Yellow bleeding heart plant

Bleeding Heart Has Yellow Leaves: Treating Yellow Bleeding Heart Plants

Most of us would recognize a bleeding heart plant at first sight, with its pillowy heart-shaped flowers and delicate foliage. Bleeding hearts can be found growing wild around North America and are common old-fashioned garden choices too. These perennials tend to die back when temperatures get too hot, signaling it is time for dormancy. Yellowing bleeding heart plants in mid-summer are part of the life cycle and completely normal. A bleeding heart with yellow leaves at any other time of the year may be an indication of cultural or other issues. Keep reading to find out why your bleeding heart has yellow leaves.

Naturally Yellowing Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding hearts may be one of the first flowers peeking out of your woodland garden. The plant is found wild in forest edges, dappled glades and shady meadows with organic rich soil and consistent moisture.

Bleeding heart plants can perform well in full sun locations too, but they will die back quickly when summer temperatures arrive. Those that are located in shadier spaces hold onto their green foliage a bit longer, but even these will enter a dormant period called senescence. This is a normal process for the plant, as leaves fade and die back.

Yellowing bleeding heart plants in summer signal the end of the growing period for this cool season plant. Hot temperatures provide the cues that it is time to rest until favorable conditions arrive again.

If your bleeding heart plant has yellowing leaves in early to mid-summer, it is likely just the natural progression of the plant’s life cycle.

Other Reasons for Bleeding Heart Leaves Turning Yellow

Bleeding heart plants are found in United States Department of Agriculture zones 2 to 9. This wide range means the plants are quite hardy and adaptable. While it is true the plants enter senescence in mid-summer, when you notice bleeding heart leaves turning yellow, the plant may have foliage problems due to many other factors. Overwatering may be one cause of a bleeding heart with yellow leaves, fungal disease and insect pests are another.

Insufficient Watering

Overwatering is a common cause of plant leaves fading and yellowing. The bleeding heart enjoys moist soil but cannot tolerate a boggy area. If soil is not well draining, the plant’s roots are immersed in too much water and fungal diseases and damping off can ensue. Limp, fading leaves may appear to be a sign of dryness but, in fact, can be caused by excess moisture.

Treating yellow bleeding heart plants in moist areas starts with checking soil conditions and then amending drainage with sand or other grit. Alternatively, move the plant to a more favorable situation.

Underwatering is also a reason for fading leaves. Keep the plant moderately moist but not soggy.

Lighting and Soil

Another reason a bleeding heart plant has yellow leaves might be lighting. Although, it is natural for the plant to die back when warm temperatures arrive, in some zones, plants in full sun will die back in spring in response to too much heat and light. Try moving the plant in fall or early spring to a dappled lighting situation and see if that helps.

Soil pH is another potential cause of yellowing leaves. Bleeding heart plants prefer acidic soil. Plants growing in alkaline areas will benefit from the addition of sulfur or peat moss. It is preferable to amend soil six months before planting in the area.

Bugs and Disease

One of the more common insect pests is the aphid. These sucking insects drink sap from a plant, sucking its life giving juices and diminishing the plant’s stores of energy. Over time, leaves may curl and become speckled and, in severe cases, the stems will become limp and discolored.

Use forceful sprays of water daily for treating yellow bleeding heart plants plagued by aphids. In extreme cases, use a horticultural soap to combat the pests.

Fusarium wilt and stem rot are but two of the common diseases of bleeding heart plants. Fusarium wilt causes the lower leaves to yellow initially, while stem rot will produce a whitish, slimy coating over all parts of the plant with wilted, discolored foliage. In both cases, the plants should be removed and discarded.

Verticillium wilt also causes yellowed foliage but it initiates with wilted leaves. Remove the plant and all its roots and destroy. Plants in well-drained soil are less plagued by these diseases but be cautious where you acquire your plants. These diseases can live in contaminated soil and plant matter.


Finally, check the variety. Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ is a specific type of bleeding heart that naturally produces the same heart-shaped blooms as others but its foliage is yellow rather than the typical green.

Bleeding heart: Tried-and-true beauty


The common or old-fashioned bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) produces sprays of deep pink or white heart-shaped flowers.

