Questions on: Bleeding Heart

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service


Q: My bleeding heart is turning yellow and getting smaller. It was planted last summer and looked good until this year’s extreme heat. (Moorhead, Minn.)

A: Bleeding heart plants die back slowly after they are finished blooming. Let nature take its course. Your plant died back at an accelerated rate this year because of the extreme heat and drought. The plant should be OK.


Q: I can't seem to find on the Web how and if I can split my bleeding heart plant. It’s such a beautiful plant and I don't want it to die. (e-mail reference)

A: Bleeding hearts can be divided in the fall or early spring. Use a straightedge spade to do the job.


Q: I read your material on bleeding hearts, but didn't find my problem addressed. I have a bleeding heart that has grown well, but didn’t bloom this season. When we purchased it some time ago, it was loaded with blooms. We use Miracle-Gro when fertilizing. (e-mail reference)

A: Growth with no blooms usually translates to one of two problems. The plant is not getting enough light or the nitrogen level in the soil is too high.


Q: My bleeding heart is done for the season. It sure looks ugly now. Should I cut off the dead stems and dry leaves? If I do, will it come back fuller next year? (e-mail reference)

A: Yes, this is characteristic of bleeding heart. Once they flower, they begin a decline in appearance and die out once their cycle is complete. The crown now has stored enough carbohydrates to come back next spring with an even more attractive show of flowers and foliage.


Q: I was at a gardening workshop and was told that bleeding heart plants like milk. They did not go in to any details. It sounded crazy to me, so I did not ask for details. Is this true? I have checked quite a few Web pages, but have not found any information about it. I did a Google search and your page came up. Since I used to work at NDSU, I thought I would drop you a note. (e-mail reference)

A: I hope it wasn’t one of my colleagues who made that statement! Milk is a liquid that has many nutrients in it that can benefit any plant it is dumped on, but why waste milk on a plant when it can get along perfectly well without the milk. There are millions of bleeding heart plants across the country that are doing fine, but have never had the “milk treatment.” Watering and normal fertilization practices are all that are needed for literally 100 percent of all horticultural plants, such as houseplants, flowers, trees, shrubs, herbs and lawns. Any liquid that isn’t toxic to plants, such as coffee, tea, beer or diluted urine, will benefit plants in some way. Thanks for alerting me to this. I’ll keep my ears open to find out the origin of the story.


Q: I have a client with a bleeding heart planted on the south side of the house. It has turned brown, but I don’t think it is a water problem. Can it be cut back and will it come next year? (Forman, N.D.)

A: Dying down after flowering is a normal part of the bleeding heart lifecycle.


Q: I have a spectablis dicentra (bleeding heart) that I haven’t planted. I would like to know how to split it or if splitting will hurt it. (e-mail reference)

A: Don't split it now, just plant it. After it has been in the ground for three to five years, dig it up and split it after it has finished blooming. Use a sharp, straight-edge shovel or a large sharp knife.


Q: What can you do with a bleeding heart after a hard freeze? It looks like it has been cooked. (Stanley, N.D.)

A: Just let nature take its course. It is probably just surface damage. The plant may come back later this season or next. There is nothing you can do after the fact.


Q. I planted two bleeding hearts and they are steadily disappearing on me. What is wrong with them? The leaves on my geranium look tight and curled, what is the problem? Some of my tulips came up this spring, got a large white leaf, and did not develop a flower. Why? Should a perennial flower garden have something done to the soil to give plants an extra boost? Also, what is wrong with my rose bush--the leaves are slightly brown? (Munich, N.D.)

A. It is the natural character of the bleeding heart to die down after flowering in the spring-- nothing to worry about. They will reappear next spring.

Your geranium has a couple of maladies. One you already named, crinkle virus, and another--a heavy infection of sooty fungus.

Do you have a bunny population? They love my tulips! It could also be that some did not have a sufficient cold treatment or were too immature to produce a flower this year. I suggest patience!

As for your perennial garden, work in quality compost or sphagnum peat moss in the upper 6 to 9 inches before planting. Mulch with the same.

The roses have something wrong in the root system--too much fertilizer, water or whatever.


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