When to prune bleeding heart?

Tips For Bleeding Heart Pruning – How To Prune A Bleeding Heart Plant

Bleeding heart plants are beautiful perennials that produce very distinctive heart-shaped flowers. They are a great and colorful way to add some Old World charm and color to your spring garden. But how do you keep one in check? Does it need regular pruning, or can it be allowed to grow on its own? Keep reading to learn more about how and when to prune bleeding hearts.

When to Prune Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding heart plants are perennials. While their foliage dies back with the frost, their rhizomatous roots survive through the winter and put up new growth in the spring. Because of this yearly dieback, pruning a bleeding heart to keep it in check or to form a particular shape is not necessary.

However, the plants will die back naturally each year before the frost, and it’s important to cut back the dying foliage at the right time to keep the plant as healthy as possible.

How to Prune a Bleeding Heart Plant

Deadheading is an important part of bleeding heart pruning. When your plant is blooming, check it every few days and remove individual spent flowers by pinching them off with your fingers. When an entire stem of flowers has passed, cut it off with pruning shears just a few inches above the ground. This will encourage the plant to devote energy to blooming rather than seed production.

Even after all the flowers have passed, the plant itself will remain green for some time. Don’t cut it back yet! The plant needs the energy it will gather through its leaves to store in its roots for next year’s growth. If you cut it back while it’s still green, it will come back much smaller next spring.

Cutting back bleeding heart plants should only be done after the foliage naturally fades, which should happen in early to mid-summer as temperatures begin to rise. Cut all of the foliage down to a few inches above the ground at this point.

Q: Can you cut back a bleeding heart after it has bloomed? It starts to turn yellow and gets somewhat yucky looking as the summer goes on, but I’m afraid to cut it and ruin it for next year.

A: Yes, you can certainly cut back a bleeding heart as soon as it yellows, but I must admit, this is a little early for that to be happening. Usually they last until the heat of July sets in. Whenever it gets unsightly, feel free to clean it up. Cutting it back won’t harm next year’s growth or flowering.

Q: My hibiscus plant needs help. It has been exceptionally beautiful and prolific for about six months, and I have enjoyed every lovely blossom. Lately the leaves begin to turn yellow and eventually drop off. Soon, if this keeps up, I will have no leaves at all. Those that I still have, however, are dark green and healthy-looking.

Twice I have sprayed the plant with insect spray, giving it a good soaking. I continue to see leaves turning yellow, although not at quite as fast a rate.

Please help me and tell me what I can do to preserve this plant that brings me such joy.

A: Hibiscus leaf yellowing is normal for us Northerners who must keep their hibiscus plants indoors over the winter.

Are you giving the plant enough direct light? The plant needs four to six hours a day, and the sun has been moving higher in the sky since mid-December.

Winter is the time for some rest after blooming so well. In winter, don’t fertilize as much and cut down on watering.

Begin a spring into summer care program now. The plant will bloom on new growth, so if you have any pruning to do, do it carefully with that in mind.

Start a regular fertilizing schedule. Every week at half-strength is fine. Use a blooming houseplant fertilizer that has a low-nitrogen formula. High nitrogen will grow beautiful green leaves, but not promote flowers.

If repotting is needed, spring is the time to do it. You want to do it when the plant is growing, not dormant.

Give the plant a shower bath once a week if you can. It really will revive the plant. Cover the pot with aluminum foil or slip it into a plastic bag so the soil doesn’t splash out of the pot, and shower the plant with barely warm water.

If you have a hand-sprayer, be sure to wash the underside of leaves. (In summer, you can do this outside, but in cold months, do it in the tub or shower.)

You certainly could have bugs, but you didn’t mention any damage. The usual culprits on hibiscus are spider mites and mealy bugs; both can be fought with an insecticide with soap, repeating spray every 10 days to attack the pests as they hatch. Safer’s makes a good spray for indoor use. Look for a slight webbing or rusty powder on the underside of leaves. Safer’s Soap Insecticide is great for indoor or outdoor use.