This plant in the Fumariaceae family is hardy in zones 3-9. The powdery-green leaves are divided into three leaflets. Bleeding heart is native to eastern Asia (northern China, Korea and Japan). The plant was brought to England in 1810, but did not get established. This plant was introduced again after a Royal Horticultural Society plant exploration trip to the East in 1846, and soon became a common garden plant.

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 early spring and plants grow quickly to be one of the first flowering perennials in the spring. The green to pink stems are very fleshy. Heart-shaped flowers bloom in May and June. The unique 1-2 inch long, delicate-looking pendant flowers have two rose-pink outer petals and two white inner petals, with a white stamen protruding from the bottom.

This hardy perennial is best grown in well-drained soil in partially shaded areas. 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. Bleeding heart has a summer resting period and by late summer, the leaves turn yellow and wither quickly in hot or dry weather (but sometimes last through the season in cool, moist conditions) going dormant 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 next year’s stems will develop. 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. When the stems die back completely to the ground they can be pulled out and discarded.

Plant bleeding heart with late-growing and flowering perennials, or plant annuals to hide space left by plants after they fade out. Bleeding heart has few pests, although aphids may occasionally infest particularly the inflorescences and slugs may feed on the leaves. Other species of Dicentra often grown as ornamentals include D. eximia, eastern or fringed bleeding heart, and a native to eastern United States in zones 3 to 9.

This bleeding heart in the Papaveraceae family grows only about 12-18 inches tall, with more finely divided leaves and smaller flowers than Dicentra spectabilis. Dicentra eximia typically occurs on forest floors, rocky woods and ledges in the Appalachian Mountains. This bleeding heart has deeply-cut, fernlike, grayish-green, foliage which persists throughout the growing season and pink to purplish red, nodding, heart shaped flowers carried above the foliage on leafless, leaning stems. Protruding inner petals of the flower appear to form a drop of blood at the bottom of each heart-shaped flower. Flower stems and basal leaves grow directly out of the scaly rootstock. Bloom begins in late spring. In cooler climates flowering may continue throughout the summer, but in hotter climates flowering will generally stop in hot weather, with possible rebloom occurring only when the weather cools in late summer or early fall.

Another species D. formosa, the western or Pacific bleeding heart, a northwest U.S. woodland native, is more drought tolerant than the D. eximia species. This bleeding heart is in the Fumariaceae family. These plants are 10-18 inches tall and have heart-shaped pink, wine-colored, or white flowers that rise on racemes above fern-like green or blue-green foliage. D. formosa has a longer blooming season than D. spectabilis and retains their leaves through the growing season.

Bleeding heart plants can be divided in early spring every 3 to 4 years as needed. Bleeding heart is propagated by division in late fall or early spring, or from fresh seed. Seeds are slow to germinate and require moisture 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).

Dicentra spectabilis species include:

• Common or Old-fashioned Bleeding Heart: 24-36 inches tall, rose-pink flowers

• Alba: 24-36 inches tall, white flowers

• Pantaloons: 24-36 inches tall, white flowers, is more vigorous than Alba

• Valentine: 24-30 inches tall, red flowers

Dwarf Dicentra include:

• Burning Hearts: 10-12 inches tall, deep rose-red flowers, ferny foliage

• Luxuriant: 12-18 inches tall, deep rose flowers, ferny foliage

Margaret Wolf has received training through Colorado State University Extension’s Master Gardener program and is a Master Gardener volunteer for Larimer County.

