ppm B-Nine to produce a marketable plant.


To maximize growth, begin a fertilization program three weeks after planting. For a medium containing field soil, watering with 200 ppm each of N and K on a constant feed program using a balanced NPK fertilizer will result in high quality plants. For a soilless medium, it is suggested that 250 ppm of N and K be applied in the irrigation water. Leaching with plain water is done as necessary to prevent high soluble salt levels.


While the forcing schedule and other information presented in this article was based on using Dicentra spectablilis, common bleeding heart, there are others worth trying as a forced potted plant.

D. spectabilis, (common bleeding heart) is readily available from commercial propagators as a bare-root division or potted perennial. It can be propagated from seed and germinates best when fresh seed is used.

D. spectablilis var. alba is not as vigorous as the species but has white flowers on plants from 20-30 inches tall.

D. eximia (fringed bleeding heart, plume bleeding heart) has deeply cut leaves that are almost fernlike in appearance. Flowers are pink to lavender in color, although several other colors are available. This variety is available as bare-root divisions or from seeds. Mature height is 15 inches.

D. eximia and D. formosa. ‘Luxuriant’ is considered by many to be a hybrid of D.eximia and D. formosa. Plants have cherry-rose flowers on plants 15 inches tall and is vegetatively propagated. ‘Zestful’ is also considered to be a cross. It has large pink flowers and is vegetatively propagated.

D. eximia var.alba. ‘Snowdrift’ has pure white flowers and grows 12 – 15 inches tall. It is vegetatively propagated.

D. eximia selections, especially ‘Luxuriant’, are more filled-out but shorter in the pot. They may take from one to two weeks longer to flower. These plants may not need a growth regulator to keep their shape.

Postharvest Care and Marketing

Like other potted crops, plants should be marketed with 50 to 75% of the florets open. The florets are fragile, and are unlikely to withstand long-distance transport. The expected postharvest life is 2 to 3 weeks after removal from the greenhouses, provided plants spend little time sleeved and if plants are kept in a bright, cool location and are well-watered.

First-time producers may wish to introduce small numbers of the crop to their program to test the scheduling, crop culture, and local market. Promoting the plant as an unusual potted plant for the home and long-lasting addition to the flower garden can boost your spring sales.


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