A thorough spraying with cold water will dislodge them, too. Hose the hibiscus down every week. Undersides of leaves are the usual hiding places for these bugs, so spray thoroughly.

When night temperatures are consistently 50 degrees, you can gradually take the plant outside, where it can remain until the temps drop in the early fall. Spraying outdoors in summer is much easier than doing it in the bathtub.

Q: I transplanted three lilac plants (one is an offshoot of my grandmother’s) four years ago. They all bloomed the first year but then never again. Last year, after consulting the local nursery, I pruned them down only to get two blooms this year. I am pretty sure I didn’t prune them after blooming their first year here, because I wanted them to grow taller, quickly. I am assuming that is why they didn’t bloom the following years. How and where should I prune them now to generate blooms for next year?

A: Don’t worry, be patient. Lilacs are worth the wait!

No lilac will bloom before its time, and most varieties won’t bloom until they reach at least 3 to 6 years of age. The first three years are spent growing and developing and adjusting to the shock of being uprooted and replanted. Only then (and only when they are good and ready) will they produce their first blooms. When they finally do bloom, the first few years can be far less than spectacular.

Plant them in full sun for the most spectacular blooms.

Pruning should be done, if ever, right after bloom. Midsummer is too late because the plant is already setting buds for next year’s blooms on the old wood. Be patient and go easy with the pruners.

Q: I have a gravelly slope at the top of my driveway where pricker bushes are growing. Eventually I hope to terrace the area to grow blueberry and raspberry bushes. I have cut and pulled at the prickers to no avail and would like to know how to get rid of them. They are starting to poke up through the asphalt driveway. I am leery of using a weedkiller if I want to grow other plants there. Also, they are near the septic system and I don’t know if weedkillers would affect that.

A: Those pricker bushes are devilish things to get rid of, but I’m afraid that a weedkiller (such as Roundup Grass and Weed Killer) would be your best bet since you have already tried cutting them back.

I called the nice people at Scott’s, who make Roundup, and they say that if you use one of their slightly milder weed and grass killers, not the heavier brush killer or concentrates, you would be safe in replanting the area with eatables after waiting three days. Use with caution and read the caution label completely before using.

Scott’s says the septic system isn’t a problem. They would be worried if there were a water source, like a well, near an application area. Spring is a good time to use a product as the weeds are growing well. Keep after them, as some weeds root below the surface and may not be killed on the first try.

This week’s dirt

A Fourth of July hint — keeping bugs at bay: Look what Bounce laundry softener sheets can do for you besides softening clothes in the dryer. Tie a sheet of Bounce through your belt loop when outdoors during this terrible mosquito season — kids, too! Try it tied on the dog’s collar to keep him bug-free, too.

Put a sheet of Bounce in your pocket when gardening or working out in the yard to keep yellow jackets away. Yellow jackets will just steer clear of you.

Bounce will also chase ants away when you lay a sheet near them. Try it in the kitchen.

Bounce won’t kill bugs, but bugs do avoid it, and it’s safe around kids and pets and foods. It’s also cheaper than the insect repellents you spray on the skin.

• • •

North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger of Beverly is a feature of Friday’s Lifestyles section. Reach Barbara by e-mail at [email protected] or write to her c/o Salem News, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at www.nsgardener.com.

What is it?

A cottage garden classic that’s an elegant option for light shade. In spring, it bursts out of nowhere with its fern-like foliage and heart-shaped pink-and-white flowers on arching stems. Its new Latin name is Lamprocapnos, but you may also know it by its former one, Dicentra.

Any good varieties?

‘Alba’ is the white form, while ‘Valentine’ has red-tinted stems, young foliage and bright red-and-white flowers. I find ‘Goldheart’s golden-yellow foliage rather sickly, and it’s not quite as robust as the other forms.

Grow it with?

Other shade-lovers such as pulmonarias, hardy geraniums, brunneras and tiarellas, or the early white tulip ‘Purissima’.

And where?

Bleeding heart needs moist soil, so keep it out of direct sun. It will do well in a big container, provided you keep up with watering.