Problems of Bleeding Heart

Foliage Declines In Summer Because Plant Goes Dormant
This normally happens after common bleeding hearts flower in areas with hot or dry summers. If you keep the soil evenly moist, this may not happen, but if the leaves do turn yellow or die down, cut them back to the ground. The plant is not dead, but it will not usually grow make an appearance again until the next spring. It is a good idea to have some annuals or a potted plant to set out to fill in the empty space where the bleeding heart was.
Leaves Curled And Distorted Due To Aphids
Aphids, also called “plant lice,” are soft-bodied, pear-shaped sucking insects about the size of the head of a pin. They often cluster on leaves and tender buds, especially on plants that are stressed in some way. Their feeding retards plant growth. Bleeding heart leaves may turn yellow or brown. They wilt under bright sunlight, or sometimes curl and pucker. If a daily forceful water spray from the hose on infested leaves for three days does not discourage them, spray the aphids with insecticidal soap. If the aphids persist, spray all foliage and stems with a pyrethrin/pyrethrum insecticide product. This should eliminate successive aphid generations. Try to determine if your plant is under stress–too dry, too much light–and correct that situation. Click here for more information on Dealing with Aphids.
Ragged Holes In Leaves Mean Slugs or Snails
Slugs are essentially snails without protective shells. They are usually 1 to 2 inches long (some species grow up to 8 inches). They may be white, gray, yellow, or brownish black. Slugs and snails are attracted to moist, well-mulched areas having acidic soil, the same type of environment that bleeding hearts like. They are active at night, rasping holes with their file-like tongues in leaf and stem surfaces. They hide under boards or leaf litter during the day.
The best tool for controlling slugs is a product containing Iron Phosphate. Or trap slugs in a commercial slug trap, or a homemade shallow plate baited with beer and set on the soil near the bleeding-heart plants. The slugs, attracted to the yeast in the beer, climb in and drown. Begin trapping within the first 3 to 4 weeks after the last frost in the spring to kill early arrivals and prevent them from reproducing. Click here for more information on Dealing with Slugs and Snails.
Small Bumps On Leaves And Stems Signal Scale Insects
Scale insects form groups of small bumps or blister-like outgrowths on stems and leaves. These are waxy shells that protect them while they feed. These shells may be white, yellow, or brown to black, and are about 1/10 to 2/5 inch in diameter. The first sign of a scale attack is often discoloration of the upper leaf surface, followed by leaf drop, reduced growth, and stunted plants. Heavy infestations kill plants. Some species excrete honeydew, which coats foliage and encourages ants and sooty mold growth. Scrape minor scale infestations off plant surfaces with a fingernail. Spray all surfaces of heavily infested plants with \”superior\” or light horticultural oil that smothers the scale. Click here for more information on Dealing with Scale.
Foliage Wilts And Dies From Stem Rot
Sometimes a fungus spreads a filmy white coating over bleeding heart stems and foliage. The foliage wilts and shrivels. All you can do is remove the diseased plant together with its soilball, and check for a drainage problem at that location. The soil may be too soggy. Either raise the level of the planting area or add peat moss or other organic matter to lighten the soil so it will drain better. Click here for more information on Dealing with Fungal Disease.
Powdery Spots On Leaves Due To Rust
Rusts are caused by various fungi, which live on plant surfaces and produce yellowish or orange powdery spots on upper leaf surfaces, and fruiting bodies on undersides. Eventually leaves become discolored and shrivel up. Pick off infected leaves and remove any diseased foliage that has fallen on the soil under the plant. Try dividing crowded clumps and spacing them farther apart to improve air circulation. Click here for more information on Dealing with Fungal Disease.
Lower Leaves Yellowed, Shriveled From Fusarium Wilt
This fungus disease attacks the lower leaves and stems of bleeding hearts, then works its way up the plant, eventually killing it. Cut stem surfaces show dark streaks where the fungus has invaded the water-conducting vessels of the plant. Dig up infected plants and discard them in the trash. Do not plant more bleeding heart in this spot. Prevent this disease by keeping plants well fed and watered. For more information see the file on Dealing with Fungal Disease.

Yellow Plant Leaves: Find Out Why Plant Leaves Turn Yellow

Just like people, plants are known to feel under the weather now and then. One of the more common signs of ailment is yellowing leaves. When you see leaves turning yellow, it’s time to put your Sherlock hat on and do some sleuthing to find the possible cause and solution. Among the reasons why plant leaves are yellow are environmental conditions, cultural reasons, pests or disease, and even the medium in which the plant grows.

Common Reasons for Leaves Turning Yellow

There are many conditions that affect plant growth. Plants are susceptible to temperature variations, sensitive to chemicals and excesses of nutrient, require specific soil compositions and pH levels, have varying lighting needs, are prey to certain pests and diseases, and many other factors influence their health.

