Bleeding heart, also known by its Latin name, Dicentra spectablis, is an herbaceous perennial garden plant valued for its attractive foliage, arching stems and graceful, heart-shaped flowers that appear in shades of white, pink or red, depending on variety. Hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9, the bleeding heart plant thrives in most areas of the United States with only minimal care. Blooms appear in spring and some varieties may re-bloom in summer in cool climates.
Site and Soil Requirements
Bleeding heart requires well-drained, fertile, moist soil for optimal growth. Spread a 2-inch layer of organic compost over the planting site and use a garden tiller to work it into the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches prior to planting, which increases the soil's fertility and moisture retention. The planting site should receive medium to light shade, or the plant's delicate foliage will scorch under the hot summer sun.
Watering and Mulching
A thin 2-inch layer of mulch further increases the moisture retention of the soil and deters the growth of weeds that would compete with bleeding heart for nutrients. Allow 2 or 3 inches between the mulch and the crown of the plant to minimize the risk of fungal diseases caused by poor air circulation. Replenish the mulch as often as necessary to keep it at about 2 inches thick all year, particularly during the growing season.
Bleeding heart thrives with regular watering, about once every week, during the spring and summer to keep the soil moist, yet not soggy. Increase the watering frequency during periods of drought, or when there has been no natural rainfall for at least two weeks, to twice per week. Do not water on weeks that receive more than 1 inch of rainfall.
Fertilizing and Pruning
Fertilize bleeding heart during early spring using a slow-release fertilizer to gradually release nutrients into the soil throughout the growing season. Read the manufacturer's instructions for proper application and dosage of the fertilizer. The plants also benefit from a thorough watering just after feeding, which prevents burning or injuring the roots from the influx of nitrogen.
Bleeding heart is best pruned during early spring, just before active growth resumes. Use pruning shears to remove damaged, diseased, overgrown or bare branches to increase the aesthetic appeal and overall health of the plant. Dispose of diseased branches at a remote location to prevent spreading any illness to other plants.