Any drawbacks?

The foliage fades unattractively after flowering, especially if the soil is on the dry side, so cut it down once the plants start to die back. If that leaves you with a hole, partner with a summer-flowering plant to fill the gaps; shade-tolerant hardy geranium ‘Dilys’ has purple-veined pink flowers that keep coming from July to the first frosts.

What else does it do?

Cut some stems to bring inside for an instant spring display.

This plant, with its iconic flowers, easily gives away the origin of its common name, “Bleeding Heart.” Scientifically known as Lamprocapnos spectabilis, this plant does cause some confusion amongst those wanting to purchase it, as the plant is still widely labeled as Dicentra spectabilis. The plant underwent a formal name change in 2010, but not everyone has caught up. If you find yourself with a plant named either Dicentra spectabilis, or Lamprocapnos spectabilis, they are the exact same plant.

Bleeding Heart Plant Overview

Quick Facts

Origin Japan, China, Korea
Scientific Name Lamprocapnos spectabilis
Family Papaveraceae
Type Herbaceous perennial
Common Names Bleeding Heart
Toxicity Toxic to people and pets
Light Partial shade
Watering Maintain moist soil
Humidity Moderate to high

Caring for Your Bleeding Heart Plant


This plant natively lives in woodland environments and so, likes to be in continually moist soil. For this plant to thrive, you will need to emulate the natural conditions of its habitat by watering it frequently, particularly in warmer weather. Ensure that soil is well-draining so that you can water the plant freely, without running into trouble with root rot. Though the Bleeding Heart likes to live in moist soil, it does not like to have wet feet, so avoid watering to the point where the soil becomes soggy and heavy.


The Bleeding Heart plant is a cool weather plant, with ideal temperatures ranging from 55º F to 75º F. Hot weather is the arch-enemy of this plant, and anyone growing a Bleeding Heart in warmer climates will have a harder time getting it to thrive. Try to protect the plant from high levels of heat by positioning it in a shaded spot where the temperature will be a few degrees lower. Having shade in the intense heat of the afternoons is particularly important.

As the temperatures begin to rise in the middle of summer, you will find that your Bleeding Heart turns yellow. This isn’t caused for concern and is a normal part of the plant’s life cycle. Yellowing of this plant indicates that it is storing energy for the coming winter and preparing itself for next years growth. You generally won’t need to worry about low temperatures affecting the plant; as a perennial plant, it will usually die back to the ground before the first frost, and the roots will lay dormant underground until next spring arrives. If temperatures get particularly low, you can help to protect the roots from freezing by adding mulch over the top of the soil to provide insulation.


Partial shade is the ideal lighting scenario for a bleeding heart.

Partial shade is the ideal lighting scenario for a bleeding heart. Providing that you choose a good spot for the Bleeding Heart to grow in, you’ll find that it is an easy plant to care for. It doesn’t like to be kept in too much direct sun or high levels of heat, but other than this, it isn’t particularly fussy about its care.

An ideal home for the plant is under the shade of a tree, where dappled sunlight can get through to the Bleeding Heart, but the canopy of leaves overhead protect the plant from the full glare of the sun. If you keep the plant in a container pot, you will have the benefit of it being portable. In this instance, you can allow the plant to sit in full sun during early spring to help with the production of flowers, but as temperatures increase and the sun’s light gets stronger with the approach of summer, you can move the potted plant to a more protected position out of direct sunlight.


The Bleeding Heart plant prefers a humus rich soil. Add compost to your soil and mix it well before planting your Bleeding Heart, to ensure a well-draining soil rich in organic matter (Country Living Magazine). The plant will also benefit from periodically adding a top layer of compost or well-rotted manure on top of the plant’s soil. The Bleeding Heart isn’t fussy when it comes to pH, though a slightly alkaline soil would be preferred if you are interested in creating the absolute perfect conditions for your plant.

It’s essential that the soil around your Bleeding Heart can drain well, whether it is growing in a pot or directly in the ground. As the plant enjoys consistently moist soil, a poor draining soil could result in root rot and cause the demise of the plant. You can improve the draining qualities of the soil by adding builders sand to the mix. Also, keeping the soil well aerated will contribute to good draining and will encourage roots to grow and spread.