Yellowing leaves on plants can be a sign of any of these out of balance or even certain nutritional or chemical influences. Plants don’t have facial expressions so they, therefore, can’t express discomfort or displeasure the way we can. What they can do is show dissatisfaction with a condition by signaling with their leaves. So when you find out why plant leaves turn yellow, you can start triaging your ill plant and nurse it back to health.

Yellowing leaves on plants may often be a sign of too little or too much water or nutrients which can affect plant performance.

Your plant may also be located in too much light where it is scorching, or too little light where it is fading due to an inability to photosynthesize properly.

Yellowing also occurs due to blatant physical damage.

Age is another cause when plant leaves are yellow. It is quite usual for many types of plants to lose the older leaves as the new ones arrive. Older foliage will turn yellow and often wither before it drops off.

Winter dormancy is another condition with which most are familiar that makes yellow plant leaves. Of course, yellow plant leaves may not be the only hue experienced, as autumnal displays of red, orange, bronze and rust are common sights.

Why Plant Leaves Turn Yellow in Containers

Because of the closed environment in container plants, the conditions must be carefully controlled. There is a limited amount of space, area to store moisture, nutrient in the medium, and lighting and temperature must be considered for each species of potted plant.

Our houseplants often have leaves turning yellow due to nutrient deficiency or excess salt in the soil from too much fertilizer. It may be necessary to change the soil or leach it with large amounts of water to correct the balance. Of course, changing the soil can trigger a condition called transplant shock, which also causes yellowing and dropping leaves.

Indoor plants are often tropical in nature and something as simple as changing the plant’s location can produce yellowing leaves on plants which drop off the specimen. This is often due to stress but can also indicate low light or exposure to a draft.

The pH may also be too high, causing a condition called chlorosis. It is a good idea to use a pH meter in potted plants to ensure the correct growing conditions.

Overhead watering is yet another cause for yellow “water spots” on plants like gloxinia, African violet and several other species of plants with slightly furred foliage.

When Plant Leaves are Yellow from Pests or Disease

Pinpointing the causes of yellowed leaves can be quite difficult due to all the potential causes. One thing we haven’t gone over are pests and disease.

Sucking insects attack plants inside and outside. These encompass:

  • Mites
  • Aphids
  • Mealybugs
  • Thrips
  • Scale
  • Whiteflies

Many of these insects are too tiny to see with the naked eye and are identified by the plant’s response to their feeding activity. The insects are robbing the plant of its sap, which is the life blood of the plant. The plant’s response is a reduction in overall health including stippled and yellowing leaves. Leaves may crinkle at the edges and fall off.

In most cases, repeatedly washing the plant to remove the insects or using a horticultural soap or neem oil can combat these little pirates.

Root diseases are often found in root bound plants or in soils with poor drainage. Any attack on roots can limit the ability of the plant to uptake moisture and nutrients, severely affecting its health. Roots may simply rot away, leaving the plant with minimal ways to sustain themselves. Withering, fading leaves are a common sight when roots are under attack by root rot disease or even root nematodes.

As you can see, there are many causes for yellowing foliage. It is best to familiarize yourself with your plant’s specific needs so you can consider each cultural condition carefully and unearth possible causes. It takes patience, but your plants will love you for it.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’

We have a Dicentra spectabilis Alba which we purchased at the end of the flowering season. It is in a pot in a fairly sunny spot. Each year it grows into a lovely plant but so far has never flowered. What are we doing wrong?



Hello, There are a number of reasons why plants don’t flower including too much shade or not enough water or nutrients. It can also be caused by the plant putting on new root growth instead of focusing its energies on producing flowers. I am not really sure why yours has not produced buds, but given time and the right conditions, there is no reason why it wont flower. You can often give them a bit of a push by feeding during the growing season with a high potash fertiliser.



Dicentra I have two beautiful, huge Dicentras – one white, one pink – next to each other in a border. The problem is that they kill everything that I plant near them, just because of their size. By this time of year, now that they have both died back, I have a big empty patch in the border. Can you suggest anything that will not mind being climbed all over in the summer and that will be coming into its own at this time of year?

Jo Fantozzi


This is tricky, but you could underplant them with Cyclamen hederifolium. These pop up in autumn and flower through to January before dying back again for the summer. Just click on the following link to go straight to them.



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