The Bleeding Heart plant can tolerate high humidity though it doesn’t need moisture in the air to thrive. It will fare perfectly fine in most typical humidity environments.


As a plant that is grown primarily for its impressive display of blooms, vital nutrients are essential to the plants care. Whether or not you need to use fertilizer to feed your Bleeding Heart will be largely dependent on what type of soil it is in. If you have plenty of organic matter in your plant’s soil, then this will likely supply enough nutrients to your plant so that you won’t need to fertilize it. Adding a compost mulch over the top of your plant’s soil will also provide it with nutrients so that fertilizer is unnecessary.

If your soil is not high in nutrients, then you will need to supply your soil with theses through the use of fertilizer. Select a fertilizer high in phosphorus as this will help with flower development. A slow-release fertilizer will be most appropriate, mixed into the top layers of soil. You can give your plant its first feeding of the year when its first shoots of foliage appear. Continue to feed it frequently until the plant returns to its dormant state and then, cease feeding during winter.


The heart-shaped flowers of this plant bloom in rows along stalks rising above the foliage below. Lined up neatly along each stalk, the sheer weight of the flowers cause the stalk to arch under the pressure, resulting in an attractive and elegant display. They appear in several different color variations, though most are typically shades of white or pink. The Bleeding Heart plant is quite an early bloomer, with flowers making their appearance in spring and early summer. The iconic flowers last only a few weeks at a time.

In mid-summer when the flowers have died off, the rest of the plant will die back and recede to ground level where it will remain dormant until the next spring arrives. If you want to encourage your plant’s flowers to last for a little longer, the best way to do this is with regular fertilizer feedings or by dressing the soil with compost.


Growers who like low maintenance plants will be pleased to discover that the Bleeding Heart requires absolutely no pruning. You will not even have to deadhead the spent flowers from the plant as these will naturally fall from the plant when they are dead and not bloom again until the following year. Deadheading can be done if you don’t like the look of dead flowers in your garden, but if you want the flowers to turn to seed and potentially spread, then you will need to leave them to their own devices without interference.

When the plant dies back to the ground in summer, you can at this point cut off the dead foliage if you wish to maintain a neat and tidy appearance, though this isn’t necessary for the health of the plant.


If you are growing your Bleeding Heart plant in a container, then you will need to repot it every one to two years. This plant quite quickly develops a large root system, with roots that are chunky and brittle. To ensure your plant has adequate space to continue growing healthily, you should repot it into a container the next size up when roots become too tight in its current pot. To do this, carefully remove the plant from its pot by squeezing the plastic pot and gently lifting the plant out.

In your new pot, fill the base with a pre-moistened appropriate soil mix, then lower the root ball into the pot and fill around the edges with fresh soil. Ensure the plant is at the same height in the pot as it was in the last pot. Once the plant is secure, water it well and continue care as normal. Around every three years, you will likely need to divide your plant during the repotting process. This is because Bleeding Hearts tend to become overcrowded and too big to continue life in a pot.

To divide them, remove the plant from its current pot and carefully separate the plant in two from the root ball. Be careful not to harm any of the root network, though some damage will be tolerated and is often unavoidable. Select two smaller pots for your newly created Bleeding Hearts and continue to repot as you usually would.


Bleeding Heart plants have a habit of becoming overcrowded, so they will need to be divided every few years. This is a good idea because it will give your plants the space they need to grow so that they can thrive, and it is also a means of propagation to create new Bleeding Heart plants for you to enjoy or to gift to friends or family members.

To divide potted Bleeding Hearts, you should do this in early spring and follow your usual repotting method, with the addition of separating one plant into two before placing into new pots. Dividing Bleeding Hearts that are growing in the ground might be slightly more challenging, but it is an essential step in caring for your plant. You should dig around the base of your Bleeding Heart in early spring, gently feeling around the roots and digging up the plant with the intention of keeping as many roots intact as possible.

Once removed from the ground, carefully separate the roots of your plant to create two or three new plants. Place one plant back into the hole in the ground, taking the opportunity to supply the plant with new nutrients by using fresh soil. Your remaining plants, which are a result of the division, can be potted up in containers or planted into the ground elsewhere in your garden. If you are lacking in space, these plants make unique easy-care gifts for loved ones.

Another way to propagate this plant is by seed. This sometimes happens without you needing to do anything to encourage it, as seeds will fall from the flowers and land on soil nearby in your garden, from which new plants will grow. To intentionally propagate from seed, collect the seeds from the mother plant and tuck them into moist soil in a small pot. Cover the pot with a plastic bag or container and put the whole thing into the freezer for six to eight weeks.

Following this time period, remove the container from the freezer and place the pot with seeds in on a windowsill in room temperature. In around six weeks, germination should have occurred, and you will have little sprouting seedlings. Once they are mature enough to survive being moved, you can repot them in a bigger pot, eventually moving the containers outside or planting the Bleeding Hearts directly into the ground outside in early spring.

If you would prefer to sow your seeds outside, you can do this in the fall. The freezing temperatures will help the germination process begin, just as putting the planted seeds into the freezer does. Sowing seeds outside is usually fairly successful but can take longer to produce seedlings than sowing seeds indoors.


The Bleeding Heart plant is a perennial plant, which essentially means the roots can survive all year long, while the rest of the plant cannot. Because of this, the Bleeding Heart is good at taking care of itself over winter, storing up energy in summer before it dies down to ground level and becomes dormant through the colder months.

When all the flowers and foliage have died, you can cut the plant back to just an inch or so in height. Though at this point it may look like your plant has completely died, the roots beneath the soil are very much alive. They will typically fare well underground over winter, but if you live in an especially cold climate, then you could provide some protection for the roots by adding a layer of mulch over the top of your plant’s stump and the surrounding soil. This will add some insulation, ensuring the cold weather doesn’t harm the roots through winter. Nothing else needs to be done over winter, and come springtime, you should see new shoots starting to emerge from the same spot.

As a cautious measure, you might want to mark out the position of your Bleeding Heart before you cover it over with mulch. This will ensure you don’t accidentally dig it up when planting other plants.


The Bleeding Heart is toxic. Contact with the foliage can cause skin irritation, while all parts of the plant can give you a stomach ache if you ingest them. Keep the plant away from curious children or pets who are likely to nibble on the plant for this reason (Royal Horticultural Society).

Varieties of Bleeding Heart Plants

Bleeding Heart plants are typically found in two varieties, with either pink or white flowers. However, some other plants exist that appear similar and also go by the name of Bleeding Heart. More information on these variations can be found below.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis Alba

Lamprocapnos spectabilis Alba – Credit toDavid J. Stang

This variety of Bleeding Heart produces solidly white flowers, and as such, has a very pure look about it.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis Gold Heart

Lamprocapnos spectabilis Gold Heart – Credit to Scott Costello

This pink flowering variety is a real showstopper. As a brightly colored shade loving plant, this variety of Bleeding Heart is perfect for adding a splash of vibrancy to darker corners of gardens. The foliage of this plant is also different from the others, with leaves having a golden tone to them.

Dicentra formosa

Dicentra formosa – Credit to Danny Steven S.

Commonly known as the Western Bleeding Heart or Pacific Bleeding Heart as it originates from the Pacific Coast, this plant is a little more tolerant of drought-like conditions than other Bleeding Hearts, though it does still prefer to have continually moist soil. The foliage of this plant looks like a fern, and the flowers tend to look more dramatic than other varieties. If watered enough, the plant will resist going dormant (Better Homes and Gardens).

Dicentra eximia

Dicentra eximia – Credit toliz west

A relation of the Western Bleeding Heart, this plant is native to Northeastern America and has similar fern-like foliage. The flowers typically last for longer than other Bleeding Hearts, blooming continuously through summer.

How to trim a Bleeding Heart?

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